Cover Image: Slow Noodles

Slow Noodles

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

May was definitely the month of gut-wrenching memoirs for me. ⁣

Directly after Crying in H Mart, I picked up Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon. This incredible memoir detailed Chantha’s life as a Chinese-Vietnamese person during the years of the Cambodian genocide. ⁣

This book is heavy and it is so incredibly eye opening. The levels that we as humans go to control, and eradicate, other humans is unfathomable. The lengths and instinct that we have to survive, even more unfathomable. ⁣

Chantha’s story is one of the most incredible acts of resistance, and that is survival. Her story of escape and then her life as a refugee was a tough story, but 100% necessary. I loved how she wrote of her own story with such humility. To me, she is a hero, but she speaks of herself and her choices throughout without any pomp. ⁣

What I loved the most about Chantha was her quiet way of defying the limits placed upon her, mostly through food. By continuing her family’s traditional recipes, using ingredients that would be barred from people from herself, keeping her culture alive within herself… I’ll say it again, she is a hero. Even in the small ways she found to disobey the regime led schools, the supply rations, just everything. It was so inspiring to read. ⁣

I must say that while I had “known” about this part of history, it really revealed how little I know about Southeast Asia as a whole. Genocide is obviously not a new concept to us on a global scale, but its books like these that keep the conversation going. We can never forget what has happened, because it is still happening 𝘯𝘰𝘸 and it’s too easy to be blind to it. I would highly recommend you read this book, but also then take the time to read about the history of the Palestine. Read about the ongoing crisis in Congo and Sudan. Read about the warning signs in Armenia. Just keep reading. ❤️⁣

I received this book through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

This was an entertaining read, though less academic than I had hoped for. I am considering using it in a Food History Course on Southeast Asian studies and will be requesting a physical exam copy to see if it meets some universal design elements needed for the course.

Was this review helpful?

An amazing story of resilience, My first in depth look at a story of the horrors rained down on Cambodians under Pol Pot. Interspersed with recipes, Nguon shares her story through food and food memories. An extremely worthy read.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher Algonquin Books for a free digital ARC (or I guess a late reader copy since I requested this and was approved after it was already published) in exchange for an honest review. The recipes were tied into the story so well before they were reintroduced in recipe format, and it was such a wonderful enmeshing of genres that felt so natural. The ways that the recipes were altered in creative ways, such as with instructions to noisily prepare food to make the eater feel unwelcome eating it–so creative. The food descriptions were incredible and so meticulous, and you can tell the author’s passion for the food knowledge that she wrote this to preserve, keeping both her mother and culture’s recipes alive. The mission of this book and the execution were fairly flawless in my opinion, and even though readers should check the trigger warnings due to the traumas of the Cambodian genocide and living in communist North Vietnam with extremely rationed food, living in extreme poverty, as well as losing so many family members to illness, it is still definitely worth the read. The family dynamics were very interesting to read about, especially in the ways some of her siblings just stopped interacting with them after moving away from Cambodia and the normalcy of that (could just be my western perspective). I am truly not very educated on Cambodia’s history, so even though I learned some of that history from this book, this really emphasized for me how much more I have to learn (I think I’ll read Ma and Me by Putsata Reang soon). I think that ending the book with an epilogue from her daughter was a great way to round out the story and really emphasized the generations of women that are so prevalent in this story. The relationships between Chantha and her mom, her sister (who also took on a mothering role), and then between her and her daughter were the true through line of this book, and it just all came together so nicely and in such a lovely way. Anyways, 5 stars, and I’m glad I took my time reading this.

Was this review helpful?

What an incredible book! The author, the founder of a women’s silk weaving cooperative, shares her remarkable life as a Cambodian refugee. Each segment is told through the lens of the foods that carried her in each phase of life. Despite the dark subject. the author infuses humor and lightness throughout her tale.

This book illustrates how anyone can be vulnerable in times of war. Though raised in relative privilege, once the Khmer Rouge came into power, the author survived starvation, violence, the loss of her family and her home. The author uses her knowledge of Vietnamese and Khmer cooking to support herself and resourcefulness to find hidden opportunities.

I loved the telling of these tragic historical events and how food intertwined with each event. A powerful, interesting read.

Was this review helpful?

In the 70's Pol Pot's name mentioned in the news could stun a room into silence. . .his reign of terror was known to be brutal but details were few with hardly a word slipping to the world at large, said those reporters who did. It has taken all these years for someone's story to cross my too-narrow awareness, to pull my ears to their words, my eyes to the terrible screen of their experience, and thankfully to their survival built one meal at a time, no matter the time and horror between.

Chantha Nguon is a relentless warrior woman as her circle of women taught her to be. . .and she became just about the last woman standing out of her family. Yet she remembered - she kept all those memories of their wise words, the tastes and smells they created, the songs they sang, and their brave and rash actions - keeping all these in her heart.

She was battered down on every level - she remained focused on the one goal: to survive. She did. She got back up, she remained, she persisted, and when the goal was achieved, she looked back and began to make spaces into which others could move forward and hold a place. She writes mixing heartbreak and sensual joy. She paints a bleak picture, with flashes of intense winks of smell, taste, textures and sounds shining from the bleak frames. . .bright bits of her own hopes, foundation for her remarkable patience and resilience in the face of utter terror.

Her use of the "recipe" format delighted me. Through that she touched through my heart to the hearts of anyone who has ever personally prepared my next meal - most likely a loved one - this is a format that can be understood in most any language. And with a stroke of genius she turns it into a metaphor for her basics - ingredients and actions: what is needed to take down a society, what is needed to build it up, what is needed to survive, what is needed to thrive.

We didn't know we missed her voice until we heard her story, songs. . .and to remind us of our human connection she generously invites us to her table with one of her family's most sacred truths: their recipes for surviving.

*A sincere thank you to Chantha Nguon, Algonquin Books, and NetGalley for an ARC to read and independently review. #SlowNoodles #NetGalley

Was this review helpful?

In this complex, descriptive, and challenging memoir, Chantha Nguon shares her life in both Cambodia and Vietnam in the last sixty years, starting in the 1960s while the Vietnam War was going on. Told from her perspective, readers follow her life from childhood to adulthood and life as a mother and a full-time worker in rural Cambodia. Nguon highlights the highs and lows of her life, from losing her father early and the division of her family as hostilities and conflict entered Cambodia to the simple joys of buying new shoes and working for NGOs and individuals who loved her cooking. Nguon includes several recipes -- some for food and some for life -- throughout the book, and each recipe has specific associations and elements that relate to various parts of her life. Nguon’s narrative abilities mimic her culinary skill; both come naturally to her, require work, and showcase her ability to grow and overcome the challenges thrown into her life. Giving readers a fascinating and unique insight into recent Southeast Asian history from that first-person lens, Nguon’s memoir is a strong and powerful memoir that provides a fascinating perspective into daily life for Cambodians and her remarkable resilience through these challenges.

Was this review helpful?

Wow! What an excellent read! I absolutely LOVED Slow Noodles: A Cambodian Memoir Of Love, Loss, And Family Recipes by Chantha Nguon - it was amazing! A definite must-read for everyone! This is one book you won't want to miss out on.

So, what is Slow Noodles about? (summary from NetGalley)

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.

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.
How fascinating does that sound? You get politics, history, food, and all the feels rolled into one awesome book. Getting to know Chantha through her life story, you find yourself in awe of this resilient, remarkable woman. She has experienced way too much for anyone to ever have to experience in a lifetime, and yet she persevered and kept on going when so many others would have just given up. Her strength is inspiring. And the way she includes food with her memories of the family she loves and lost is so special. Food helped her to heal and to connect with her country. Slow Noodles is truly a gem of a book. The writing is just so powerful and thoughtful. I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy ASAP!

Thank you to Algonquin Books and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book!

Was this review helpful?

It took me a little while to finish, but this was a gorgeous and inspiring story. I have read about the Khmer Rouge before, but have never gotten deeply into the impact on the region as a whole, or how it aligned with the timing of Communism in Vietnam. Outside of providing a valuable history lesson, this story was beautifully written. The intermingling of recipe and narrative was striking, and seemed fairly genuine, even in—or especially in—the author's times of hardship.

My one complaint, if I have any, is that the author seemed remarkably unplugged from what was happening around her during the beginning of the story and their early years spent in Vietnam. I think she comments on this later, in saying that her mother allowed her to grow up gently, and that her mother too had a tendency to indulge here and there to put some padding between them and their suffering, but the lesson was a long time coming.

I think this book would be well met by readers of Ma and Me, Beautiful Country or Crying in H Mart—or those attracted to mother-daughter narratives in any context. I especially loved that the afterword was written by the author's own daughter, and that the audiobook was performed by her as well.

Thank you as always to Algonquin Books for the opportunity to read and review!

Was this review helpful?

Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon is a Cambodiam memoir about love, loss and family recipes.
The story of the author starts in 1960's Cambodia, in the provincial town of Battambang, where Chantha's family lived a quiet and peaceful life, where the delicious food of her mother played a huge part in the life of Chantha and her brothers and sisters, before the gruel dictator Pol Pot came to power, before the Khmer Rouge killed more than a million innocent Cambodians, and ethnic Vietnamese, like Chantha's family, in a horrific genocide. Together with her brothers and sister she flees to Saigon, while her other sister joins a convent in Belgium and her mother stays behind in war torn Cambodia. During her time in Saigon, the author loses her mother, brothers and sister, which is just devastating and very tragic. She survives by taking on all kinds of jobs cooking for the woman who work in a brothel, serving drinks in a nightclub, making and selling street food, becoming a suture nurse, and weaving silk. DUring her stay in Vietnam and Thailand, her mother's traditional Khmer recipes, filled with love and memories, play a huge part in her life, as this keeps both the memory of her mother and her Cambodian culture, which the Khmer Rouge tried to destroy. The book is filled with the original fantastic and mouth watering recipes; from chicken lime soup, green papaya pickles, and pâté de foie, to as Khmer curries, stir-fries, and handmade bánh canh noodles.

Later on, as war is also tearing Vietnam apart, she flees to Thailand with her husband, where they land for many years in extreme poverty in a refugee camp, their hope to move to a country as America slowly vanishes as everytime they apply, they are refused. They decide to go back to Cambodia, where Chantha later on became the f =co-founder of Mekong Blue and the Stung Treng Women’s Development Center (SWDC), a social enterprise that offers a living wage, education, and social services to women and their families in rural northeastern Cambodia.

Slow Noodles is a moving and gripping book. I have read more book about Cambodia, but never such a detailed and moving, personal story about someone who truly experienced the horrific Khmer Rouge period. With everything that happens to Chantha in both Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, I am not sure if i could stay as strong as she is. During extremely difficult and tragic circumstances she keeps going on strong and doesn't give up. The recipes of her mother give her also a lot of mental strength .As a reader it left me with great and deep respect for this strong woman. The book is beautifully written, altough what happens to Chantha and her family isn't beautiful at all. Nguon gives also so much information about regional history in Cambodia and the political climate during the 70s and 80s in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam You can truly feel the deep love for her family and food in the book. This is one of the very best memoirs coming out this year, and I truly recommend reading it!!

Was this review helpful?

Algonquin Blog Tour

Most Americans, rightfully so, know about the Vietnam War. They know far less about Pol Pot’s devastating Cambodian genocide. As the world goes through its current genocides, I have to think, how long will we let this cycle keep happening?

I knew going into this that Chantha was Cambodian. I didn’t realize she was also of Vietnamese heritage through her mother. To the outside looking in, and perhaps in particular to westerners, if you see an outwardly Asian face, you don’t think to inquire further. I grew up with many Chinese Vietnamese. The Chinese have a vast overseas community. But to be quite honest, it hadn’t even occurred to me that a Vietnamese would be living outside Vietnam before the war, unless they were rich and lived in France.

I am of Vietnamese heritage. I finished this book on the nearly day long flights I took to get to Vietnam. It’s my first time here. This book made me feel a lot of things. Read this if you don’t feel particularly tied to one culture. Read this if you’re Southeast Asian. Read this if you’re an immigrant. Read this if you loved Crying in H-Mart. Read this because you want to.

Chantha’s story starts and ends in Cambodia, the country of her heart. As Pol Pot’s regime rises, those seen as other are forced to flee, or die. If this story sounds familiar, it is because it is still happening today in different parts of the world. While she didn’t grow up rich, she grew up slightly more middle class than both. Her paternal grandmother is a behavioral nightmare toward her mother. This isn’t a new story.

The family flees Cambodia to start anew in Vietnam, settling in Saigon. But by then, all of France’s former Southeast Asian colonies are having political uprisings. As most of you are familiar with the Vietnam War, called the American War in Vietnam, I won’t go into details.

During this time period, many people die, a lot of them in Chantha’s own family. As the situation in Vietnam grows worse, she wants to flee overseas. She has a sister in Belgium, but wants to go to the US. She and her partner make it as far as a Thai refugee camp, denied each time they interview. As the situation in the Thai refugee camps worsens, she eventually repatriates back to Cambodia to come full circle on her journey.

Most of the recipes in this book sound delicious, like the noodles of Chantha’s youth, but some of them are born of war and scarcity, and involve just rice, salt, and ingenuity. This book made me cry. The first leg of this trip made me cry. I’m just very emotional right now. Maybe you won’t connect to this story like I did, but I hope you’ll give it a try.

Was this review helpful?

As a child, Chantha Nguon equated the amount of time a dish would take to prepare with how tasty the final result would be, and an expression of love by the preparer. As an adult who spent years as a refugee, first in Vietnam then in Thailand and refugee camps awaiting permission to immigrate, she has known deprivation and starvation conditions. As a Cambodian, she has seen the results of genocide first hand, and knows that it will take generations to recover culturally. Life has repeatedly demonstrated that the long and slow way, while it might not get you to where you wanted to be, will produce lasting and impactful results.

I really enjoyed this book. There are deeply sad and moving moments, balanced with moments of calm and humor. The broad cultural context of the recipes is made just as clear as the way the recipes have played a starring role in Nguon’s life. I also appreciated the occasional “non-consumable” recipe, such as the recipe for Little-Girl Heaven (riding on the front of her oldest brother’s moto in Phnom Penh at night). Approaching these experiences as a recipe brought them to life for me in a way that just describing the experience would not.

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs and people who love the way food creates community.

Was this review helpful?

Did Chantha just become my new hero? The answer to that is YES! What an amazing life story of courage and resilience.

Her story is one that will stay with me for a long time and she is a testament that the will to live can help you overcome anything. And that even when you feel that you don’t have anything to offer, you can impact so many lives.

If you ever feel that your life sucks, pick up this book. I promise that it will change your perspective.

Was this review helpful?

Slow Noodles is a memoir about growing up in Cambodia and Vietnam during the Pol Pot genocide and Vietnam war. Chantha Nguon was the youngest daughter in a wealthy Cambodian family, and then everything changed when she was 9. She went from private school to a refugee camp, from making and experiencing marvelous meals to surviving weeks and months on end on only rice, and once from three months with only eggplant. Chantha tells her story through the foods she ate, chronicling the years and her ever changing fate with recipes, some beloved from her childhood, and some with not so pleasant memories. She experiences life as a fleeing refugee, waiting a decade in a refugee camp, surviving as a miner, seamstress, cook, bar tender, tofu maker, midwife's assistant, a nurse, and more. Chantha's story is that of hardwork and resilience, of fearfulness and fearlessness, of good times and bad, but most of all it is about never giving up, and how food can bolster us through even the most difficult experiences.
The following are some recipes and quotes that really spoke to me.

How to Change Cloth into Diamond
Kuy Teav
Go-Home Rice
American Dream Morning Glory, Stir Fried
How to Prepare Instant Noodles in a Thai Refugee Camp
A Taste of Poverty

"Don't people say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Could be. Or it may be that what tries to kill you does harm that can never be fully repaired. Perhaps they are the same thing: the strength and the damage."

"Years later, when I was in Stung Treng working with Volunteer Service Organization (VSO)-an agency that sends development volunteers into villages all over the world-I sat in a meeting with wide-eyed new volunteers. "How do we define poverty?" the instructor asked the trainees.
"No electricity?" said one. Another: "No TV?"
For them, this was an abstract question. For me, it was not.
"Maybe you are poor in America, if you don't have a TV," I said. "But if you eat nothing but rice and salt for two months, you will understand what poverty is.""

"I wondered how long women would remain the poorest of the poor, in a great sea of poverty. We'd heard so much about our Chbab Srey responsibilities—and were often expected to fulfill them, even in this merciless time and place. I wondered what the Chbab Proh, the "Rules for Men," had to say about men's responsibility to not exploit teenage girls for their own gratification, or about how not to abuse or abandon their wives and children.
I walked back to the clinic and prepared a very nice soup. It was all I knew to do."

Was this review helpful?

Slow Noodles was a great mix of memoir and cookbook. If you loved Crying in H Mart, this is another memoir that will blend food and memory.

Was this review helpful?

Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon is the story of survival. The facts of the book are moving. They are all the more so for the calm manner in which the narrative is related. What makes this memoir even more gripping is its anchor in food memories. The relatable food memories bring the story closer to me as the reader. Although I may never comprehend the enormity of it, in some small way, I can understand a small piece.

Read my complete review at

#SlowNoodles by #ChanthaNguon reviewed for #NetGalley and an @algonquinbooks blog tour.

Was this review helpful?

Wow. This book is ... wow.

Nguon writes powerfully and beautifully on a topic (a series of topics, really) that I knew very little about. Many of her life stories, and others shared on the page, are heartbreaking; but bringing them to light is so very important. We need that visibility, remembrance, and memory.

It's not an easy story or read by any stretch, and I wished at times I could turn away from it all--but these things really happened. I applaud the author's bravery in sharing her story.

I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

Absolutely captivated by this memoir that marries the history of Cambodia with Nuguon's personal narrative of hardships, triumphs, and survival all told through the language of food. Rich with poignant memories and a treasure trove of recipes, as well as the harrowing history of the region and the tapestry of cultural and culinary influence brought there by South Indian, French, and Chinese influences. Though food features prominently (and you will find truly special food experiences in this book) the story of her life (during two civil wars, time in refugee camps, and the continued struggle for basic survival during the insanity and brutality of American carpet bombing on the lives of civilian Camodians, killing as many as 150,000 civilians, the impacts of which still ripple out to affect the region to this day and the subsequent regime of the Khmer Rouge) is reflected in the stories of food, what she misses, what she craves, the hunger and the beauty of a single shrimp in a household bereft of the culinary wonders they once knew, all help to anchor this story deeply in its humanity, allowing readers the world over not only historical insight but a way into empathy for those whose worldview and lives, upon first blush appear to be so different from our own. This book is so soulfully expressed and so thoroughly filled with the longings of a young woman in search of a taste of a good life, one where peace and humanity fill our bowls and bellies with the warmth of kindness, empathy, and a taste of home.

Was this review helpful?

In her memoir, Chanta Nguon starts out as a well fed happy 9 year old in Cambodia and details her life as she loses her family and country Pol Pot's genocide in the 70s. Food is central to Nguon’s story as she recreates recipes from her mother’s kitchen to survive in body and spirit.

This book broke my heart. This book made me really hungry. This book made me really wish I lived closer to a Cambodian restaurant. It’s hard not to be impressed by Nguon’s resilience and skills for reinvention as she moves from being a refugee, to a street vendor, to a brothel cook, to a suture nurse…. And how she finds solace in food. From a writing stand point, I really loved how Nguon weaved the narrative around food. It’s never overwhelming in terms of culinary details, and it creates a very evocative reading experience. I loved the Khmer proverbs at the beginning of each chapter and the recipes at the end, detailing a dish mentioned in the chapter (I would love to brave trying to make one).

Thank you so much to Algonquin Books for the gifted copy of this one!

Was this review helpful?

“I will tell you my story, but I insist on telling it with hands busy and the kitchen full of enticing aromas. I’ll cook for you throughout the telling. You’ll see for yourself that the past cannot be erased so easily. You’ll taste for yourself the way that history can be carried forward, borne on the smoke from a long-gone mother’s charcoal fire.”

Chantha Nguon's emotional memoir, Slow Noodles, tells the story of her coming of age in the time of the Khmer Rouge's totalitarian regime in Cambodia. Spanning multiple decades and traveling across Southeast Asia, from Cambodia to Vietnam to Thailand, the author frames her narrative using vignettes about food and family.

As one might expect given the setting and content, Nguon's narrative is devastating, and while it is rife with stories of violence, abuse, death, and grief, the author's story is, at its core, a tale about a girl growing up. While many of her life experiences are truly unfathomable to someone like myself who lives with such privilege, Nguon also told plenty of stories that felt deeply relatable--stories about growing up, rebelling, and questioning herself and the world around her. The ability to relate to and understand Nguon made the tragedy she experienced all the more heartbreaking.

Content warnings: war, violence, genocide, grief, death, cancer, sexual violence

Was this review helpful?