In a town where Khmer cookery classes abound, Asana Old Wooden House owner Sophary Unn, aka Pari, has come up with something different: Siem Reap’s first cocktail-making class.
The classes, held daily from 5-7pm, provide the chance to learn how to make – and drink – three Khmer cocktails, plus one concoction of the students own invention.
Purely in the interests of journalistic integrity, Insider went along to find out more.
The classes take place outside where it is cooler, and start with a chopping board, a knife and a small piece of fresh ginger.
Kicking off with the ginger mojito, Pari instructs us in the art of chopping while explaining that the idea originated with her partner and Asana co-owner, Guilhem Maitrepierre.
“Guilhem wanted to do something here, so his idea was to have a Khmer cocktail class, and as we already serve Khmer cocktails it made sense,” she says. “It’s a nice idea.”
Pari points out the ingredients to be used – ginger, turmeric and various other local spices from the market. All the cocktails contain typical Khmer spices, and one is based around Sombai infused rice spirit, the infused rice wine produced by Guilhem’s brother Lionel and his partner Joelle Jean Louis, also stocked at Asana.
The ginger mojito contains rum, ginger root, ginger juice, mint and lime.
We are shown how to crush the ice by whacking it in the palm of our hands, a strangely satisfying act, before of course the best part – tasting the drink, which is extremely refreshing.
Next up is the somewhat less conventional concoction titled tamarind sauce. This, as with all the others, is Pari’s own invention. Her background is in hotels and restaurants and when she opened her former bar, Little Pari, a couple of years back she created a menu of cocktails which, she says, worked well and tasted good.
“With the tamarind sauce we make our own tamarind juice, and it’s also rum-based, ” she says, showing us how to tear up a small green leaf, “Then we use rice paddy herb. It tastes a bit bitter and gives a very good smell.”
Kaffir lime leaves are also added. The rice paddy herb is reminiscent of cumin and when the drink is finished, it has a slightly thick, syrupy element to it and tastes a little tart, like cranberry juice.
I am surprised to find both that I like it, and that spices can be used in this way.
“This is what I want,” says Pari. “I want to show people that Khmer herbs are not just for amok. To me the class is for everybody. It’s something to do at the end of the day and at least they know what’s in these drinks.”
The final cocktail on the agenda is the Asana sling, a variation on the Singapore variety. The beverage came about when a customer asked for a Singapore sling but, not having all the ingredients, Pari made some substitutions.
“For the Asana sling I put in tamarind, galangal, Sombai infused rice spirit, gin, triple-sec, grenadine, cherry brandy and cointreau,” she says.
To this lethal combination we add crushed ice, then Pari teaches us the correct way to use a cocktail shaker to properly cool the drink with the ice.
What emerges is a pleasantly thick, frothy cocktail. It is also shocking pink in colour, garnished with a slice of pineapple, and dangerously non-alcoholic tasting.
All this chopping, ice-crushing and sipping is a far cry from the cookery classes which – while fun – are hard work toiling over a hot stove.
We students are accompanied by the beats of Brazilian music and as the class winds up, the sun has set and we are ready to wobble home. One can imagine the cocktail classes becoming a popular way to begin a night out.
Maximum class sizes are six people, as Pari feels any more would slow down the speed of the lesson. The cost is $10 and classes take place between 5 and 7pm.
“It’s good timing,” Pari says, “It’s perfect as it’s just before sundown and it’s cool then.”