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Soy Houy has been making and selling bamboo sticky rice since the 1980s.
Soy Houy has been making and selling bamboo sticky rice since the 1980s. Kimberley McCosker

Tasting the best from the bamboo sticky rice village

A village near Battambang is drawing visitors from near and far to sample its sweet, roasted dessert

Beside the road in Battambang province’s Samrong Khnong village, Soy Houy, 71, sits under a palm frond shelter.

Nearby, a long row of short, thick bamboo tubes filled with sticky rice char over hot coals.

“My mother taught me how to make it when I was a teenager,” says Houy, who since the 1980s has been getting up at 4am every day to make and sell the sweet dessert.

“I loved the taste and thought it would be a good thing to sell.

There’s no real special ingredient, but people seem to like it, so we’ve kept selling it until now.”

Houy is being modest. The sweet, delicious bamboo sticky rice in Samrong Khnong – made by cooking pre-soaked rice, black beans, coconut milk and sugar in bamboo – is becoming famous across Cambodia.

In recent years, people have started coming from far and wide to fill their car boots with the stuff.

“I often come to buy her sticky rice, sometimes to send to my relatives in Phnom Penh or abroad in the US and Australia,” said Kouy Mouy Guch, a 16-year-old girl from Battambang town who came on her moto to buy an armful for her family.

“I know her place because my friend used to buy it for me from her. I like the taste of the coconut and other ingredients.”

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A tube of bamboo sticky rice before the outside is peeled off. Kimberley McCosker

Uch Omthiny Sara, director of the Battambang Tourism Department, said the local government was actively promoting food tourism in the area, which is also famous for its pagodas, old wooden Khmer houses and stunning rural scenery.

“We have prepared three different touristic areas in the development plan which sell bamboo sticky rice, fish meatballs and rice paper [like a spring roll wrapper],” Omthiny Sara said.

Doung Phon, a village chief at Samrong Khnong village, says many tourists come to visit the Samrong Khnong pagoda which was used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge and has a collection of the regime’s victims’ bones on display.

“Now there are more tourists, because they come to visit our historical area and buy food from our people,” he said.

Houy charges between 1,000 and 5,000 riel for her sticky rice depending on the size of the bamboo tube and can make up to 200,000 riel, about $50, in a day.

However, the grandmother says she can’t make enough of the dessert to keep up with demand.

A widow whose only daughter has gone to Thailand to work, she only has her grandson to help, and he’s usually studying or working.

But while making and selling bamboo sticky rice is not an easy business, the grandmother says she wants to preserve the custom for local and international visitors to experience.

“My daughter’s family also used to sell bamboo sticky rice, but now they have gone to Thailand to work, because this job is hard and doesn’t make much money,” she said.

“But I don’t want Cambodia to lose this tradition, so that is why I continue to do it as my business.”

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