Dec 01 2011
There’s a woman who comes through my neighbourhood every afternoon, shouting in a high-pitched grating tone “NOOOOOM PLAAAAAAAAAAE AAAAAIIIIIII”. Until recently, I had never seen her face, but I could hear her coming from blocks away, and after she passed my house, I could still hear “nooom plaaai aiii” in the distance. The woman is loud. As annoying as I find her, I’ll concede that she’s got a great set of lungs.
Earlier this month I decided to find out what all the shouting is about. I headed downstairs and after some confusion on her part — why, she clearly wondered, would a barang want nom plae ai? – I returned home with a bag of deliciousness. Now I’m completely hooked on the things, and I impatiently wait to hear the vendor’s distinctive wail.
Nom plae ai are, to put it mildly, my new favourite thing about Cambodia.
Here’s what they are: small, round rice dumplings filled with liquid caramelised palm sugar and covered with fresh coconut shavings. They’re served in a bowl with a skewer to eat them with and after lobbing one into my mouth and realising that these amazing little things are the dessert equivalent to soup dumplings, squirting tastiness, I cursed myself for not heeding the “nom plae ai” cries of this woman sooner.
Nom plae ai are traditionally made from rice in a method similar to nom banh chok. To learn more about this back-breaking process, read this post on EatingAsia; if you want to make nom plae ai at home, just use rice flour.
This dish is also sometimes called “nom somlap pdey” or “dessert that kills your husband“. Apparently more than a few Khmer husbands out there have choked on this tasty little treat, so be careful! The texture is smooth and incredibly chewy and it’s easy to stuff a few more in your mouth before you’ve managed to get the first ones down.
You can find the nom plae ai vendor at the end of Street 258 (the Lazy Gecko and Okay Guesthouse area) between 17:15 and 17:35 every day. She’ll be the one shrieking at the top of her lungs.
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