Thursday, May 30, 2024

Annual Cambodian New Year celebration at Ten Mile returns (twako pizza and Khmer lager included)

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For the third year in a row, “Cambodian Cowboy” Chef Chad Phuong of Battambong BBQ will host a mighty Cambodian New Year celebration at Ten Mile Brewing in Signal Hill, the pit master’s long-time home and partner, come Friday, April 26 from 5PM to 9PM. And he brings with it some of the Cambodian community’s finest food stars like Chinitos Tacos, Shlap Muan, and more.

“The Cambodian community is stoked and bless to be able to celebrate Cambodian New Year with The Ten Mile Brewing family three years in a row,” Phuong said. “It’s truly become a tradition.”

Yes, there have already been many Cambodian New Year celebrations—but this one is a classic

“Tradition” is no lie.

“We look forward to the festivities—and the Battambong Lager—each year and love that we get to be the host facility for such a large part of the Long Beach community,” said Jesse Sundstrom, co-owner of Ten Mile.

Phuong is no slack when it comes to the annual celebration of the Cambodian New Year in Long Beach: He already hosted a three-day celebration starting back on April 5, hosting a variety of events that culminated with a food festival at Trademark Brewing—all of which were inspired by his first Cambodian New Year celebration at Ten Mile three years ago: After an impromptu invite for people to attend his barbecue popup at Signal Hill’s stellar Ten Mile brewery space, hundreds of people showed up. Literally: Hundreds of people descended onto the tiny-but-mighty space off of Willow Street in Signal Hill, bombarding both Phuong’s wildly popular barbecue popup and the nationally-recognized brewery.

“Chad approached us about it and we said, ‘Cool, sure, sounds great’—and then suddenly, 700 people were here,” Sundstrom told me last year, laughing.

Last year, Ten Mile brewed a Khmer rice lager—crispy as all hell, perfect with both pizza and barbecue—and that lager shall return again but this time, it comes with a very special pizza that is, well, three years in the making.

Ten Mile’s experimentation with pizza styles is impeccable—making this collab particularly special

For Jesse Sundstrom, the co-owner of Ten Mile Brewing, beer is certainly a passion—but food, more importantly, has been a long-instilled value to his family as a whole throughout his entire upbringing. And that installation of food passion has translated into the brewery creating some of the city’s best pizza. (His carbonara pizza was featured on my favorite dishes of last year.)

After working on the dough for five years, he finally had up to a point in quality where he was ready to serve it—and since, has grown a loyal legion of followers.

For the Cambodian New Year, Sundstrom will be taking Phuong’s famed twako—the tart’n’smokey sausage handmade by Phuong—and his pork belly for a barbecue sauce-based pie that is sprinkled with arugula.

“Being able to use food to bring everyone to the celebration is beyond amazing,” Phong said. “And it’s not just the pizza collaboration we’re doing. As always, I have to give a big thanks to big food brands coming to celebrate, like Shlaup Muan, Chinitos Tacos, Sweetgrass, The Golden Skewers, and my crew at Battambong BBQ.”

How did this tradition of celebrating the Cambodian New Year start at Ten Mile?

For the Cambodian community, the celebration of the new year is much more than a resolution-driven, time-to-better-one’s-self mentality that is common in the American celebration: It is a three-day honoring of the heavens and cleansing one’s self while recognizing the past, the present, and the future.

“The first day is marked by the angels coming down to us, opening up the new year for us, where we offer the deities gifts; the second is honoring our ancestors and our parents, washing their feet and asking for their forgiveness and guidance toward navigating the future; and the third day is an all-out celebration,” Phuong told me last year. “There’s a lot of different, complex elements which is why it is spread across three days—and it’s why I want to invite all of Long Beach to share the experience.”

This deep tie to his culture was something that wasn’t necessarily always tied to his understanding.

Given the Cambodian New Year aligns with Easter, Phuong’s memories of the Buddhist new year are filled with grabbing easter baskets from Walmart, converting them to offering plates for the altars, and going to El Dorado Park to “celebrate”—though he wasn’t quite sure what he was celebrating.

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“Over here, as compared to Cambodia itself, the celebration is very commercialized, even politicized,” Phuong said. “The celebration in Stockton is one that really inspired me; it’s very country-like, as in what they actually do in Cambodia. There are statues and altars, each with a story that you get to tell your kid about. It helps us pass it down… For me, being Americanized for so long, our little celebration at El Dorado Park had me asking more questions than understanding: ‘Why are we doing this again?’ It’s taken me a bit to really grasp it.”

As a child, no one really explained to Phuong the deep, deific symbolism behind the celebration nor the rich cultural value attached to it—something the massive celebration in Stockton taught him: There, he was englightened on his family’s heritage that was almost entirely ignored while being able to offer the younger generation here in Long Beach a space to reconnect to their roots, just as Phuong did.

That fairly new grasp of comprehension really took a hold on Phuong’s character—both spiritually and in the presence he wishes to develop for his community—was what led him to start hosting Cambodian New Year celebrations. In this sense, these parties are more than just parties: They are the evolution of someone, once juggling between a place he was forced out of by genocide and a space he was forced to live in, who come to deeply love his home, his community, and his culture.

The Cambodian New Year celebration at Ten Mile Brewing, ocated at 1136 E. Willow St. in Signal Hill, will take place on Friday, April 26 from 5PM to 9PM.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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