The sweet golden flesh of a ripe mango is among Cambodia’s greatest treats, but not all mangoes are created equal. Up top is the Keo Chen, or Chinese Glass – the most aromatic and expensive of all the Kingdom’s mangoes.
“If we were to have a blind taste, I think Keo Chen will be among the [most] unique tastes in the world,” said chef Luu Meng, co-owner of Topaz and Malis restaurants, who uses the mango in his gourmet dishes.
Two Keo Chen mangoes are enough to fill a room with a sweet scent, he added.
The name comes from its supposed introduction to the Kingdom from Chinese traders thousands of years ago, according to Meng. The word keo, or glass, which is used to describe many Cambodian mango varieties, refers to the milky white colour of an unripe mango hanging from its vine. And, costing in excess of $10 a dozen for much of the year, it commands a premium price.
Unlike varieties such as the less expensive Keo Lamiet, which is served in both its sour green and sweet gold phases, Keo Chen is usually eaten when it is at its most ripe. Its flesh, which is the colour of egg yolk, is said to carry a slight coconut flavour.
With the mango harvest season in full swing, there couldn’t be a better time of year to try Keo Chen. Most major Phnom Penh markets currently carry them.
Sokheang, who has spent the past 20 years selling the fruit from her stall on the west side of Central Market, said it is her most popular mango. They come from a village in Kandal province called Akiew Kow, which Sokheang said is particularly renowned for its Keo Chen.
She said: “People like it because it smells sweet. I am selling it now for 30,000 riel a dozen, but that is cheap. At other times of the year, I can sell for twice that.”
On first appearance, the Keo Chen looks disappointingly similar to its mundane cousin, with greenish-yellow skin. But upon the first bite, it proves much sweeter, without the tang that ordinary mangoes can have. A subtle coconut flavour creeps in, like mango and sticky rice after coconut cream has been added.
“You have Pakistani mangoes, Chinese mangoes, and Cambodian mangoes, but [Keo Chen] just stands out,” said Meng.
Additional reporting by Vandy Muong.