The aroma of spices, the sizzle of frying pans and the buzz of excitement filled the air at The Elysee Koh Pich, as the NhamFesta food festival kicked off in Phnom Penh on December 8. 

The 12-day event, which will run every Friday to Sunday until December 31, showcases the diverse cuisines, flavours and culinary traditions of Cambodia and its fellow ASEAN countries. 

Thousands of food lovers, both local and foreign, flocked to the opening day of the festival to enjoy the delectable dishes, chill out in the festive atmosphere and marvel at the presence of famous Cambodian chefs, celebrities, singers and influencers.

The food festival is hosted by Unbox Marketing, a Phnom Penh-based boutique advertising and creative agency, and leading real estate developer Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC). The Phnom Penh Post collaborates as a media partner.

The Elysee Koh Pich, a new and elegant venue inspired by the French-style Parisian streets, was chosen as the location for the event. 

OCIC deputy CEO Touch Samnang explained that the venue was carefully designed to attract tourists and provide a new place in Phnom Penh for nightlife leisure and recreation.

"We created The Elysee Koh Pich with a wide walking thoroughfare which is nearly 1km long. The space is capable of hosting thousands of people, and we also have underground parking,” he said.

“I am happy that NhamFesta is here, providing an opportunity to small business start-ups and those who want to showcase their cooking talent. Food is an art. Different people can cook the same food with the same ingredients, yet the final taste and presentation won't be the same,” he added.

NhamFesta promises to captivate the attendees with not only a rich and diverse food experience but also cultural performances, celebrity chef cooking demonstrations and concerts, as well as numerous other entertainment activities that are sure to create an immersive and unforgettable experience. 

Oung Chakriya, the event organiser and founder of Unbox Marketing, has gathered famous chefs, celebrities, singers and influencers to promote the event to local and international tourists. 

Among the special guests who have chosen to take part in the festivities are singers Tena and Manith, as well as popular Cambodian-American chef Charles Calvino Hang, who placed 12th in season 13 of the US version of MasterChef.

A bird’s-eye view of the crowd at NhamFesta at the Elysee Koh Pich in Phnom Penh on December 8. OCIC

Also scheduled to appear is Chef Nak, whose “SAOY – Royal Cambodian Home Cuisine” was recently honoured with the prestigious Best of the Best award in the Books Publishers (B02) category at the 29th Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. 

“One of the main aims of NhamFesta is to help promote tourism. Most international travellers think of Siem Reap when they think of Cambodia. Actually, the capital city of Phnom Penh has a lot of attractions that have not been promoted to international tourists,” said Chakriya. 

“For this reason, we worked with the OCIC to create this event – the first that showcases the most delicious dishes from Cambodia and neighbouring countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, to name a few,” she added.

A foreign visitor buys food from a local vendor at the festival. OCIC

Ministry of Tourism secretary of state Long Phearum noted that the tourism sector is a priority, as it supports socio-economic development while promoting community, culture and environment protection.

“The partnership between the government and the private sector is important to the development of tourism, with the NhamFesta event an example that shows the meaningfulness of this partnership. The event is helping to showcase the diversity of food and cultural exchanges which connect the countries of the ASEAN community,” she said.

Model and actress Mean Sonyta, who shared her pride at being selected as an ambassador for the event, told The Post that she was dedicated to promoting Khmer culture, especially the art of cooking. She believes that NhamFesta will provide a fantastic opportunity to showcase Khmer food. 

People enjoy food and live performances at the rest area on Friday. OCIC

“On top of the rich and diverse food experience, I invite visitors to come and enjoy the great atmosphere at the well-designed venue, as well as the beautiful decorations, which will be different week by week," she said.

Among the throng of guests was Vorn Chanvattey, who came to NhamFesta with her husband and toddler. She expressed her excitement at the opportunity to taste such a wide range of food from one booth to another in the beautiful walkway of the “instagrammable” Elysee Koh Pich.

"I'm a foodie and I like to eat spicy dishes. It's great that the event takes place at such a beautiful venue where the buildings, the lighting and the decorations are so fashionable. I think that is why there are many people here! For me, it's hard to decide which food I should eat because it all looks delicious and has fantastic presentation," she said.

NhamFesta also attracted international tourists and expatriates. Mingling with the local crowd were Maria, a tourist, and her friend, who were standing at the colourful stacked tables, enjoying a variety of foods. 

"I heard about NhamFesta from a local friend and I thought, well I should come see – and try some food. I didn't expect this huge crowd, but the people are all very friendly. I like the atmosphere and of course the food as well. I tried many different dishes, including some seafood and Asian spicy stuff which I have never tried before. I liked it," she said.

With more than 180 food stalls participating, NhamFesta is set to be remembered as an amazing celebration of food. Visitors can enjoy the festival every Friday to Sunday, from December 8-31, from 4pm to 10pm at The Elysee Koh Pich in the capital’s Chamkarmon district.