Member Reviews

This is a memoir of Chantha Nguon - escaping from Cambodian genocide in 1970s and living as a refugee who left her family, home and country behind.

This book starts with Nguon's happy memories during her 9-year childhood, when she was steeped in kitchen's aroma which flavors will help her survive years of exile. From Cambodia to Vietnam to Thailand, the blows of poverty and loss made me wonder if I was in fact reading a memoir, the amount of trauma and horror able to devastate even the stone heart. Amidst the stories of escape and desolation, cooking meant an act of maintaining Nguon's internal resistance so she could find solace in the small pleasures. While they fight for daily rice, kindness coexists with brutality and one can feel the beacon of hope that overcomes the dominant powerlessness.

One remarkable aspect is the Khmer proverbs (at the beginning of each chapter) and Vietnamese folktale infused in the pages that give a more personal touch to this memoir. Nguon shares family recipes throughout the book, inviting readers to witness her love of cooking as a connection to Nguon's past, which sustains the process of healing and endurance.

Recreating the food and its descriptions, alongside the evocative prose, flood one's mind with images and make the emotions palpable. It was delightful to immerse into the Cambodian culture (defined by rice) while meditating on star fate x religion.

SLOW NOODLES is a heartfelt homage to food and memories, also a powerful read about Cambodian voices whose past cannot be erased yet yearn for better days. Read this if you enjoy food memoir or an inspiring read about war and family.

cw: war, genocide, violence, sexual assault, death, racism

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“Once you have learned to lose everything, there’s nothing left to fear,” Chantha Nguon learned. A refugee at age five, she lost the security of a loving, comfortable home filled with the aromas of her mother’s cooking. Haunted by the memory of hunger and the memory of happiness that could be resurrected with a taste of a beloved dish from her childhood, Chantha endured and survived, and finally, was able to thrive and help other women with her non-profit organizations. But it was a long journey across three countries and a decade in a refugee camp.

It tasted like home and happiness, like a past I chose to remember as perfect.
from Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon

Chantha shares her family recipes that shaped her life, including her mother’s Slow Noodles Porridge with Chicken and Pork and Pate de Foie, to foods of desperation, Land-Mine Chicken and Frog Soup.

“Free will is a muscle It requires exercise,” Chantha writes. Her family’s escape from Cambodia for Vietnam did not bring safety, for under Pol Pot starvation and death stalked them. As a young woman, she and a companion plotted to escape to Thailand, but instead of finding a refuge they were interned in camps where privation and hunger and disease awaited. Although Chantha spoke numerous languages and had training in sewing, cooking, and medical care, they were unable to gain refuge in the West. Desperate for their lives to begin, they accepted repatriation to Cambodia. After failed ventures to find an income, finally found employment and opportunity to help others.

From a soft childhood to the trauma of war and dictatorship to opening a Women’s Development Center, Chantha’s story will enthrall and inspire.

Thanks to the publisher for a free book.

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I enjoyed this book and rate it 4.5 stars rounded down. The subtitle "of love, loss and family recipes' gives a prelude to a book where the author tries to grieve by sharing family recipes and her love of cooking. There are 20 recipes, most of which are rather time consuming and neither my wife or i will probably try them. But I enjoyed reading them and many sound delicious. My wife does the cooking for the two of us. Her favorite cookbook is "30 minute Meals" by Rachel Ray.
Slow Noodles in the title is there because it takes hours to prepare rice noodles in the traditional manner. When the author worked at a food stall, she would arise at 4am to start preparations for selling at 7am.
If you are interested in Asian cooking, then this book is for you. i strongly recommend to anyone who enjoys cooking.
#slownoodles #SlowNoodles #NetGalley
Thanks to Katrina Tiktinsky at Algonquin Books for sending me this book.

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"Slow Noodles" is moving and beautifully written. In the vein of "Crying in H Mart" by Michelle Zauner, Nguon blends family anecdotes, traumatic history, and soulful recipes to create a narrative that is impossible to turn away from. Highly recommended. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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A memoir of the loss of home and country told through the lens of food. A Cambodian refugee during the Vietnam War, this is a both a unique and common story, how commonplace violence becomes. Nguon is able to survive by becoming a brothel cook, a nightclub waitress, a street-food vendor,, and a make-shift nurse for refugees. Nguon loses everything, her home, her family, her nation and the only thing tying her back to all of these things are the recipes she remembers and prepares. Food has the ability to instantly bring a person back to a particular time and place.

I have not been exposed to a refugee story from the Cambodian lens so I found this a fascinating memoir. And as a lover of food and as someone who spends much of my personal time when I travel going into food stands and on food tours, I truly believe you learn a culture through its food so I loved hearing the recipes and how Nguon integrated those recipes into her memories in this book. I listened to this memoir on audio (which is generally my preferred medium for memoirs) so I felt she was telling me her story and I loved it, but I am so excited that I also have the book so that I can refer to the recipes and attempt to make them myself (this is one where you really need both!)

4.25 stars

Thank you to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for the ARC to review

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A touching tribute to Nguon’s heritage and mother whose recipes she not only lovingly recreate and recounts but also has passed on and shared with many.
I have read other memoirs by Cambodian survivors of Pol Pot and I feared the worst for the author and her family. Although they suffered from the regime it was different from other stories I’d read.
Still, as the author watched her family dissipate food became the constant theme and focus. I loved her mother’s nickname for her as a child as she lurked and lingered in the kitchen.
There is such a tone of love and reverence by the author for food and all the memories attached to it.
It’s also a great look at the history and politics of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand for fifty years.
It’s a memorable read.

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An amazing memoir from a woman who showed exceptional resilience in the face of horror and upheaval. Nguon lost everything more than once due to the wars and insane political decisions but every time she picked herself up and reinvented herself. This is her story, as well as the story of Cambodia. The recipes are wound through the narrative and each of them means something to her and, after you read this to you as well. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. Impressive, immersive, intelligent, informative-and important.

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Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon is a haunting, captivating memoir of a Cambodian refugee who lost everything but remembered the valuable lessons taught by her mother in their hometown kitchen. For two decades in exile Chantha's irrepressible will to survive led her to take on cooking in a brothel, making and selling street food, learning to suture wounds, weaving silk, and mining for rubies. Her memories are seen through an emotional lens of food, and she scatters recipes with advice on methods and ingredients throughout the book.

Definitely read content warnings for this one if needed. The details from Chantha's experiences are so heartbreaking, but also inspirational as she works to help others in need and does whatever it takes to ensure that any children she has will be given opportunities for a better life.

Thank you so much to Algonquin and Netgalley for this ARC to review!

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Every year I read a handful of nonfiction books and Slow Noodles is probably one of my favorite nonfiction books I've ever read. Chantha recounts the joy of her childhood and the horror of losing everything and everyone. Only once she becomes "white hands" (truly in poverty) does she begin to build back up. This book not only educated me on the history of Cambodia, but also the refugee experience. It's not a quick journey to a satisfying ending, this memoir takes us through decades of loss and survival.

How do we experience our culture? Chantha starts her memoir just before she's nine years old. In that happy bubble of her childhood, her best memories are in the kitchen with her sister and mother. The beauty of this memoir is the interwoven recipes. Chantha revives her culture through food. She has no photos, no written history, but she does have her puppy nose and the remembrance of her mother's dishes. That's how she rebuilds and finds joy. Even at her lowest, her family always found joy in food when they could.

When Pol Pot comes to power and promises to purify Cambodia, Chantha's family starts the exodus to Saigon. Chantha is half Cambodian and half Vietnamese; her mother knew that they weren't safe, and so they ran. In Saigon, Chantha lives in a small house with her siblings, though slowly her siblings leave with the exception of her older sister. Through these times of fear and poverty, Chantha still finds joy in her friendships and in food. Even as she loses family and friends, as she flees to new homes and has to keep starting over.

There are times when reading I grimaced and times when I almost cheered. Chantha's story is heartbreaking, but all too familiar. Refugees the world over have similar stories of loss and redemption. Some only have stories of loss. Embedded in the story is also female empowerment. Even when Chantha is at her lowest, she still looks for small ways to lift up others. When trying to escape Cambodia the second time with Chen, she cooks for a brothel, but it's not just cooking. She also tries to help by providing medical care to the women who work there. Later when her and Chen start their own nonprofit (link above), the focus is female empowerment through education.

This book is beautiful and haunting. Thank you, Chantha, for giving us your history.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for the ARC.

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Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon is a heart wrenching haunting memoir a story of displacement of loss a book of her family’s memories of their life before the Khmer rouge destroyed her family.The author brings us back in time thorough her moms recipes the tastes of her mom’s cooking her delicious food.II love the recipes the author shares with us bringing us into her world.A beautiful story a memoir and a cookbook a book I will be recommending..#netgalley #algonquinbooks.

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I'm so glad I read Chantha Nguon's beautiful memoir "Slow Noodles." I loved the combination of her stories with recipes and associations. For example, she said garlic, chili and lemongrass taste like prosperity and linger, making you think you have recently eaten. Or describing how much luxuries like limes meant after her experiences with hunger.

As someone who has been privileged to visit Cambodia, including Battambang, I learned so much from this book to provide context, especially about recovery after the war. I really loved her descriptions of returning to Cambodia after the war and how it had changed. I also appreciated reading about her journey to Thailand and kindness experienced along the way. Her stories of waiting in refugee camps (such as trading on the black market for cooking oil and instant noodles) and repatriation also really capture the refugee experience more than most books. Her hopeful spirit to help improve the world, especially for women, was very encouraging. I also really appreciated the afterword from her daughter as well as her daughter's narration of the audiobook. Highly recommended. Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Books for the eARC.

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Part memoir, part cookbook, Slow Noodles by Chantha Nguon is the story of having nothing, living through incredibly difficult circumstances [war, poverty, adversity] and surviving it all.

This is a deeper memoir, one that explores a country beyond dates and numbers. This is the story of family, of food, of memories. It's a beautiful story that does require you to have something to eat while reading because it's easy to smell food, hear kitchen noises and feel the love that is put into each meal and each memory that Chantha Nguon relives.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review.

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Beautiful! I'm struck by Nguon's rich storytelling and family history along with the lush food descriptions and recipes. It is a reclamation against genocide. "The memory of happiness also lingers - I will never forget its flavors and aromas. It smelled like cloves, crackled pepper..." Poignant. Powerful. Thank you.

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Nguon has lived many lives: a brothel cook, a suture nurse in a refugee camp, a street vendor, a tofu maker, a silk weaver, a poverty-stricken refugee, and more.

From the age of nine to her mid-thirties, Nguon was a Cambodian refugee escaping the terror of Prime Minister Lon Nol’s dictatorship, then Pol Pot’s reign and the Khmer Rouge, and the genocide of her people. This is her story.

Slow Noodles—the title and the story itself—is a nod to Nguon’s mother’s slow noodles philosophy in the kitchen that became a philosophy for life: the best dishes require extra time and patience to prepare. Life can be long and hard, there are no quick fixes, but with a little faith and resiliency, something beautiful can be created.

Nguon weaves her stories of a life lived in war-torn Cambodia and Vietnam with stories of a life surrounded by food, including recipes from her homeland—from her mother, her heart. Nguon is a remarkable woman with a remarkable story that will cause readers to experience an extremely wide range of emotions—joy, nostalgia, grief, hunger, longing, empathy, sadness, and more.

This is an incredibly captivating book seeping with important history lessons as well as mouth-watering concoctions that have their own story. I believe that this is the first story—the first non-fiction story, at least—that I have read about Cambodia. For that, I am grateful that Nguon chose to share her voice and her story to others. I would consider this one of the most profound memoirs of the year. It made me really acknowledge the privileges in my life in a way that no other book has before.

Thank you NetGalley for the digital copy. Everyone should absolutely grab a copy of this when it comes out on 02/20/2024. You won’t regret it.

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I'm a sucker for a food-centric memoir, and this might be my favorite one yet. Chantha Nguon has an absolutely incredible story, with wonderful highs and devastating lows, and the way she weaves food and her family recipes into this memoir is so meaningful. Slow Noodles will transport you to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand, with smells and tastes and personal memories that jump off the page. I believe this memoir will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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recipes, Cambodia, Vietnam, sewing, family-drama, family-dynamics, family-expectations, family-history, survival, grief, grieving, Khymer Rouge, historical-figures, historical-places-events, historical-setting, history-and-culture, Indochina, forced-poverty, forced-labor, refugees, relationships, relatives, cultural-exploration, cultural-heritage, biography, memories, black-market, smuggling, war, bravery, education*****

I read the book for being the memories of a survivor of Indochina at horrible time in history and how she managed to survive and grow. I will buy one for my sister because she is a real cookbook geek and will love it.
Life for ordinary people in Cambodia was of a sort Westerners have trouble understanding before the series of wars, and the horrors of the takeover by Pol Pot were worse than those of the Gestapo. Chantha kept on doing whatever it took for survival until almost all of those she loved were dead. Then it became issues of becoming a refugee with hope diminishing each year despite learning new skills and languages. Finally she and her partner had to return to their former homeland and found it much changed. Working with one NGO after another and bringing forth the special cooking skills she retained she worked with others to save the hopeless and bring them choices.
(We have no Southeast Asian ancestry, and our people came to Wisconsin by choice in the early 1900s.)
I requested and received an EARC from Algonquin Books via NetGalley. Thank you!
Love Songs from a Shallow Grave (Dr. Siri Paiboun, #7) by Colin Cotterill (2011) is worth reading.

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This was a beautiful and haunting memoir and food diary of a women who was a Cambodian-Vietnamese refugee. She went through so much (I cried!) with her family and being forced to grow up so fast. I have never known hunger or poverty like she described and it was an emotional learning journey for me. I recommend this book for those who enjoy stories of perseverance and strength, and to learn about the rich culinary history of Cambodia.

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This is such an unusual and wild story that it makes for truly remarkable reading. It's almost impossible to believe that one woman's life could have such a trajectory and it is a real eye-opener on the plight of Cambodians and Viet Namese. The recipes are beyond what I would even ever think of trying so if you're looking for a cookbook this probably isn't going to satisfy you. But it will make you very curious about this cuisine that the author seems to have mastered with the help of her mother and older sister. It's a sad story, but also a success story. If you need an example of grit, this is it right here.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. It's truly incredible.

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I absolutely adored this book!
I reminded me of Michelle Zauner's Crying in H Mart in the way that it connects food to cultural and personal memory. Family, culture, and home are all so strongly connected to food. Smells and tastes are strongly connected to memory.
This book serves as a memoir, recipe book, historical account of conflicts in Asia, exploration of international aid (successes, failures, hypocrisies, realities), a feminist challenge to traditional gender roles, and reflections on motherhood.
This book reminds you to be grateful for what you have. This book reminds us of the privileges we have to be born into safety and wealth (whether we truly feel that wealth in our lives or not).
Chantha's writing is beautiful, her refelctions are raw and honest, and the power of food is something every reader can relate to in an authentic and touching way.

Highly recommend this title!

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Honestly, if Slow Noodles sounds even vaguely interesting to you, you should pick it up. It's an amazing and richly descriptive memoir that is going to stay with me for a long time. Nguon gives so much information about regional history and the geopolitical climate during the 70s and 80s in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. She's also lived such an interesting and varied life, but it was all in the name of survival. She's been through so much. Many of us couldn't even fathom going through half of the things she has gone through and she gets through them with such perseverance and humor. She's resilient, resourceful, and fierce. This is the best memoir I think I've ever read, which admittedly I haven't read a ton, but this sets the bar high for any future ones I pick up.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with an eARC of this memoir, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

P.S. I am super excited to try out some of the recipes in this book. They seem pretty straight forward. I just need to pick up a few items from my local global market.

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