Battambang, renowned for its cultural heritage, has achieved a significant milestone as the first Cambodian municipality to join the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN). The UCCN unites nearly 300 cities prioritising creativity and cultural industries in local development plans and international cooperation.

On World Cities Day, October 31, the charming town in the western province of Battambang known for its rich gastronomic heritage, along with 54 other international cities, received the honour of joining the UCCN. Their designation was made by UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay.

UNESCO stated in a press release that all 55 cities were recognised for their steadfast commitment to incorporating culture and creativity into their development strategies, showcasing innovative approaches to human-centred urban planning.

“With the latest additions, the Network now counts 350 cities in more than one hundred countries, representing seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts and Music,” the release added.

Battambang’s inclusion in the gastronomy category not only highlights its exceptional cuisine but also harnesses the power of food to foster local development and global cultural exchange.

Apart from its vibrant culture, this recognition acknowledges Battambang’s local culinary delights, including nem (soft fish), prahok (fish paste), amok, kralan (sticky rice in bamboo tubes), papaya salad, kantuy hes (spicy mixed prahok) and teuk kroeung (vegetable dipping sauce) among dishes that hold a special place in the daily lives of the people of this province.

UNESCO provided technical support to the government and facilitated capacity-building activities for the promotion of the UCCN. This effort was coordinated by the town authorities in collaboration with the ministries of tourism and culture.

“UNESCO congratulates Cambodia on this first-ever achievement. The recognition of Battambang as a Creative City of Gastronomy is a tribute to the city’s cultural assets and will be instrumental in promoting culture and creativity and will enhance the economic growth and tourism income of the communities” stated Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO representative to Cambodia.

“Congratulations! Battambang officially joined UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network of Gastronomy on October 31,” announced Prime Minister Hun Manet in a social media post.

Battambang provincial governor Sok Lou, along with various government institutions, including the culture ministry, also extended their congratulations.

“The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts congratulates Battambang for joining the UNESCO Creative Cities Network of Gastronomy,” the ministry announced.

Interior Minister Sar Sokha emphasised the privileged partnership between Battambang and UCCN. This network not only provides a platform for reflecting on the crucial role of creativity in sustainable development but also serves as a foundation for nurturing activities and initiatives aligned with the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030.

Chhay Matinal, deputy governor of Battambang province, conveyed congratulations on behalf of provincial authorities for securing the status of a creative city for gastronomy. Following the announcement of Battambang’s UCCN recognition, authorities are now exploring the possibility of organising an event in late 2023 to showcase local cuisine to a wider audience.

He noted that local dishes such as amok Battambang, rice paper Battambang and teuk kroeung Battambang hold special places in the hearts of the people in Battambang. While these dishes can be found in other provinces, those prepared in Battambang province are often lauded for their exquisite and delectable flavours, distinguishing them from counterparts from other regions.

“It is of utmost importance for Battambang city to join the UCCN. This move will enable the promotion of Khmer cuisine on a global stage, and more importantly, attract more visitors to experience the diverse flavours of Cambodian gastronomy,” he continued.

He stated that one of the province’s objectives was to establish itself as a destination for both tourists and commercial traders, showcasing the province’s unique identity and various accomplishments.

Historian Sambo Manara remarked that, in the past, some individuals had criticised Khmer cuisine as unpalatable. However, since Battambang city’s inclusion in the UCCN, Khmer food has now gained increased recognition and appreciation. This development stands as a source of pride for the Kingdom and all Cambodians who are eager to honour and safeguard their cherished traditions and culture.

“Khmer cuisine played a significant role in Battambang’s recognition by the UCCN. Hence, we should establish a programme for the younger generations to further explore our culinary traditions and creativity. I’ve observed foreign television shows that teach foreign culinary styles, and we should follow suit to promote our national heritage and identity,” he suggested.