Donuts at Bokor Cinema

Come rain or shine, this husband and wife donut duo never move from just outside the Bokor Cinema on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. They’ve always got a customer or four hanging around which generally bodes well. I’m almost embarrassed when I drop in because I see them every day on my way to work and am yet to purchase a single deep-fried product from them. Through sheer weight of luck, I happened upon them when they were cutting up a fresh batch. The process is as follows:

Donuts at Bokor Cinema
Firstly, remove your dough from the plastic bag underneath the roof of your cart, where it has been proving in the scorching heat.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Secondly, clean the surface of your cart (as unbelievable as this may sound) and give it a liberal dusting with riceflour. Flatten your wheat/rice flour dough out with a rolling pin.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Thirdly, cut into strips, paying attention not to accidentally remove your enormous, decorative thumbnail in the process. Roll into flat disks and dust with a few sesame seeds. Hand over to your wife, the deep frying expert.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Serve to the Westerner who is paying far too much attention and asking too many questions for your liking. Charge him 500 riel (12.5 cents) for four.

I’m glad that I didn’t drop in earlier as I’d probably be about ten kilos heavier by now. These yeasty pillows are packed with chewy deliciousness: hollow to the core, only slightly sweet, and blisteringly hot out of the fryer. Sadly, I didn’t get the Khmer name for them, although I had a longer than usual, Beckettian interrogation of the vendors that ran along these lines:

Phil: What are these?
Vendor: (Nervous laugh) You understand Khmer.
Phil: Yes. A little. What are these?
Vendor: Food
Phil: Bread?
Vendor: Yes. Bread.
Phil: Fried bread?
Vendor: Yes. Fried bread.
Phil: Are they chaway*? or fried bread?
Vendor: I don’t have any chaway.
Phil: Yes, I understand. What are these?
Vendor: Food.
Phil: (Clutches head in hands)

Location: Just west of Bokor Cinema, near the corner of St. 95 and Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, Phnom Penh

* – Chaway are the donuts that you often have with soup, similar to the Chinese donuts that you eat with congee.

Addendum (21 June 2006): As a very weird aside, according to AsianWeek in 2000, 90 percent of California’s independent doughnut stores are owned by Cambodian expats.

9 thoughts on “Donuts at Bokor Cinema”

  1. Hi Phil,

    Welcome to ‘talking dog syndrome’. Your new nickname is ‘Barang cheh Khmai’.

    Print out a copy of the writeup and give it to them!
    I’ve done that a few times with site-specific writeups and people seem to dig it, even if they can’t read it 100%.

  2. Morning Phil

    Sometime it is the inverse effect.
    “Oh westerner can speak Khmer”
    “Yes a little”
    “No, speak very clear! Before, near my house there was one westerner……. 4 years…….cannot speaks Khmer…….. Khmer wife…….cannot eat prahok………big motobike……cannot eat Prahok!”
    “Mmmmh, a little”
    “…………Soup………..big motobike……….Are you married?” (slap in the shoulder)
    “Mmmmmh, I go now, I’m busy at home”
    “Yes bye bye”
    “Yes thank you”

  3. Mornin’, Jo.

    Actually most of my conversations in Khmer are much more like yours, especially about anything to do with food, mostly because my Khmer is really quite crap. For the most part, the locals are pretty expansive when it comes to explaining food.

  4. Donuts and California Khmers go back a long way. It’s a good starter job if you don’t have a lot of language skills and have a big extended family to help man the shop. From Marin County to San Diego, odds are if there’s donuts there are Cambodians.

    The one who started it all, Ted Ngoy? Now there’s a tale.

    Bringing it full circle, ‘USA Donuts’ has been opened by some Khmer Americans near Psaa Thmei.

  5. A kid from from the block said these were just called ‘num-pow’, which would roughly translate to ‘bun’, I guess. But I’m pretty sure there’s a more technical name for it, like ‘bun with sesame seed’, or something.

  6. Num hing, like the small toads, because they are round and swollen, like those silly animals that look like they’ll blow up when you tease them.

  7. DAS – I thought that “num pao” were the white steamed buns – and that the “pao” was originally from the Cantonese word for such buns. I’ll go with “num hing”.

    Jinja – What street is “USA Donuts” on? I’m intrigued. I never really noticed the Californian Cambodian Donut connection when I lived there, but then again, I was a Krispy Kreme fiend. Half your daily calorie intake in a single ring o’ lard is awesome.

  8. One of the side streets going from Psaa Thmei to Norodom. I’ve been researching the infinite varieties of ‘Num’ or ‘cake’ for a comic, and think I’m going to need to set up a spreadsheet.

  9. On donut etymology, according to my workmates, chaway is a Khmer onomatopoeia – it’s the deep-frying donut sound. It is also the first time I’ve ever had a conversation where somebody asked me “In English, what sound does a doughnut make?”.

    My conservative estimate for your “num” project is three hundred and five.

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