Cambodian eatery offers 'Pol Pot' rice porridge as a reminder of darker times

Tuon Tem, 49, holding a bowl of porridge outside his restaurant in Siem Reap province on June 19, 2017. He is offering the dish to remind Cambodians how tough life was under the Khmer Rouge.
Tuon Tem, 49, holding a bowl of porridge outside his restaurant in Siem Reap province on June 19, 2017. He is offering the dish to remind Cambodians how tough life was under the Khmer Rouge. PHOTO: REUTERS
A bowl of watery rice porridge - a staple dish for most during the 1970s - from Tuon Tem's restaurant.
A bowl of watery rice porridge - a staple dish for most during the 1970s - from Tuon Tem's restaurant.PHOTO: REUTERS

SIEAM REAP, CAMBODIA (REUTERS) - A Cambodian food stall began serving on Monday (June 19) a thin, watery rice porridge that almost everyone had to eat during the 1970s rule of the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for one of the worst genocides of the 20th century.

The owner of the small "Pol Pot regime porridge" shop in Siem Reap town said he wanted to offer the porridge as a reminder of the country's dark past.

About 1.8 million people died during the rule of Pol Pot's ultra-communist Khmer Rouge party from 1975 to 1979. They died from torture and execution as well as disease and starvation after harvests failed.

Restaurant owner Tuon Tem, 49, said he lost nine relatives during that period and was offering the porridge to remind young people about how hard life was then.

"I had this idea to have young people, including my children, know how hard it was," Tuon Tem, who is also a captain in the army, said.

Tuon Tem said he offered two plates of porridge, a modern version with fish, vegetables and rice, and Khmer Rouge style, a thin gruel with salt on the side, all for US$1.50 (S$2.07).

Chin Ka Moniroth, 26, a customer, was not impressed with the dish, though he said the restaurant might attract young people wanting to try something new.

"It's tasteless, it's just water and salt," Chin Ka Moniroth said.

Police were also not impressed with the restaurant, saying it could not use the name Pol Pot.

"He was a brutal killer," Siem Reap police chief Ho Vanny told Reuters. "This is not appropriate."

Tuon Tem said police had told him to remove the sign, but he had not done so.