City grant leads to new step in creating permanent Southeast Asian Market in FDR Park

The Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia will help design the permanent market

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A grant from the City of Philadelphia to the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia will help ensure that the Southeast Asian Market will be a permanent fixture in South Philadelphia’s FDR Park, even as tangible improvements to the beloved market may still be years away.

Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell said all 350 acres of FDR Park will be re-envisioned in a $250 million facelift, including the market that is also well-known as the Cambodian Market.

“When we started the planning process, a concern that we heard loud and clear from this community was ‘Where do we fit in?’” said Lovell.

The $100,000 grant from the city to the Cambodian association will be used to help design a permanent marketplace in the park, taking into consideration vendors’ needs for electricity, water, and bathrooms.

Sarun Chan, executive director of the association, said he cannot overstate how much this park means to him and how important the market is within it.

“One of my first moments in this park was learning how to fish with my dad, learning how to bike, learning how to drive my car secretly in the mornings,” he said. “It was also one of the first places I tasted my own people’s Cambodian barbecue.”

Chan explained that first-generation Cambodian refugees grew the market organically over a series of decades.

“Back in the 1980s, 90s, and 2000s,” Chan said. “You could not find these recipes or these flavors, or these ingredients in regular supermarkets and regular Asian supermarkets. They're so unique to Southeast Asia that we used to come to this market just to find kefir lime leaves that are fresh.”

Sarun Chan, executive director of the Cambodian Association of Philadelphia.
Sarun Chan, executive director of the Cambodian Association of Philadelphia. Photo credit Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio

“It's sort of shifted locations over the years, but in that back area of the park, if you were to come to FDR Park 10 years ago on a weekend, you would see all of these tables set up and people cooking,” said Ott Lovell. “Over time, more people started coming.”

Chan pointed out that the market is well known in Cambodian circles across the country.

“It's almost like a checklist, almost like “Hey, I'm Cambodian American. What are the key places I need to go visit?’” said Chan.

The new market design is currently in the planning stages. Officials said it could take a few years until the permanent market space for the vendors is built.

“The plan is that the market continues and that we will be working with the market and the Cambodian association to determine where that permanent home is right,” said Ott Lovell, who added that the grant does not cover the cost of construction.

“Then we'll build that permanent home.”

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Hadas Kuznits/KYW Newsradio