As Christmas draws in, expats from chillier climes yearn for snow. In humid Cambodia, an ice cream is about as close as you can get. Bridget Di Certo and Rithy Lomor Pich brave brain freeze to see what ice cream in Phnom Penh is on offer. Photo by Chatti Phal.
For Kong Sopheak, the love affair started in his final year of university in Phnom Penh. After leaving class one day he spotted an agitated crowd and assumed there must have been a road accident. Upon closer inspection he found the frenzy was for an old man hobbled over a small, homemade ice cream cart.
“There was nothing like this anywhere else, and I would go back for more and more everyday,” the founder of The Snacker ice cream stall says.
The elderly vendor eventually retired and, as a gift to his most loyal customer, taught Kong the secret of his coconut-based ice cream. Endowed with the means to success, the youngster launched his own shop by Russian Market to indulge his passion.
“Most people who don’t like ice cream only don’t like it because often it is made using so many chemicals and artificial flavours, but this recipe we make fresh everyday from fresh coconut milk and fresh fruit,” he says.
The shop is one of a slew of entrepreneurial outposts catering to sweet teeth in the capital. In a meltingly hot climate, the popularity of a chilled reprieve — from Chinese ice cream ‘snowflakes’ to sweet frozen ice — spans generations and cultures, as evidenced by the success of big names such as Swensens and Dairy Queen.
Far from being a fast food fix, enthusiasts are taking their art seriously. Boutique flavours are on offer in cafés as delightful as their menus.
18 Sihanouk Blvd
Newcomer to the frozen scene, Le Cone, has adopted a European approach to its enticing treats and specialises in gelato with a local twist. Gelato — the denser, richer and lower-fat sister of ice cream — is offered in flavours including passionfruit, green tea, green apple, strawberry and rose. Dress up the gelato by ordering a sundae or parfait in the two-storey, air-conditioned restaurant.
49Z Sothearos Blvd, near Meta House
S-Q-Snow-Flake Ice Cream has imported Chinese-style shaved ice cream to Cambodia. Deep frozen, with a higher water and lower sugar content than western rivals, large blocks of flavoured cream are ground down into ‘snowflakes’. The flakes are piled into a bowl and decorated with jelly balls and cubes. A colourful interior and quick service make the snowflake a good take away option.
SONG TRA ICE-CREAM
Two locations along Sothearos: near Meta House, opposite Wat Botum
Long-term Phnom Penh staple Song Tra Ice Cream was one of the first establishments to bring ice cream to the masses in its simple, functional dining halls. As well as ice cream, Song Tra also offers the more popular snow ice — a terribly sweet, yet slightly flavourless, icier version of traditional ice cream. Decorated with fresh fruit and condensed milk, snow ice is served in a glass boat and is perfect for sharing.
245 Sisowath Quay, Riverside, Monument Books and BKK Market
Siem Reap staple Blue Pumpkin offers up sophisticated fare. From a recipe born 12 years ago and calibrated to suit tastes over time, its repertoire now extends to 32 flavours of ice cream and locally-sourced fruit sorbet. French chocolate, strawberries and raspberries, and Madagascan vanilla are some of the limited import ingredients used in the range. “You can’t cut corners. Lots of water can cause crystals, too much air reduces the flavour,” says chef Christophe le Cardinal. Given its Phnom Penh production unit churns out 110 litres of ice creams each day, Blue Pumpkin’s dedication is paying off.
Western entrance to Russian Market
Sopheak’s flagship stall at the rear entrance of Russian Market is a sight for sore eyes for any shopper sweating it out inside the psar. Offering 12 flavours of fruity ice cream, Sopheak and his family make a coconut-based creamy dessert every morning and then mash fruit into it. The result is a hit with locals. Durian and jackfruit are the top sellers, while fruit jam is a hit with foreigners.