Although traditional Khmer food can be found everywhere in Cambodia, people often still prefer to the authentic tastes from certain specific regions of the country. In the past, the only way to experience those truly local dishes was to travel there in person, which remains true for certain things.
However, recently an online shop called Our Village has opened specifically to cater to homesick Cambodians cravings for traditional foods and he’s gathered together many of the popular snacks and foods from different regions of the Kingdom together.
The proprietor, Tong Vengrong, came up with the concept a while ago but has only now been able to put it into practice.
He and his wife created the page for the business in July, 2020, but they’ve been busy with their personal jobs and then the arrival of their daughter, so their plan to retail authentic tastes online was pushed back further until mid-2021 when they finally found the time to devote to focus on their business idea.
“We still don’t have our own physical shop but we are working on that and we hope to open one sometime in December. But we are very active with our online shop. Customers can contact us via the page and we’ll respond every time,” Vengrong tells The Post.
Vengrong credits his wife as being the real driving force behind the business because food is really her passion.
“Honestly, my background is in rural development of agriculture and the economy, but my wife is the one who is really into Khmer food. Originally when we first opened she was making all of the food by herself but then with the baby it just got too hard to handle alone so we adjusted our focus to gathering the unique regional foods together in one shop,” he says.
Vengrong says the mission of the shop is to gather all of the unique Khmer foods that are known from each specific region to the shop in order to serve Khmer foodies, curious tourists or expats and provincial people living in the capital who miss their hometown specialties.
He says that customers who order their products immediately recognise them as authentic and he says any Khmer could do a blind taste test and know where the products come from.
Given their business concept, they feel the name Our Village resonates well with it. It refers to the local characteristics of each type of product they take from each village, commune, district and province.
The shop currently carries items like jek chap (banana chips) with various types of bananas that are deep-fried or dried but generally crispy. They are usually made from firmer, starchier banana varieties like the Saba and Nendran cultivars. They can be sweet or savory and can be covered with sugar, honey, salt or various spices. The most well-known version comes from Skun in Kampong Cham province and that’s where they source theirs from.
Another popular product is num kon trom (brown sugar rice cakes) that also come from Kampong Cham and are made with mungs bean or dried coconut cores.
They also have nom khnhei (ginger sticks), nom chang keus (chopstick cake) and nom trocheak kandol (crispy rat ears) – all of which have no exact geographical origin but are all popular traditional Khmer foods.
However, their masav chre (starched mung bean cake) is taken from Kandal province’s Koh Thom district and their dried jackfruit is from Kampong Cham, while their dried sweet radishes and dried snake jerky are taken from Kandal’s S’ang and Koh Thom districts.
Most of their products are kept in stock at all times but Vengrong says since they’re very focused on quality and authenticity they don’t want to hold on to inventory so long that it goes bad so they sometimes run out of items between resupplies.
For instance, dried snake is one of the rarest products and it’s specifically made by a Cambodian farmer who can only make so much of it himself because it can be kind of difficult to find snakes because, according to Vengrong, most of the snakes are sourced from fishermen using traditional fishing methods with nets.
“Fishermen will often find one or two snakes stuck in their nets that they sell to people who make snake jerky from them. So in our shop we have a little for people who want to try a new taste but it often runs out. Aside from the snake jerky, almost all of the products can be readily purchased whenever you want them,” Vengrong says.
Prices vary by product but typically range between $2.50 to $5 (10,000-20,000 riel) per kilogram or per box depending on the item. The top seller in the shop recently has been the [brown sugar rice cakes]. People like that they are fluffy and soft and they keep for quite a few days and still taste fresh and not too oily.
Vengrong, 27, says the shop is unique because it gathers unique foods from various regions into one place. The packaging they use is professional and meets hygiene standards as do the contents.
“Some Khmer foods do not last very long. The perfect time to eat [brown sugar cakes] is the first 3-4 day and after that they get hard and lose their original taste. Therefore, every type of food that comes into our shop we accurately date and have an expiration date established.
“If we see it reaches the expiration date and the quality is not guaranteed to be there, we won’t sell it. We try our best to buy fresh goods from our partners that we really trust. We want to keep high quality as a principle in our business,” he says.
Vengrong says that although he isn’t getting rich off the shop quite yet, he’s seen the volume of business gradually increasing and he’s happy to see that they are able to retain most of their customers while adding a few new ones day by day.
The next move he wants to make is switching to environmentally friendly and locally sourced packaging, so he’s planning to shift to paper boxes soon. And he’s always on the look-out for good sources for other traditional Khmer foods that they can stock.
Currently Vengrong is looking to bring more dried food items like fish, beef or buffalo meat and he’s been in touch with a supplier from Kampot who makes nom dong kov (coconut cookies) and nom rom jek (sticky coconut wraps).
“I am just grateful to the people who have been supporting Khmer products whether from our shop or other shops. I want to let you know that in Cambodia we have so many traditional foods that are waiting for us to restore them to prominence again.
“There are a lot of delicious Khmer foods, just like any other country, but we all need to do a better job promoting them. Our people still have traditional recipes passed from one generation to another. I hope Khmer food will never lose its identity or be forgotten by the younger generations. And this also helps the families and local economies for the farmers and villagers,” he says.
For more information about Our Village traditional Khmer foods, they can be contacted via their Facebook page: @ourvillage.store