The Lim Meng Heng family roast pig stall is one of half a dozen or so nearly identical operations set up cheek-by-jowl on the northwest edge of Phnom Penh’s Orussey Market.
A handful of glossy red roast pigs hang behind a narrow table on which sits a thick round wooden chopping block and cleaver, a scale and a pile of delicious, juicy crackling covered pork bellies.
Most days Seng Nara, 43, can be found there, sitting on a blue plastic chair. She and her husband Lim Meng Heng started the business after they got married about 20 years ago and they now have six family members involved.
It may not look like much but it’s actually a pretty lucrative enterprise.
At about $10 per kilo – depending on the quality, time of day, size of the pig and demand – they sell on average 10 roast pigs a day varying in size from 5kg up to 20kg. Most are about 10kg.
But in the lead up to a big celebration like the Chinese Qing Ming festival last weekend – also known as Tomb Sweeping Day – the family can sell several hundred.
Ahead of Chinese New Year, the busiest time of year, they can sell as many as 600 with the price soaring up to $20 per kg.
“It’s a good business to have,” Nara said this week through her brother Bros. “It’s better than others.”
The family buys the pigs from farms in Prey Veng and slaughters them at their home in Toul Songke.
They then roast them, basted in honey and a Chinese spice mix, up to 10 at a time in charcoal-fired 2-metre by 2-metre walk-in ovens.
Chinese New Year is a massive operation requiring help from friends from the provinces who work all day and night.
“It’s so exhausting. I’m so tired afterwards,” said Bros, who also works in the business.
“After, we just sleep all day.”
While ethnic Chinese are their main customers before the big festivals, other Cambodians also buy roast pigs as offerings and to eat at funerals, weddings, birthdays and house warmings and after selling land.
Nara said the thing to look for in good quality roast pig was light-coloured or clear fat. Dark-coloured fat and flesh could indicate that the pig had not had its blood drained properly because it had died before being slaughtered.
The crispier the skin, the thicker the layer of fat, she said, however it was best to try before you buy – most sellers would have samples available for customers to taste.
Nara said the family didn’t have any plans to expand the family business at the moment.
But she said eventually her 21-year-old son Meng Chhun would take over.
“He knows everything,” she said. “How to buy the pigs, how to roast them and then sell them and he works very hard.”