How things are made

Hi! We’re in Cambodia! Adjusting to southeast Asia’s extreme temperatures (currently 96°F with 43% humidity) after New Zealand’s temperate climate has been a bit of a shock, but we’re adapting. The key? Drinking plenty of water and a hotel with a pool. Plus, no heavy-duty touring activities (like dusty temples) between the intense hours of noon and 5PM. One must take good care of oneself when traveling.

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$29 a night gets you quite a bit of luxury in Siem Reap.

One of the benefits of traveling in less developed countries like Cambodia is often the opportunity to see things being made by hand that are almost always created by machine elsewhere. We participated in a tour that took us through small villages outside of Siem Reap where we had the chance to see incense, rice noodles, and tofu, among other things, all crafted by hand.

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This incredible woman has been making incense sticks since she was 15. She’s now 76.

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Scented bark, used as the base for the incense sticks.

Bark and other raw materials for the incense are collected from the surrounding area, then sifted and made into a paste with water. The paste is rolled around bamboo sticks, dusted and dried in the sun.

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61 years of making incense by hand might be the embodiment of mastering one’s craft.

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Dusting the incense sticks before they’re left to dry in the sun.

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The finished incense sticks are collected into bundles and sold at the market for ceremonial use at altars such as the one below.

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An altar at a village pagoda.

We stopped at a home in a village outside of Siem Reap where fresh rice noodles are made. As with most of the homes we visited, this business is a family affair, with everyone participating in the household’s livelihood.

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The dough for these noodles is simply finely ground rice and water.

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This contraption uses the well-known engineering theory of “playground seesaw” to knead and pound the dough in shallow pans.

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The noodle dough is placed in the cylindrical press and tamped down with a wooden plunger.

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The boy wasn’t heavy enough to weigh down the press, so another family member joined in.

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Noodles gently dropping into their hot bath.

The family’s press is a simple yet ingenious human-weighted device that forces the thick, dense dough through a metal sheet pricked with tiny holes, creating the thin noodles. The noodles are quickly cooked in boiling water, then removed and drained.

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Bundles are carefully weighed, although these women are so skilled and accurate that the scale probably isn’t even necessary.

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The noodle bundles are packed in bamboo-lined rattan baskets for transport to the market and local restaurants.

Another stop was a house near Siem Reap’s wholesale market where a local family makes fresh tofu. Batches and batches are made every day and sold at the market or to a multitude of small restaurants. The “production kitchen” is of course also the family’s home.

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The wood-fired stove used for heating the soymilk.

Tofu is made in a manner very similar to cheese: fresh soy milk is heated, a coagulant is added to curdle the milk, and the mixture is pressed to remove liquid.

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The hot soymilk curdles immediately after the coagulant is added. 

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The curd is drained through fabric before being placed in the press.

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The drained curd is placed in a tray and pressed to remove liquid. Note the clever use of a bottle jack!

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Finished tofu.

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Tofu cubes, ready for sale. Tofu is always stored in liquid (usually filtered water) to keep it fresh and moist. 

If you’re interested in making your own homemade tofu, start here!

6 thoughts on “How things are made

  1. Pingback: How things are made, vol. 2 | Finding Quiet Farm

  2. Pingback: 32,831 miles later | Finding Quiet Farm

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