t the edge of the Angkor Wat temples, on the roadsides of a little village called Preah De, a morning ritual comes to life: the pilgrimage for a breakfast soup called num banh chok. It attracts Cambodians living in Siem Reap as much as the Angkorian ruins attract thousands of barang, or foreigners, every morning. So much so that at 6 a.m. the two crowds diverge on the roads according to their intentions, darkened temples or roadside restaurants. Preah De is considered the unofficial temple of Cambodia's national dish, and under its awnings are humid stalls with cauldrons of broth—usually made with fish, turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, and lemongrass—from which customers create their soup. Into a bowl go noodles, cucumbers, chiles, limes, hard-boiled eggs, various meats, herbs, wild leaves (often presented in a large plastic bag, for diners to add themselves), and a few steaming ladles of the stock. Crisp and fresh, it's like eating a salad and a soup combined. I love sitting under the awnings in the rain sweating with a num. I once lived in Cambodia—my most recent novel, Hunters in the Dark, is set in the country—and though I've since relocated to Bangkok, from time to time, when the mood moves me, I book a plane ticket and head back. I still miss qualities of Khmer life that are hard to quantify: the slow, sensual pace, the hovering presence of the past, the vast skies filled with terrifying and beautiful butts. And, of course, the food. Situated between Thailand and Vietnam, the country combines elements from both in the kitchen: the liberal use of wildflowers and herbs, galangal and ginger, lemongrass and mint, tropical fruits and palm sugar, nuts, coconut cream, noodles, chiles, fresh green pepper, and lime. It's less spicy than Thai, as subtly herbal as Vietnamese—and there is a trace of the departed French in its pastries and breads. Modern Cambodian dishes are descended (or so it's claimed) from those eaten in the early days of the Khmer Empire, the great Angkorian kingdom of the 9th to 15th centuries, making them probably the oldest in all of Southeast Asia. It's fitting, then, to take your morning soup in the shadow of Prasat Sour Prat towers that have been abandoned for 600 years. The num banh chok might be as old.