How Kingston became Canada’s centre for Cambodian cuisine
There isn’t a sizable Cambodian community in Kingston, a university town also well renowned for its limestone courtyards and farmers’ markets. According to the most recent census, less than 200 of the city’s approximately 130,000 residents identify as Cambodian.
Yet, Queen’s University’s many Cambodian restaurants have won over new students every year for decades. “Every day, hundreds of Queen’s students face a difficult decision,” wrote Julia Segal in a local student publication in 2010. Cambodian Village or Cambodian America?
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With the Cambodian feasts of small old Kingston, students who graduate and move away are frequently perplexed when they discover that they can’t find the same flavors practically anywhere else in Canada or the United States.
Expats in Kingston have long expressed a desire for the Cambodian cuisine served in the city in posts on message boards. A digital shrug was given in response to a 2013 request on Ottawafoodies.com for local Cambodian options: “Another Kingston transplant who yearns for the food of Pat…”
The fact that Kingston has nine Cambodian eateries is really odd. Google states that there is only one in Toronto. This anomaly was caused by Sophat (Pat) Vann.
Pat opened the first six Cambodian restaurants in the area between 1991 and 2008, but he and his sons currently only control one, Pat’s Restaurant. Others with connections to his kitchens opened Siem Reap and the Golden Damrei, two of Kingston’s three other Cambodian eateries. Sarann and Jade Chhouk, who started and still run Toronto’s Khmer Thai, exchanged eight months of live-in training with the Vann family for renovation work.
People simply can’t get enough of Pat’s distinctive style, so it spreads. “I miss that red curry with all my heart,” remarked a hungry Reddit member in 2018, reminiscing over Kingston’s Royal Angkor. The gap it has left behind would be filled by even something half as excellent.
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Angry Queen’s graduates from Ottawa and Toronto are continually arriving by car. Every American Thanksgiving, one travels from Philadelphia with six or seven orders of Golden Chicken, a dish with a fiery kick from coconut, peanut, and lemongrass. How far has someone travelled to get food? Australia,” Saveth declares.
Matt Allen, who owns Aragon Rd Food & Things and works as a chef at Chez Piggy, Kingston’s most renowned eatery, recalls his first experience with Pat’s meals as a youngster. The Wok-In, Pat’s first establishment, had just recently launched in the early 1990s.