Austin In A Pocket: Chanda Mau
Chef Chanda Mau shares her cooking as a way of giving back, connecting with others and honoring her Cambodian heritage
By Sahara Bohoskey
Photos by Mackenzie Smith Kelley
Something magical happened in the summer of 2020. Yes, pandemic cases were skyrocketing and hot girl summer had to take a pause, but a sense of community flourished, too. Sparked by the murder of George Floyd, many communities across the country united for a cause, Bakers Against Racism.
The premise was simple: in your own towns and cities, host a bake sale where the proceeds went to causes to aid the lives of BIPOC communities. Soon, Bakers Against Racism events popped up across the world, involving nearly 3,000 bakers over 200 cities and 17 countries. Though not a baker, Austin’s own Chanda Mau had to jump in.
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“I’m not a baker but…I can make egg rolls. I mean, who doesn’t like egg rolls?” Mau says. Since last summer, Chanda has hosted six pop-ups for charitable causes, including Bakers Against Racism, Austin Pets Alive and most recently those affected by Hurricane Ida.
The youngest of 10 children, Mau and her family fled their home country of Cambodia during the genocide of the 1970s. Some of her siblings had to stay, some traveled to the U.S. later and some were never heard from again. The trauma would leave anyone jaded, but for Mau it opened her heart to seeing the beauty and richness of life.
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Working a nine-to-five during the day and cooking up a storm in the evening — steaming, rolling and frying egg rolls — Mau has become Austin’s Batman. Her life motto, ‘Food is love,’ says it all: her cooking isn’t just about giving back, it’s her way of sharing who she is with her friends, finding common ground and, most importantly, connecting with her late mother.
“So many people don’t know what Cambodian food is,” Mau says. “We serve a lot of stews and comfort food [and always] family style.”
From sweet and sour fish stews to banana leaf steamed rice with fillings, Cambodian cuisine is the lesser-known cousin of neighboring Thai and Vietnamese food, but it shares many of the same aromatic spices, including lemongrass, lime, garlic and turmeric. Mau’s specialty are her egg rolls — crispy, fried to perfection and filled with wood ear mushrooms, succulent pork, taro root and carrots. One bite and you taste the love and care that go into each pocket.
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As her rolls have grown in popularity, so too has Mau’s determination to share cooking from her Cambodian roots. Next month, she’s hosting an intimate dining experience at Seoulju, a Korean restaurant and Soju bar on North Lamar. Mau says the dinner, a 10-course tasting menu, will take guests on a culinary journey woven with private memories that will showcase the rich history and traditions of her country.
Mau’s Seoulju dinner takes place on November 13th. Only 20 tickets for the event will be released at 8:00 a.m. on October 20th through Mau’s instagram page, @feedmerightmau.
The World in a Pocket is dedicated to exploring the world through the lens of a dumpling. From mandu to empanadas, spanakopita to gyoza, pierogi to Pop-Tarts, this is our love letter to pockets worldwide and the stories they tell. These beloved staples all share a similar food-inside-of-food structure, while providing a delicious way to understand our world. We are excited to bring TRIBEZA readers Austin in a Pocket, where Sahara Bohoskey has teamed up with TWIP co-founder and photographer Mackenzie Smith Kelley to shine a light on local pocket makers.