One of the most mysterious street food stands you’ll find in Phnom Penh (well, maybe aside from the crickets) are the dessert stands — covered in rows of bowls of what appear to be mushy vegetables, you’d never know you’d happened upon a Cambodian ambrosial secret hidden in plain sight.
The coconut milk dessert sellers, for lack of a better name, specialise in a few things.
Jelly: A gelatin-like substance made of agar agar, a type of seaweed, is dyed various colors (pink is especially fashionable) and cut into shapes, with spaghetti strands and nuggets being the most popular.
Sago: Very similar to tapioca and used interchangeably. Most Cambodians are not satisfied with a dessert of just sago, they prefer to throw some sago pearls into a dessert with four or five other ingredients so you’ll often find it floating randomly in your bowl.
Sticky rice: The base of many delicious desserts, sticky rice is often topped with fruit and then drenched in coconut milk and condensed milk.
On top of these bases you can get a variety of other ingredients that may seem strange for a dessert, but are actually delicious. Mung beans, red beans, taro, pumpkin, dried mushrooms, jackfruit and other fruits can all be found in these desserts. All of the desserts are then doused in coconut milk, and some will have a scoop of shaved ice addded to make it extra refreshing.
In the large metal bowls on the counter you’ll find some pre-mixed combinations, likes jackfruit and sticky rice, or sago and red beans. If you order one of these, they will add extra coconut milk before they serve it. You’ll also have the option of adding extra ingredients like taro if you want to personalize your selection. The larger dessert places also bag up pre-mixed selections to sell to those who don’t have time to sit down and enjoy their snack.
You’ll find dessert places all over Phnom Penh, particularly in the post-school afternoon period. Each dessert costs just 1,000 riel, or $0.25.
By Lina Goldberg
Last updated on 7th February, 2017.