There are gingerbread houses, and then there is Pisith Theam’s gingerbread patisserie.
The executive sous chef at Siem Reap’s Park Hyatt took the traditional gingerbread house to a new level this year, plastering the arched walls of the hotel’s Glasshouse Deli and Patisserie with the sweet treat.
The Khmer chef, who does not celebrate Christmas himself, was nonetheless excited about his latest creation. “It is purely for guests,” Theam says. “So when they come in here, they feel like home.”
The gingerbread house took a team of seven a month to create, and nine hours to install. The project used 200 kilograms of flour and 130 kilograms of sugar.
His team also created a smaller gingerbread house, this year modelled on Wat Bo pagoda. Theam says he is already thinking about creating Angkor Wat in gingerbread next year.
Likewise, Siem Reap has embraced Christmas – or at least all its trimmings.
The Christmas trees and lights all over the city seem to be bigger and better than last year. A large Christmas tree dominates the foyer of the Khmer restaurant Malis, albeit with a Cambodian touch: it is made of 180 palm-leaf hats.
Malis master chef Luu Meng says his team created the Christmas tree to support a local community in Pra Dak district. He has also noticed more businesses are putting up Christmas decorations this year, adding that many adopt an international calendar and celebrate foreign holidays like Halloween.
“Siem Reap is a really touristic town, and I guess that business owners would like to attract [tourists], as they are most of the time celebrating these holidays in their country of origin,” he says. “Cambodian people are also more open than [ever] before to international celebrations.”
Borey Soch, the room division manager at Apsara Residence, agrees that Christmas is getting bigger in Siem Reap and hotels are more creative. His hotel also features a Christmas tree with palm-leaf hats.
But despite the decorations and the gift giving, Soch points out a disconnect.
“Mostly [Cambodians] don’t know exactly what the meaning is or what the background of Christmas is,” he says.
Minea Loung loves Christmas and all the decorations around town, although she said they are not as elaborate as Phnom Penh. As a Cambodian Christian, she celebrates the religious holiday, but she understands why so many local people also enjoy the lights and decorations.
“No matter what [holiday] it is, we’re going to just go with the flow,” she says.
She adds that for many people, the holiday is new, especially those from the countryside. “It’s kind of like wow, for them,” Loung says.