A very thin Ny Kheng from Prey Nhoek in the Kvao commune sits down to devour 30 baguettes (L), his party trick. Thim Chanthy from Kampong Cham province is another eating freak – gorging on 45 of sticky rice cakes in just a few minutes (R). Photograph: Sou Vuthy/Phnom Penh Post
A man who can lift an entire oxcart by himself, another who uses his bare hands to capture giant fish from the Mekong and another who can swallow razor blades and then regurgitate them without injuring himself.
These are the types of people Apsara television show House Number 11 tracks down each week to amaze viewers with peculiar skills from all over Cambodia.
This week we meet men you may not want to invite to a dinner party – because they may just eat everything you’ve prepared for a planned group of 15.
Along the way to Takeo Province, 54km southwest of Cambodia, producer Sok Samnang bought three big bags of baguettes, each containing 10 of the long French bread loaves.
But they were not for TV crew’s lunch. They instead were off to capture the amazing talents of village people ranging from a disabled man climbing a sugar palm tree to a young man using his teeth to pull a van along the road.
But the show’s producers had also heard about the man who can eat a basket of baguettes, so the loaves were bought to see if it was true he could eat up to 30 in a sitting.
The show’s producer and presenter Samnang has people from all over the country contact him to tell of their talents to feature in his 30-minute weekly show, which has run every Sunday on Apsara TV since the station was founded in 1996.
“Our TV programme helps to promote people with amazing talents,’’ he says. "Some can do magic or weird stuff that make the viewer’s jaws drop.”
Such as one man who can eat burning coals.
But last week the crew filmed something special. A man with a weird talent that would make people laugh, but also fear his trick could make his stomach explode.
In Prey Nhoek village, Kvao commune, villagers gathered at Ny Kheng’s house wondering why the TV crew was in their tiny neighborhood. Nobody knew that this local man could eat like a giant.
Even the TV crew was suspecting it was a hoax, because the man looked small and did not seem to be a big eater at all.
But it was true.
“My special talent is that I can eat up to 30 baguettes,” he says.
Then the 21-year-old skinny man sat on the big wooden bed with a pile of baguettes before him.
In less than 20 minutes, he managed to finish 16 baguettes and was on his way to 30 when Samnang told him to stop, fearing the young glutton would have a severe stomach problem because the baguettes he had bought were not common – they weighed twice as much as ones sold in streets.
The 16 baguettes were equal to 30.
Ny Kheng, whose nickname is ‘Fatty’ despite his scrawny appearance still insisted that he could eat more, but Samnang didn’t want the show to end in tragedy as baguettes expand in the stomach when mixed with water.
That’s why Ny Kheng did not drink even a drop of water. He only gargled to clear his mouth and teeth along the way.
His talent was not appreciated by some neighbours. “What a total useless talent,” one said. “He doesn’t go to school. He does not know how to farm. Yet he boasted about his eating talent!”
After filming finished Kheng weighed 50kg and pulled up his shirt to show his flat abdomen. But he is not the only big eater who is skinny.
In an earlier episode a man named Thim Chanthy from Kampong Cham province gorged on 45 sticky rice cakes in just a few minutes.
The 33-year-old man said: “I’m a farmer. I need strength to plough and carry heavy load under the scorching sun”.
The sticky rice cake, or Banh Cha Noeuk, is a Vietnemese dessert made with rice flour and beans. It is very sticky and difficult to swallow and usually people can only manage to eat two at a time.
He said being a big eater is not a useless talent. Once he devours a lot, he can work without food for the next few days. And besides sticky rice cake, he can also eat a big pot of rice and eat more than 3kg of Cambodian noodles in a sitting.
“House number 11” airs on Apsara TV at 8pm Sundays
To contact the reporter on this story: Sou Vuthy at [email protected]