When the sun goes down the south parking lot of one of the capital’s busiest traditional markets, Orussey, is completely transformed into a street food court serving affordable Cambodian favourites from barbecue skewers to rice dishes.

The noisy taxis and rusty trucks vanish, leaving the space wide open for stalls, portable kitchens, tables and plastic chairs under fluorescent lamps. Cooks in face masks preparing meals are visible from every street corner.

Though it doesn’t have comfortable facilities with fans or even a separate seating area for customers, one of the stalls – Bay Srop Siv Mey – still attracts a surprisingly large share of people for its delicious rice dishes.

Easily accessible from the roadside of Oknha Tep Phan (Street 182), Bay Srop Siv Mey is a convenient place to quickly stop and grab takeaway.

Bay Srop is rice soaked with the juices from a meat or infused with its flavour. Just like the name implies, the stall serves five different kinds of this staple Cambodian dish. Tourists or expats looking for great Cambodian street food at a bargain price should take note because they’ll find it at Bay Srop Siv Mey.

The five dishes on the menu are fried rice with crab meat (16,000 riel), steamed rice with dry beef (10,000 riel), rice with pork rib (8,000 riel) and rice with pork or rice with dry fish (7,000 riel each).

Opened in October of last year, the stall owner, Srey Tep, says her customers seem to enjoy her food and her fast and friendly service.

“Before opening a very humble shop here, I sold my food online. I had experience at home helping my mom sell coffee and meals but I’ve never done this on my own before.

“I’ve never been to any school for proper training but thanks to my grandpa’s skilful work as a wedding chef, I’ve learned cooking as a part of my family heritage. I was taught to cook at a very young age and not just me, my entire family too,” she says.

Tep – who works during the day at her mother’s beauty salon – says her recipes are different than the standard versions and that she tries to be creative.

She gets some of her ideas from Thai food. The ingredients are all from local markets but she tries to apply different cooking techniques to each dish.

For example in her rice with dry fish she adds pickled mustard greens and when she marinates her meats she likes to let them soak for longer periods.

The cooks – wearing facemasks and preparing meals – can be seen from every corner.Hean Rangsey

At the moment Tep only serves five dishes in her small shop because she says “I don’t want to rush things, since I don’t have people helping me out. I will just focus on these five for now. Besides, because of Covid I don’t think it’s a good idea to start something bigger just yet.”

Her fried rice with crab meat catches the eye of many customers. The rice is fried brown and a bright and sunny yellow egg yolk is poured over the pale white and pink crab meat, which is garnished with lettuce and tomatoes. It goes great with a bowl of soup or either of two fish sauces and the crab meat is delicious and tender.

Rice with dry beef is also a crowd favourite. With all five dishes the focus is on the flavours and Tep serves them with sauces and pickled vegetables that enhance and compliment each dish nicely.

Even though she’s now regularly having days so busy that she can’t even count the number of customers she has coming or going, she says she reminds herself regularly about two people who really played a crucial role in the development of her humble shop.

“I can recall the incident clearly. It was the first day I added the fried rice with crab meat to the menu and it sold so well,” Tep says.

Crowds of people were coming in as word of mouth was quickly spreading in the densely packed neighbourhood and she even had people ordering by phone.

“It sold out! I think I sold 200 of that dish alone. Because of that, I started to get sloppy and I neglected my plating. I was rushing out dishes and I wasn’t presenting all of them properly the way you’re supposed to,” Tep admits.

She says she got to the point that day where she was so exhausted that she had just given up on how it looked and mixed the crab meat with the eggs and then she dumped it on the fried rice as the orders came in. It may have tasted the same, but it didn’t look very appealing.

Post staff sample the food at Bay Srop Siv Mey at Orussey market along Oknha Tep Phan (Street 182). Hean Rangsey

“This lady took a photo of it and trolled me on her page. Honestly, I wasn’t angry with her. I am forever grateful to her because she reminded me that what makes you a success can only keep you a success if you consistently do things the right way,” Tep says.

She expressed her gratitude for another customer who seemingly went out of his way to complain, but in reality was trying to help her grow her business.

“On the first day he came and ate at my shop. The next day he came for takeaway. Then he called and told me that my food is delicious but I needed to package it better and include a dinner plate, so I followed his advice and he remains a loyal customer. Small things are important. You must never neglect anything,” Tep explains.

While Covid continues to spread and cause a great deal of economic damage in Cambodia – especially to street food vendors – Tep is thankful for those who have spread the word about her and her fellow vendors food.

One such patron turned out to be an influencer on Tik-Tok and Tep says she’s had a number of customers who have shown her the same Tik-Tok video she made, which is where they first learned about her food stall.

Tep is thankful to everyone who has been a customer or helped spread the word about her food and she is already planning for her future in the restaurant business.

“I want to give thanks for all the love I have received from everyone. In the near future, I want to open a small restaurant where I can add more of my favourite dishes to the menu like Kampot spring rolls and Khmer noodles with fish curry. Please continue rooting for me!”

Bay Srop Siv Mey is open from around 6pm until 12am and is located in the car parking lot at Orussey Market. Orders for delivery can be made by calling 096 333 33 73 or 087 600 660.