A haunting and beautiful memoir from a Cambodian refugee who lost her country and her family during Pol Pot's genocide in the 1970s but who finds hope by reclaiming the recipes she tasted in her mother's kitchen.
RECIPE: HOW TO CHANGE CLOTH INTO DIAMOND
Take a well-fed nine-year-old with a big family and a fancy education. Fold in 2 revolutions, 2 civil wars, and 1 wholesale extermination. Subtract a reliable source of food, life savings, and family members, until all are gone. Shave down childhood dreams for approximately two decades, until only subsistence remains.
In Slow Noodles, Chantha Nguon recounts her life as a Cambodian refugee who loses everything and everyone—her home, her family, her country—all but the remembered tastes and aromas of her mother’s kitchen. She summons the quiet rhythms of 1960s Battambang, her provincial hometown, before the dictator Pol Pot tore her country apart and killed more than a million Cambodians, many of them ethnic Vietnamese like Nguon and her family. Then, as an immigrant in Saigon, Nguon loses her mother, brothers, and sister and eventually flees to a refugee camp in Thailand. For two decades in exile, she survives by cooking in a brothel, serving drinks in a nightclub, making and selling street food, becoming a suture nurse, and weaving silk.
Nguon’s irrepressible spirit and determination come through in this lyrical memoir that includes more than twenty family recipes such as sour chicken-lime soup, green papaya pickles, and pâté de foie, as well as Khmer curries, stir-fries, and handmade bánh canh noodles. Through it all, re-creating the dishes from her childhood becomes an act of resistance, of reclaiming her place in the world, of upholding the values the Khmer Rouge sought to destroy, and of honoring the memory of her beloved mother, whose “slow noodles” approach to healing and cooking prioritized time and care over expediency.
Slow Noodles is an inspiring testament to the power of food to keep alive a refugee’s connection to her past and spark hope for a beautiful life.
About the Author
Chantha Nguon was born in Cambodia and spent two decades as a refugee, until she was finally able to return to her homeland. She is the co-founder,of the Stung Treng Women’s Development Center, a social enterprise that offers a living wage, education, and social services to women and their families in rural northeastern Cambodia. A frequent public speaker, she has appeared at universities and on radio and TV news programs, including NPR’s Morning Edition. She cooks often for friends, family, and for private events. An excerpt from Slow Noodles in Hippocampus was named a Longreads Best Personal Essay in 2021.
Kim Green is an award-winning writer and public radio producer and contributor based in Nashville. Her work has appeared in Fast Company, the New York Times, and on NPR’s Weekend Edition, Marketplace, and The New Yorker Radio Hour. A licensed pilot, she was formerly a flight instructor.
“I’ve never read a book that made me weep, wince, laugh out loud, and rejoice like Slow Noodles. In Chantha Nguon’s harrowing, wise, and fiercely feminist memoir, cooking is a language—of love, remembrance, and rebellion—and stories are nourishment." —Maggie Smith, New York Times bestselling author of You Could Make This Place Beautiful
"A heart-lifting story of radiant compassion, Slow Noodles reminds us of a life-affirming truth: Even when all seems lost, who we most essentially are, like what we most unerringly love, somehow remains. We have never needed this beautiful book more.”—Margaret Renkl, author of Late Migrations
“With hauntingly vivid and often surprisingly beautiful language and imagery, Slow Noodles tells an astonishing story of life—persistent, miraculous life—in a harrowing era. I’ll never forget it.” —Mary Laura Philpott, author of Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives
“A testament to the strength of women in times of war, a recipe book of memories, and a lesson in rebuilding after destruction, this memoir is a reminder that the world has ended many times over in different places, and that our teachers in survival walk among us every day.” —Thi Bui, bestselling author of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
“Chantha Nguon connects to the joy of the sight, scent, taste, texture, and even sound of food, and when there is no food to eat she connects to the memory of food. In this potent narrative of unbreakable, inviolable, female power, each recipe is an act of grace, transformation, resistance, and reclamation.” —Alice Randall, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the NAACP Image Award for Soul Food Love
"Not only the remarkable story of Chantha Nguon’s life, Slow Noodles is a beautiful glimpse into the hearts of women as they find each other over food.”—Lisa Donovan, author of Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger.
“It is rare that a memoir and the meals it recounts truly depend on each other, each intrinsic to the other. Yet that is the case in Slow Noodles, where recipes reinforce the incredible, poignant, difficult, and often joyous tale of Chantha Nguon's survival. This book tells a story that must be heard, and offers the tastes of an extraordinary life.” —Tamar Adler, author of An Everlasting Meal and The Everlasting Meal Cookbook
"Lyrical and visceral, perfumed by charcoal fires and fish paste, this call and response between narrative and cookbook shows us all how time in the kitchen can restore. Slow Noodles is food and life writing at its most profound."—John T. Edge, host of TrueSouth and author of The Potlikker Papers
“Achingly beautiful. Nguon explores how food fuels love, preserves history, restores losses, heals trauma, and binds people and cultures together. This is a work of synesthesia. The flavors described in these pages become so potent that they transform into colors that can be seen, textures that can be felt, and music that can be heard. I have read many food memoirs but none have moved me, sated me, inspired and informed me like Slow Noodles.” —Amanda Little, author of The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World
Named a Most Anticipated Book of Winter/2024 by San Francisco Chronicle, Reader's Digest, Parade, Publishers Weekly, and Zibby Mag
The Best (and Most Anticipated) Nonfiction Books of 2024, So Far - Elle
“Best Books to Read in 2024” - PEOPLE.com
“[B]y turns, heart-wrenching, inspiring, harrowing, and mouthwatering… Slow Noodles is a rare gem of a story, gorgeously written, humble and stirring, and packed with tempting recipes. Shelf Talker: This memoir of food, family, feminism, and Cambodian history, which includes enticing cookbook-quality recipes, is breathtaking in its emotional resonance and lovely writing.”—Shelf Awareness
“Slow Noodles is a poignant memoir meets cookbook… This book is an act of resistance and reclamation filled with lyrical prose.”—Parade
“Chantha Nguon reclaims the love and culture she lost with a beautiful collection of recipes knitted together with her personal story.”—Reader's Digest
“[A]n evocative, haunting memoir… those who dive in will find it a remarkable and important piece of work. A moving book that mixes horror and hope, disaster and good food, creating a poignant, fascinating read.”—Kirkus Reviews
An “engrossing and evocative debut memoir.. Nguon interweaves the hardships she endured with her favorite recipes and the memories attached to them, offering readers evocative glimpses of the bursts of light that sustained her through long stretches of harrowing darkness. This haunting yet hopeful account will appeal to foodies and history buffs alike.”—Publishers Weekly
“Demonstrating an exceptional sensitivity to the cultural, social, and political significance of food… this memoir is also a redemptive homecoming to parts of Cambodian history still fresh in many minds and a meditation on the beginnings of a new Cambodia.”—Booklist
“Nguon’s memoir about being a Cambodian refugee surviving a genocide to discovering hope and faith through her mother’s recipes will move you to tears. It’s not all down notes though and the story beams with hope, pride, and determination.”—Debutiful
“[A] gorgeous… deeply personal memoir... Interwoven with recipes and lists of ingredients, Nguon’s heart-rending writing reinforces the joy and agony of her core thesis: ‘The past never goes away.’”—Elle
“Nguon’s story is heart-wrenching, but her strength and ferocity shine through every page of Slow Noodles.”—Chapter 16
“The book is not only an impactful memoir of an extraordinary woman but a human-centered take on an era that has largely been defined by a lack of humanity.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Food is at the heart of this poignant memoir of war and displacement — food prepared, food shared, food longed for... a heart-shattering read, illuminating the atrocities and cruelty of war but also the strength of those who live through it.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Lyrical, harrowing, and fiercely feminist, Chantha Nguon’s Slow Noodles is the gripping story of family, survival and food that blends poetic remembrances with 22 unique recipes.”—Southern Review of Books
“With such descriptions and a strong sense of place, Nguon expertly captures the bittersweet feeling of her memories and makes Slow Noodles a moving reflection.”—Eater.com