Suon Sophet’s on som chek barbecue: 12 years and going strong on Mao Tse Tung

Suon Sophet turns his on som chek on the grill.
Suon Sophet turns his on som chek on the grill. Charlotte Pert

Suon Sophet’s on som chek barbecue: 12 years and going strong on Mao Tse Tung

Every day at 6am, 60-year-old Suon Sophet lights up his charcoal barbecue opposite the Chinese embassy on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard and starts to grill one of Cambodia’s favourite snacks: on som chek, or banana wrapped in sticky rice.

He stays here for most of the day, turning the food with tongs at just the right pace. The white, sausage-shaped snack is grilled along with the palm leaves in which it’s served, and Sophet – his wrinkled, kind face at first hidden by the shade umbrella under which he sits – has got cooking them down to a fine art.

Work doesn’t stop at sundown. After 6pm, Sophet will go home and get started on the next day’s batch, boiling the rice and mixing it with coconut, salt and sugar. By day there are too many customers to keep on top of this side of the operation. He stays up until at least midnight; sometimes he has as little as three hours sleep, he says.

The palm leaf provides protection against the heat.
The palm leaf provides protection against the heat. Charlotte Pert

Thought to have originated in Kampuchea Krom, the area in southern Vietnam that used to be a part of the Khmer Empire, on som chek is sold on roadsides all over Cambodia and is eaten as a snack or dessert throughout
the day.

Sophet has served it here on Mao Tse Tung for 12 years. He says that there were once more than 10 of these stalls, all serving up the same fare, opposite the Chinese embassy. But over the years, hikes in food prices have forced most of them away, and there are now only three left.

The snack costs just 500 riel a pop. As a breakfast food, it’s just the right size to justify two or three – and more are very welcome. The pieces are perfectly grilled so that the banana has melted somewhat, producing a soft, warm, gooey interior, supported by the hard, crispy rice exterior. The palm leaf in which it’s wrapped is perfect protection against the heat.

Served alongside the on som chek are square patties of sticky rice. The coconut gives them a bit of a kick, but there’s no gooey banana inside. They pale in comparison to the main snack, which is undeniably good.

Others clearly think so too: in no less than 10 minutes three big cars, one tuk-tuk and two motorbikes pull up specifically to pick up Sophet’s treats. For those in the know, it’s a local institution.

Suon Sophet’s on som chek is located opposite the Chinese embassy on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard.


  • Ethnic group ‘disappointed’ to be denied French visas to attend court

    Eleven people at the centre of a case involving seven indigenous Bunong villages in Mondulkiri province pursuing legal action in France have expressed disappointment after the French embassy in Phnom Penh denied their visa applications to attend court. A press release said the 11 included a

  • Cambodia nabs 12th place in best retirement destinations

    Cambodia is an expatriate hotspot for those dreaming of living a more luxurious lifestyle at an affordable cost, according to International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2019. For the fourth year in a row, Cambodia took the top spot in the Cost of Living category.

  • EU starts EBA withdrawal

    The EU on Monday announced that it has begun the 18-month process of withdrawing the Kingdom’s access to its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement over “a deterioration of democracy [and] respect for human rights”. However, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) said

  • PM: War result of foreign meddling

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Sunday that Cambodia’s recent history of conflict was caused by foreign interference. “The wars that happened were caused by provocation, incitement, support, smearing and interference from foreign powers, and the group of ignorant people who pushed Cambodia to