A colourful tea house in Russian Market serves up fusion treats

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Cold dessert with pudding, cheese, variety of boba balls made from fruits and vegetables. The prices range from $2 to $10. Heng Chivoan

If the Covid-19 pandemic has you stressed out and exhausted lately and you’re looking for a sweet escape, consider indulging in some traditional Asian desserts with boba balls made from tapioca or creamy puddings.

These age-old recipes have long been a part of Asian food culture but now these comfort foods are available with spruced up presentations and modern twists.

Oun Ouk Master Tea takes traditional desserts to the next level in terms of taste and presentation, opening their appeal to people of all age groups and nationalities who can now enjoy the refreshment offered by these cold treats against the tropical heat.

Located at #146 Street 155 to the east of Tuol Tompoung market, Oun Ouk Master Tea is a great place to sip a drink and unwind in a comfortable seat under soft lighting and surrounded by a colourful interior design.

The entire shop has an unusual colour scheme of pink, purple, blue and green, with velveteen sofas sitting in front of pale pink walls and dangling spherical lamps brightening up the atmosphere. Their realistic-looking artificial flowers put people in the mood for spring.

Overall, women seem to most love the shop’s decor – but wherever women go, men will usually follow.

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The cafe is brightly illuminated and filled with cheerful shades of pink, purple, blue and green. Heng Chivoan

Along with the relaxing vibe, Oun Ouk Master Tea serves drinks, desserts and snacks with a classy presentation at an affordable price.

The owner of Oun Ouk Master Tea, Chan Sokly, says that most people who visit the shop can spot right away that most of the items on her menu can’t be found elsewhere in town, or at least no identical versions of them can be.

Sokly says she takes pride in her cafe being different, and that she didn’t expect that she would come this far with only her skills in the kitchen to rely on.

The 35-year-old owner and former fragrance wholesaler tells The Post about the turning point in her life when she decided to open a cafe.

“Honestly, I never pictured myself walking this path. But Covid made me reconsider since my previous work wasn’t going very well at all anymore and I thought about what else I knew how to do or could even attempt to do and I realised that cooking was a skill I already had that could help me earn a living,” she says.

“I used to travel a lot when I was working in wholesaling, and I always adored cooking. It was just a part of my life even before I had my own family. When I’d take a trip to Taiwan I would learn to make drinks there or when I went to Vietnam and Thailand I would learn how to make snacks and desserts that I found there. But at the time I didn’t have any ambitions to open up a cafe at all,” she says.

Last year, Sokly opened a small shop near Boeung Keng Kang market on Street 380 to test the waters and see if the business would do well. And it did well. So well, in fact, that barely six months later in January, 2021 she was already expanding to her second location in Tuol Tompoung.

The Oun Ouk is the most popular of her many desserts. The dish is made up of fruit pearls and makes creative use of sweet potato to recreate the pig from the shop’s logo and comes with a jelly topping.

The combination of green, orange, purple, red and black pearls served with ice, coconut milk and sugar syrup is a perfect mixture and not too sweet, nor too bland.

Also notable – especially for the many westerners who live in the surrounding Russian Market neighbourhood – is her large selection of different individual-serving sized cheesecakes priced at just 10,000 riel ($2.50).

Some of the cheesecakes follow tried-and-true formulas using strawberries and the like, while others are an east-west fusion with an Asian-dessert twist added in such as boba pearls or sweet corn.

Her signature drinks are the fruit tea honey and the coffee ktis honey. Fruit tea honey is served with a tray of fruit that you can juice into the glass yourself. It also comes with a nice chunk of real honeycomb – not imitation honey or a syrup mixture – just in case customers wish to go even sweeter.

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Coffee ktis honey comes with coconut milk and a delicious edible chunk of honeycomb instead of sugar. Heng Chivoan

The taste is appropriately fruity from the fruits and savoury-sweet from the honey, and 100 per cent all-natural.

Sokly says she’s aware that today people in Cambodia are worrying more than ever about gaining weight, which is why she uses all-natural honey to sweeten all of her drinks instead of processed sugar.

According to Sokly, the honey is better for your health and less likely to lead to the obesity-related health problems from processed foods that are endemic in the west and lately becoming a growing issue in Cambodia.

Coffee ktis is served with a set of ice, coffee, honey and then coconut juice to replace the more typically used ingredient of milk. Milk is largely UV-sterilised in Asia due to lactose-intolerance and thereby robbed of most of its nutritional value, with a lot of empty calories and fat left over.

The swapping out of dairy for coconut juice along with the use of natural honey instead of processed sugars are nice hidden health bonuses available to Oun Ouk Master Tea’s customers.

Oun Ouk Master Tea also sells bottled fruit drinks and the prices for all of the shop’s many drinks, desserts and snacks range between $2 and $10.

Despite the success of her cafe thus far, Sokly says she never stops thinking about ways to innovate and update her recipes or selection of dishes. She says she strives to be original and is adamant about bringing something new to her customers whenever she makes a menu change.

“If I come up with something that has a flavour that is commonly used, then right away my instinct is to make the texture or the presentation really different from everyone else’s to make it stand out.

“I noticed that teenagers seemed to have developed a fondness for meatballs lately. So I added them to my snack menu, but I can’t just serve ordinary stir-fried meatballs. I fry mine along with corn, okra, cucumber and shrimp – and it’s been one of the top-sellers in our cafe,” she says.

Another top-seller among the snacks is the fried noodles with salt and chilli powder. This dish is served with a bowl of soup and a separate big bowl of fried noodles that have already been seasoned with salt and chilli powder and mixed with egg, morning glory and seafood.

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The fried dry noodles with salt and chili powder is almost as popular as the stir-fried meatballs. Heng Chivoan

You can mix your noodles with the soup or eat them dry, however you prefer them – and each version, dry or soupy, yields a very different flavour from the other.

Before the recent Covid-19 outbreak that necessitated mandatory masks and social distancing, customers were barely squeezing in to Sokly’s new location on Street 155 with the crowds she was attracting.

Now, in the interests of safety and public health, she’s doing most of her business through deliveries via the apps Foodpanda and Nham24. Sales have remained brisk, however, keeping her staff busier than ever.

Sokly says she’s already got plans to open more branches once Covid is back under control and Cambodia begins to leave the pandemic behind and resume its full economic growth and progress.

“I want to open another branch in Tuol Kork because I’ve been receiving a lot of requests from customers saying it’s too far for them to come all the way down here as often as they’d like, so that’s my next move,” she says.

Oun Ouk Master Tea is open from 8am to 10pm and located at #146 on Street 155, between streets 440 and 446. Orders can be made using the Foodpanda and Nham24 delivery apps.

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