At a baby blue food cart parked along Suramarit Boulevard, opposite the Cambodia Korea Cultural Center, a small crowd of young Cambodians gather. Some are awaiting their turn to place an order, while others are snapping photos of the illustrations of churros and ice cream on the menu and the front of the cart. It looks more like a mobile café than the other ramshackle street stalls lining Phnom Penh’s roads. What also differentiates it from the rest is what it has to offer – piping hot loops of fried dough served atop a cup of soft-serve vanilla ice cream.
Little Churros is a new venture by Frenchman Gregoire Danet and his girlfriend Noëlie Derouet, both formerly based in Paris. During a year spent travelling Asia, they discovered that churros were hugely popular in cities throughout the region, from Thailand and Malaysia in the southeast, to China and Japan in East Asia. It was at a crowded food stall in China that the couple had an unforgettable taste of churros and ice cream.
“The combination of ice cream and churros was perfect,” says Danet.
While in Paris, the couple had already thought of starting a business in Cambodia, but struggled with finding a focus until Derouet woke up one morning saying she dreamt of churros. They then embarked on an experimental process to develop their own recipe, researching and recreating recipes from the internet until they managed to produce one they were satisfied with.
They opened their first food cart near NagaWorld in February. This has proven popular with Cambodians ranging from high school age to young adults in their thirties. A second branch was opened in Boeung Trabek on May 30, and plans for a third cart in Toul Kork are currently in the works. The couple is also hoping to offer churro delivery in the near future, with the goal of creating a franchise.
This is not Cambodia’s first introduction to churros; there were at least two former players – the now-defunct Churros Café and Bong Churro on Street 63. Danet, however, remains optimistic that Little Churros has the secret to success.
“Our customers told us they ate churros in Cambodia before, but the churros were not good, so they didn’t [go] back and that’s why it closed,” Danet said. “A good churro should be crispy outside and not overcooked inside. You have to feel the dough inside, because if it is overcooked, inside will be crispy as well and it will not be good.”
With a crunchy exterior, and a chewy, doughy interior, the plain churros with cinnamon sugar ($1.50 for two) certainly fit that description. Also popular are the glazed churros ($2 for two), with either homemade chocolate or strawberry sauce, while a topping of dried coconut, crushed peanuts, or rainbow sprinkles can be added for 25 cents. For the ultimate decadent treat, pick the ice cream and gourmet churro combination ($3.50), which offers a balance between hot and cold, although it melts all too quickly in the Cambodian heat.
Other than the taste, Danet thinks what makes their churros so popular with young Cambodians is the social media hype.
“The churros and the ice cream and the colours makes it an ‘Instagram-able’ product. I think Cambodian people like to take a photo with the churro, put it on the Instagram Story. That’s how it works in Asia,” Danet said.
As a pair of young women in their twenties paused to pose with their churros and ice cream on a recent afternoon, taking turns snapping shots of themselves and their newly acquired snack before speeding away in a silver sedan, it was apparent that Danet may be on to something.
The first Little Churros branch is located along Street 268, across the road from the Cambodia Korea Cultural Center, and is open from 2:30-9pm, Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-8pm on the weekend. The Boeung Trabek branch is located in front of Boeung Trabek High School, next to the Royal University of Law and Economics, and opens from 11am-5:30pm daily.