CommunityLife and ArtsNews

‘Casamiento’ food cart offers Cambodian and Salvadoran flavors

Food cart unites first-generation humantarian Jennifer Be’s passion for cooking and lifestyle

Jennifer Be is a hidden gem in the local food scene.

You can find her at Arts Alive! in Eureka every first Saturday selling tamales and banh mi sandwiches from her food cart Casamiento. If you miss her, Casamiento caters orders as small as dinner for two to parties hosting as many as 300 people.

Casamiento, which translates to marriage in Spanish, is where all of Be’s dream began. After her parents fled war and violence from their native countries of Cambodia and El Salvador, they met in Riverside, California and married in 1982.

Casamiento is a platform to connect the community through culture.

Jennifer Be – owner of Casamiento

Jennifer Be is the first-generation fruit of love to her international parents.

From Riverside, Be was drawn to Humboldt’s environmental focus and community culture. With a background in culinary, she set her mind on opening a food cart in her new home of Eureka.

Unlike in southern California, this style of serving food is uncommon in Humboldt. Her dream was met with skepticism from local business owners and officials.

“They didn’t know how to support a dream they never knew,” she said. “That comes with anything you are trying to build that there is no blueprint for.”

Culture crops

One of Be’s earliest memories of her family’s cultural intersection was a disagreement about the flavor of frijoles, or beans.

In El Salvador, beans are served as a savory side dish. In Cambodia, red beans are typically sweetened and used for desserts. This cultural flavor clash made Be realize she could merge the global flavors together while still doing their individual cultures justice.

Be has paved her own path in the process of opening the Casamiento food cart. Now that her vision is a reality, she is proud to greet Casamiento’s customers with “hola” in Spanish or “ជំរាបសួរ,” in Khmer, the national language of Cambodia and serve them both food and culture.

“Casamiento is a platform to connect the community through culture,” she said. “It’s important to not shock people into change but rather hold their hand.”

Feeding the soul

In her culinary practice, Be marries the two countries’ flavors and cuisines, as well as her passion for serving and healing.

She uses organic produce and is even working with Mulligan Farms in Laytonville to grow daikon radish specifically for Casamiento. Ingredients like these are hard to grow in Humboldt County, so sourcing them locally guarantees quality for Be and her customers.

Cooking with trusted ingredients is a priority to both Casamiento’s business model and Be’s lifestyle.

“I am not doing it to make money,” Be said. “I cook with health in mind and to feed the soul.”

While most of her time goes to keeping her dream of Casamiento alive, she feeds her inner humanitarian by being an active voice in the community. She is a committee member of Womxn Creating Community for Power and has worked with the Humboldt Area Foundation, Black Humboldt and Changing Tides.

Instead of giving up on her dream, Be actively takes on opportunities to collaborate and learn from fellow citizens and business owners. “Where the magic lives is in things we haven’t done before,” she said.

What’s on the Menu?

Casamiento’s menu consists of banh mi sandwiches, native to Vietnam, as well as Salvadorian tamales.

Bahn mis are baguettes cut lengthwise, filled with fresh jalapenos, cucumbers, pickled daikon radish and carrots, cilantro and fresh-off-the-grill meat. Jennifer Be adds a twist to the banh mi recipe by marinating her meat in kroeung, a lemongrass paste she makes from scratch.

Along with chopped lemongrass shoots, she blends up fresh turmeric, de-stemmed kaffir lime leaves, garlic, shallots and ginger. The mixture is a chunky, colorful blend used as a base for many Khmer dishes.

Tamales are essentially a South American corn dog – stuffed corn dough wrapped in corn husks.

Casamiento offers the two dishes with meat, like the traditional recipes, and has vegan options for both.

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