Let’s go to the conquest of banana with this dessert that comes straight from Cambodia! Chek cheung skor is a Khmer delicacy that combines banana and caramelized sugar. A sweet delicacy that is easy and quick to prepare, and that is definitely a change from the classic banana bread!
Bananas, but not just any banana
Banana is an extremely common fruit in Cambodia. Many varieties are grown over there, but just like apples, you can find varieties for all tastes! They differ in size, color, texture and sugar content. The most popular and best bananas are certainly the chek namva. These are medium-sized bananas with a green skin. Chek pong moan or “chicken egg bananas” in Cambodian, have a very subtle aroma and are tiny bananas with a yellow skin, which are consumed as is at any time of the day. Other kinds of bananas are better prepared as a dessert. There are about a dozen banana varieties in Cambodia, but only one, the daeum chek chvear, is usually not cultivated by the Khmers. The Khmers are very superstitious and believe, according to an ancient legend, that this banana holds an evil spirit. Cambodians will avoid growing this tree on their land. Some Cambodians in the cities even refuse to grow any kind of banana tree near their homes. Banana leaves are also commonly used as packaging, for baking cakes or dishes, or for carrying various items.
A few Khmer traditions
The majority of Khmer people live in villages, often from fishing and farming. Their life revolves around the wat (temple) and Buddhist ceremonies throughout the year. They are believers … or rather superstitious. For example, local doctors are more like shamans and healers. They are called kru khmae. According to Khmer beliefs, if you become ill, it is because an evil spirit has inflamed you. It will therefore be necessary to resort to exorcism, magic potions and a kind of tattoo known to ward off evil spirits. The Khmer also strongly believe in astrology. It is customary to visit a fortune teller, called hao-ra or kru tieay in Khmer, before an important event: wedding, business launch, or birth for example.
In Cambodia, bananas are not eaten only sweet. It is common to consume some bananas that are still green and whose taste is relatively bitter, with other raw vegetables or fruits, in salads or as an accompaniment to various salty dishes and meats.
The most important religious holidays for the Khmer are Chol Chnam (Cambodian New Year) and Pchum Ben (“The Day of the Ancestors”). The Khmer calendar is a Buddhist calendar that is divided into 12 months. The year begins the day of the khae chaet, which corresponds to the first new moon of April in our calendar. For standardization purposes, the New Year is celebrated on April 13th.
Also, as religious holidays approach, the price of fruits and vegetables increase dramatically. The price of banana explodes and can sometimes double. Bananas then become local gold. It is therefore customary to lay them as an offering with other fruits in front of the altars of pagodas and houses.
The legend of the haunted banana
Cambodia has numerous mythological stories. The haunted banana legend is one of them.
A long time ago, lived a poor family who cultivated their land. One day, a drought affected their village. Water and rain ran out, and agriculture became difficult. The man decided to leave his family to farm the land elsewhere.
Shortly after the man’s departure, an epidemic of cholera struck the village where the family lived. This epidemic was terrible! At first, only the animals were struck by the disease, but the epidemic spread rapidly and humans were threatened.
When he had earned enough money for his family, the man decided to return to the village. On the way, he met a villager who dissuaded him from returning home: “You can not go home now! cholera is devastating. There are already many deaths and we do not even know if your children and your wife survived.” The man ignored the warnings of this companion. He was determined to return home and find his wife and children.
When he reached the village, he could see the dim light of the kerosene lamps in each cottage through the windows. What a relief! He was angry with the villager who had lied to him on the way. However, very quickly, he realized that something was wrong. The village was much too calm. There was no noise. Something must have happened in his absence. When he reached his house, he pushed open the gate and called his wife. She rushed to the door to greet him warmly as usual.
The woman hurried to light the fire to prepare the meal. She cooked rice for her husband. She begged, however, that he not go into the bedroom and spend the night outside. This request seemed strange to him. Suddenly, his wife’s eyes began to turn red, then open and close mechanically. But he did not say anything.
A smell of corpse suddenly came from the bedroom. He watched his wife from a distance and surprised her to pull out her tongue to pick up a spoon that had fallen to the ground. He was petrified with terror. His curiosity drove him to check what was going on in the bedroom despite his wife’s ban. When he entered the room, he was horrified at the sight of the decomposing bodies of his wife and children. He understood that the being who was standing in the kitchen was an evil spirit who had taken on the appearance of his wife. So he had to escape. He returned to the kitchen and apologized subtly, pretending to go to the bathroom: “I hope the rice is ready soon! I am so hungry.”
As soon as the evil spirit had his back turned, he ran out of the house and headed for the monk’s pagoda, which had the reputation of annihilating evil spirits. The woman’s ghost then found that the man had been away for too long and approached the bathroom. When she noticed that he had escaped, she became furious and left to find him.
The terrified man climbed onto a laurel tree (Blumea balsamifera), known to protect humans from ghosts and evil spirits. Indeed, the ghost feared this tree and stood at a distance. The man then decided to carry some branches of the magic tree on his shoulders to get off the tree and ward off the evil spirit. The ghost did not dare to approach.
Once on the ground, the man went to a pagoda of Buddhist monks. The ghost dreaded the branches of the tree, but continued to be on his heels while standing at a distance. The man told the monks what had happened in the village. The monks gathered to recite incantations to chase away the evil spirit that had brought this terrible disease. Of course, the ghost could not enter the building because of the prayers. But he used a trick. Near the building stood a big banana tree, a chek chvea. The incantations were certainly powerful but had no effect on banana. A branch of the tree was connected to the building. By sliding on the banana branch, the evil spirit managed to break into the pagoda. Once inside, he killed the man cruelly by breaking his neck.
To date, Cambodians believe it is bad news to have a banana tree near their house. You now understand why…
But don’t worry, the ghost is far away and it is just a legend!
- Peel the bananas and place them in a non-stick pot.
- Cover the bananas with water and cook for 10 minutes over medium/low heat.
- Remove the bananas using a skimmer and mix the sugar in the cooking water.
- Cook the sugar over low heat until it turns light brown.
- Place the bananas in the sugar, add 3 tablespoons of boiling water, and boil until the sauce becomes sticky.