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,” said Chef Chad Phuong, the famed “Cambodian Cowboy” of Battambong BBQ. “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—one that has prompted Phuong to create a Cambodian New Year celebration for the second year in a row at Ten Mile Brewing Co. in Signal Hill come April 21—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.
“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—to such an extent that he decided to invite people to his barbecue popup at Signal Hill’s Ten Mile stellar brewery space last year to take part in the final, third-day stretch of the celebration last year.
The result? Hundreds of people descending 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,” Jesse Sundstrom, co-owner of Ten Mile said, laughing. “We’re going to be much better prepared this year, I promise.”
That better preparation isn’t just about the celebration itself on April 21—more on that down below—but a kick-off event on April 2 that will help spread the word (not that it’s needed), act as a place for party goers to go once they reach the end of the parade route for the annual Cambodia Town parade that takes place that very day, as well as give those who missed last year a taste of what to expect.
Chinitos Tacos—Chef Beeline Krouch’s rightfully much-loved Cambo-meets-Mexican taco joint off of Del Amo Boulevard—as well as Long Beach influencer James Tir (aka @LBFoodComa on Instagram) will be co-hosting the kick-off event at Trademark Brewing on Anaheim, just past the westernmost edge of Cambodia Town.
After that, come April 21, the formal celebration of the Cambodian New Year will take place at Ten Mile once again, where they will be closing off the parking lot in order to provide more space, invite more vendors—including the stellar Cambodian wing total that is Shlap Muan (the city’s best chicken wings, period), Golden Skewer, and Artesia’s stellar house of matcha and sweets, the Cambodian-American owned Meccha Matcha—and, to top it all off, include Khmer lager brewed by Sundstrom himself.
“It’s a rice lager that is beautifully light and ultra crisp, some nice floral and citrus notes,” Sundstrom said. “It’ll pair perfectly with our pizzas and Chad’s barbecue. We can’t wait to show it off.”
It is a beautiful melding of some of Long Beach’s most beloved Cambodian businesses with its equally beloved beer culture and residents—something that is worth celebrating throughout the year.
The kick-off party for the Cambodian New Year will take place at Trademark Brewing, located at 233 E. Anaheim St., on April 2 from 12PM to 9PM. The formal Cambodian New Year celebration will take place on April 21 at Ten Mile Brewing Co., located at 1136 E. Willow St. in Signal Hill.
For Brian Addison’s full feature on Chef Chad Phuong for Eater LA, click here.