The Cambodia Daily , WEEKEND Saturday, May 22-23, 2004

 

Let Them Eat Cake

By Nhem Chea Bunly
The Cambodia Daily

Kratie province - Srey Yieng, 52, used to make kralan cake for special occasions. Using a family recipe that her father had passed on to her, she would cook a batch of cakes and sell them at Chinese New Year and Khmer New Year in her village of Thmar Kre.

But somehow, word got out that in this village on the Mekong River, people made the best kralan. Now, customers travel the 7 km of dirt road north of Kratie to buy Thmar Kre kralan, which Srey Yieng and others have started making every week.

Huot Sopha has become addicted to that kralan, and buys 15 to 20 kg per month.

"It smells and tastes so good, so much better than the kralan made in Kompong Cham and Stung Treng provinces," the soldier said.

Kong Sarath, a car driver from Phnom Penh, has also become a regular customer. Whenever he comes to the area, he gets a couple of kilos for himself and about 10 kilos for his relatives.

"This kralan is more delicious than in Kompong Chhnang and Battambang provinces," Kong Sarath said.

Thmar Kre is renowned for using the best quality sticky rice to make kralan, said villager Ken Phy, who has been making the cake for two years. The rice is mixed with red pea seeds, sugar, coconut milk, coconut pulp and a touch of salt, he explained.

The mixture is then put inside a bamboo stick and slowly roasted for about 90 minutes on a wood fire, said Ken Phy. This is the hard part, he added, because roasting is done from about midnight until 3 am, and the process must be carefully monitored. Roasting is done in the early mornings to provide a fresh product.

Srey Yieng, who has been making kralan for 13 years, used to sell it by the stick. But with orders coming in, she has switched to selling the cakes by the kilo.

Ken Phy charges about 2,500 to 3,000 riel ($0.63 to $0.75) per kilo, he said. This leaves him with a profit of about 10,000 riel ($2.50) per day when he sells all his cakes, which usually is the case, Ken Phy said. On special order, he flavors the cakes with jackfruit, which he sells for a little more.

Some Thmar Kre villagers now take their kralan to the Kratie boat quay at 6 am. The cakes are so popular that by 9 am, there is no kralan left, said Kong Naran, a villager and cake maker. "With this business, I earn a good living." She sells about 20 kilos per day.

Orders now come in from Phnom Penh, said Nan Phalla, who serves as an intermediary between Thmar Kre cake makers and out-of-Kratie buyers. High-ranking government officials and members of the royal family buy up to 150 kilos at a time, she said. Some Cambodians have even bought kralan for their relatives in the US, said Nan Phalla.

Kratie province has so far been famous for its grapefruit and naem the salty, jelly cakes cut in triangles and wrapped in banana leaves. With their kralan, villagers of Thmar Kre on National Road 13 have just added a delicacy to Kratie's list of specialties.