Nget Sophea, a resident in Stung Treng commune’s Prek village of Stung Treng town province, has turned traditional Khmer Ansorm Chrouk, or steamed sticky (glutinous) rice cake with pork, into a new unique dish using a recipe handed down by her grandparents.
She has done this by mixing the rice with pandan leaf water while making the cake’s core out of salted duck egg yolk.
Her cake, a form of regional identity, is supported by people from all provinces, and attracts tourists. It also contributes to the preservation of traditional Khmer cakes, while creating jobs for children, widows and retirees in the village.
Nhoch Saroeun, acting director of Stung Treng Provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts, who visited Sophea with the Department of Tourism, described her ansorm chrouk as being “different from our ancestors’ rice cakes”.
Speaking to The Post, Saroeun said traditionally the cake is made with cowpea and pork as its core. It is usually made during big festivals, weddings or special events. “Sophea’s cake has been transformed to incorporate the [green] colour from pandan leaves, and the core is salted duck eggs, which are delicious.”
The ansorm cakes look like normal cakes on the outside yet taste different from other provinces. Sophea can make the cakes to order for customers anytime regardless of the festive season. Seeing this, the cultural department decided to select it as one of the signature dishes for the region.
Stung Treng provincial department of tourism director Orn Porsoeun felt that selling ansorm is part of the culture and is attractive as Sophea’s cakes are unique and have a different taste.
Porseoun thought that it is good to join hands with the cultural department and list it as a signature food.
“In my tourism sector, I have always been involved in promoting and disseminating information about products which are unique to attract more tourists. I see ansorm as a kind of food with unique flavour, which tourists must not overlook. It is a must-try.
“Therefore, we are promoting it to visitors, telling them that when they visit Stung Treng province they should taste salted-duck-egg ansorm chrouk cake with pandan juice and buy it,” he said.
Porseoun said the business is efficiently promoted to tourists where she has styled her business into a small handicraft trade.
“That way, she can also help the villagers. She has hired seven to eight people to help her make the rice cakes and later she can consider broadening the market,” he added.
In the meantime, the cultural department has continued to encourage Sophea by buying her products during festivals to present to friends or relatives who will share and spread information about ansorm chrouk to others.
Relating her journey with ansorm chrouk, Sophea said she established the rice cake business towards the end of 2019 when she didn’t have much to do after stopping her previous business because of Covid-19. She used to sell porridge, Chinese noodles and fried noodles in the Stung Treng market.
At first, she didn’t plan to turn rice cakes into a business because she was making it for her family.
“I had made about 30 cakes [which was too much]. I thought we wouldn’t be able to finish it, so my children posted it on Facebook [to see if anyone was interested in buying it].
“After that, people started ordering 50 to 60 cakes. That was when my ansorm chrouk business started. Orders gradually increased to 80 cakes a day, rising to 100 to 150 cakes and about 500 cakes during the festival,” Sophea said.
During festivals at that time, orders would reach over 500 cakes but she had to refuse as they did not have enough people to help. “We only had five to six people then.”
As she grew the business, she decided to help out widows, retired people who were unemployed and poor children, who would be able to save some money for their studies.
Although she commercialised her version of ansorm chrouk, she contends that it was not her invention, but her elders’. “I learned how to do this from my grandparents and my mother. Now, I am transferring these skills to the children who work with me.”
Sophea said the children who came to her in the beginning “did not know how to do anything”, so she would ask them to wash the cowpea and sticky rice, and clean the banana leaves.
Slowly, she taught them how to make the rice cake although they took awhile to learn how to wrap and fold the ends properly, improving leaps and bounds over time. “They have reached my level now. They can make the rice cakes like me and it’s neatly done. I trust them fully with the entire preparation process,” Sophea said.
Thanks to the skills they picked up, the children can make around 100 cakes a day from 20 to 30 cakes.
Sophea also has no qualms sharing the recipe and cooking method of her unique dish. “The main ingredients consist of sticky rice, cowpea, pork belly and the yolk of the salted duck egg. To marinade the sliced pork belly, you need sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG), pepper, garlic and soy sauce.
“Soak the cowpea and rice for five hours, then wash them. The cowpea must be washed at least 10 times to make sure they’re clean before steaming. Please add a bit of salt after they have cooked,” she said.
As for the pandan leaves, which Sophea harvests from her garden, they are chopped into small pieces and squeezed to extract the juice. It is poured into the sticky rice and mixed.
Once the rice, cowpea, pork and salted duck egg yolk are cooked, they are carefully wrapped with the banana leaf, and steamed for eight hours straight. “Only then it is well cooked. It can last for five days without going bad because the rice and cowpea are cooked and tied well,” Sophea said.
Most importantly, she stressed, she does not use any preservatives, adding that it’s all natural. “But we use plastic wires to tie them as it is difficult to get natural strings, which we occasionally order from Battambang province.”
On one occasion, she recalled, she made a rice cake weighing 0.75kg and sold it for 10,000 riel ($2.5). Her ansorm chrouk is delivered to all 25 provinces but only if the quantity of the order is five or more. However, Sophea said she can deliver to people in Stung Treng even if they ordered one or two.
In future, she plans to make other Khmer cakes such as banana ansorm, and to have a stall in front of her house where she can sell while educating the next generation about traditional Khmer food to keep the legacy alive.
By selling in the open, people would participate to preserve, protect and pass down the knowledge to the next generation so that they too will know and respect their customs and culture, opined Saroeun, acting director of Stung Treng Provincial Department of Culture and Fine Arts.
“In the effort of preserving this intangible cultural heritage, we can make sure it survives and is not lost over time. At the same time, the employment of local people would help to reduce poverty and migration,” he added.
Meanwhile, Stung Treng provincial department of tourism director Orn Porsoeun pointed out five other local dishes that tourists should not miss when visiting Stung Treng. These consist of Bangana behri fish soup or Labeo dyocheilus fish soup, Mekongina erythrospila fish soup, fried buffalo and Larb (a kind of salty and sour food).
“To attract more tourists, I have made efforts to create new tourism products which are unique too. We continue searching for good things to present to tourists, ansorm chrouk being one of them,” he said.
For those who want to place an order for ansorm chrouk cake, Nget Sophea can be reached via Facebook on her page called P-DA Food.