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Bang Em’s mono dessert (left) and the best-selling banana and coconut milk special.
Bang Em’s mono dessert (left) and the best-selling banana and coconut milk special. Athena Zelandonii

Bringing desserts from the street to the table

If you’re going to open a dessert shop, it makes sense to site it near an area of high footfall. That’s just what Cheav Chumnith, the owner of Bang Em, did when he opened his outlet opposite the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Aptly enough, Bang Em means “dessert”. Chumnith’s concept was to take the traditional desserts available at the markets and on the street, and move them indoors. A good dessert, the 33-year-old former marketing manager says, makes him feel nostalgic with its emphasis on taste, quality and decoration.

Chumnith says it took two months of experimenting before he felt he had a line of desserts people would like.

“We’re not just selling a plate of sticky rice,” he says. “We make our desserts using natural colourings from fruits and vegetables like beetroot, pumpkin, carrots – not from chemicals – and with artistic designs in order to create a dish that is both great-looking and delicious.”

As he talks, Chumnith shows off his creations, among which are fried banana wrapped in pastry with pandan leaf and coconut milk for $2.20; melt-in-the-mouth mono – a $1.70 combination of taro, corn, longan fruit, coconut milk and sugar; and sticky rice with durian sauce.

Cheav Chumnith, who also calls himself Ben.
Cheav Chumnith, who also calls himself Ben. Athena Zelandonii

Thirsty diners can also enjoy fresh juices made from rice, pumpkin, potato, carrot and guava, among others.

All of the desserts are priced between $1.30 and $2.50; the most popular, he says, is the fried banana in pastry with pandan leaf and coconut milk, a dish he created.

Bang Em has plenty of natural light, the design is open and simple, and the long list of desserts is easily seen on a board on the wall. Customers order at the counter, where they can examine the different ingredients that go into their dessert.

“I spent two months testing each dessert on different groups of people, because I wanted to create one taste that everyone would like – and I wanted to give people who love desserts a place that they can enjoy in order to create a business that lasts,” he says.

And while many people still eat dessert on the street and in markets, Chumnith says many are finding that a restaurant environment is more comfortable. It’s not just a place to sit with friends, he says; the ambience encourages diners to come back again and again.

“For now, I’m still researching new Khmer desserts for my business, but I can say I don’t feel any pressure from competitors – the more dessert places there are, in fact, the more people will eat desserts, and that helps with the dessert trend,” he says.

Chumnith has plans to establish more Bang Em outlets in the coming years – though that will require his first outlet to do well.

But, as he points out, every business that succeeds started out small. And Chumnith is not short of ambition.

Bang Em is located at #132 Russian Boulevard, in front of RUPP. It is open from 10am to 9pm every day. Delivery service: 070 226 436.

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