Monica Sok is a Cambodian American poet and the daughter of former refugees. She is the author of A Nail the Evening Hangs On (Copper Canyon Press, February 2020). Her work has been recognized with a “Discovery” Prize from 92Y. Other honors include fellowships and residencies from Poetry Society of America, Hedgebrook, Elizabeth George Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Kundiman, Jerome Foundation, and others. Currently, Sok is a 2018-2020 Stegner Fellow at Stanford University and teaches poetry at Banteay Srei and the Center for Empowering Refugees and Immigrants in Oakland, California. She is originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Here, she talks about wanting to build her tea collection, eating colorful meals, and eating in the spiritual plane.
On her all-time favorite meal:
I don’t remember the first time I ate samlar curry, but my mother makes it from scratch. Every time I visit home, she gathers all of the ingredients and tells me that we’re going to make it. When I step into the kitchen, I’m too late. She has already prepared everything—curry paste, potatoes, carrots, and onions. She has already shredded coconut and cut up the chicken. My mother is a woman who does not wait for me, especially when it comes to cooking. But I still get to do the last part, which is the worst part: the noodles. I never get this right. I can’t even talk about it. The way I arrange the noodles is always a mess. When I lived in Brooklyn, my mother once took the bus to visit me. She had brought samlar curry, which she froze in a Ziploc bag and carried with her the whole way. It’s something I really want to learn how to make on my own.
On what the light looks like during her favorite meal of the day:
I have west-facing windows, so my place isn’t very bright in the mornings when I eat breakfast, but a lot of natural light gets filtered through the bamboo outside my window. It’s very calming.
On snacking while writing:
I don’t normally snack on anything while I write. I’m usually in bed with my papers or my laptop, drinking tea with honey. Lately, it’s been the Au Jasmin, the loose leaf kind that comes in that saffron-colored box. Or some green tea. That’s only if I’m writing in the morning. If I’m writing at night, I’ll do something without caffeine like chamomile or dandelion. I want to build a larger tea collection over time.
On her go-to late-night snack:
Easy. Chocolate. To be specific, Ritter Sport chocolate with marzipan or cornflakes. Always something sweet.
On her food quirks:
I try to eat meals with a lot of colors. There has to be color in the things I eat because that’s how I know it’s healthy and fresh. I never add extra salt to my food. I never drink soda unless I’m at the movies—then it’s popcorn and Coke. When I eat out, I usually take half of my food home so I have leftovers for the next day. I prefer warming up my leftovers on the stove over the microwave, and I always consider cracking an egg on top of what I ate the night before.
On her final meal request:
There is no last meal request. I am thinking of rituals instead. I leave food offerings for my ancestors and know that my loved ones will also leave food for me when I’m dead. When I cross over, I’ll just continue eating in the spiritual plane alongside all my ancestors and living relatives. Whatever they eat, I’ll eat.