Kingston, a university town noted for its farmers’ markets and limestone courtyards, lacks a significant Cambodian population. According to the most recent census, less than 200 of the city’s 130,000 residents identify as Cambodian.
But, for decades, Queen’s University’s yearly influx of freshmen has fallen in love with its many Cambodian restaurants. In 2010, Julia Segal stated in a local student newspaper, “Every day, hundreds of Queen’s students make a difficult decision. Cambodiana or Cambodian Village?”
As students graduate and leave Kingston, they are often perplexed that they cannot obtain the same Cambodian cuisine practically anyplace else in Canada or the United States.
Expats in Kingston continue to crave the city’s Khmer cuisine, as evidenced by messages on message boards dating back years. A 2013 inquiry for local Cambodian choices on ottawafoodies.com was met with a digital shrug: “Another another Kingston transplant who misses the cuisine of Pat…”
It is somewhat peculiar that there are nine Cambodian eateries in Kingston. Google reports that Toronto, in comparison, has only one. Sophat (Pat) Vann was responsible for this abnormality.
Pat opened the first six Cambodian restaurants in the area between 1991 and 2008, but he and his sons currently only operate one, Pat’s Restaurant. Two of Kingston’s three additional Cambodian restaurants, Siem Reap and the Golden Damrei, were opened by his associates. Sarann and Jade Chhouk created and continue to own Khmer Thai in Toronto. They swapped eight months of live-in training for remodeling work with the Vann family.
Pat’s unique style spread because people just can’t get enough of it. In 2018, a hungry Reddit member lamented, “I miss that red curry with all my heart” about Kingston’s Royal Angkor. Even anything just half as amazing could begin to fill the gap it has left.
Saveth, the middle child of Pat, chuckles at all this desire. Customers always inquire about the ingredients in our food.
Incessantly, graduates of Queen’s University drive in from Ottawa and Toronto. Six or seven orders of Golden Chicken, a meal with a fiery punch of coconut, peanut, and lemongrass, are brought up from Philadelphia every Thanksgiving to be consumed at home. How far has someone traveled to obtain food? Australia, according to Saveth.
Matt Allen, proprietor of Aragon Rd Food & Things and chef at Chez Piggy, Kingston’s most renowned restaurant, recalls the first time he experienced Pat’s cooking as a child. Soon after Pat’s original restaurant, the Wok-In, opened in the early 1990s.