Cambodian ghosts like cake. Specifically, savoury rice cakes filled with pork and mung beans. Once a year, on the Pchum Ben or “Ancestors’ Day” festival, the gates of hell open and dead relatives swill around the homes of the living.

In order to satiate this hellish menagerie, Cambodians must feed them Num Om Saum, banana leaf sticky rice cake. It is believed that when the hungry ghosts eat the cakes, they are transformed into smiling deities and will bless the country’s rice fields.

“Num Saum” (for short) are wrapped in banana leaves and shaped like phalluses to represent Shiva, the primordial masculine force of the universe. Some are molded into a triangular shape representing Shakti, the feminine principle. At the end of the festival, they are cast into the water of the rice fields in a fertility ritual that harks back to ancient times.

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