We love learning things when we travel and inspiring you to as well and a Khmer cocktail making class at Asana Bar in Siem Reap is probably one of the most fun things you can do when you’re here. Where else are you going to learn how to make Khmer cocktails?
So what are Khmer cocktails? Their inventor, Siem Reap-born Sophari Ung (known as Pari to friends) defines them as an alcoholic mixed drink that contains at least three or more Cambodian ingredients from the country’s array of spices, herbs, roots, and fruit.
Pari, pictured above, is the petite owner of atmospheric Asana bar, a laidback drinking spot located in the last of the original traditional Khmer timber bungalows left in the heart of the Old Town. Delightfully furnished with sofas made from stuffed rice sacks and hammocks strung between the stilts supporting the house, Asana is one of Siem Reap’s most relaxed bars.
During my first Khmer cocktail making class (yes, I went back for a second!), Pari informed us that to be a Khmer cocktail at least one of the ingredients must be a spirit, one should be sweet or sugary, and one should be sour or bitter.
The spirit could be a traditional rice spirit – or a Sombai infused rice spirit – or it could be a classic spirit such as vodka, gin, rum, and so on, as long as there are sufficient Cambodian ingredients to ensure it is Khmer in spirit and flavour.
Of the Cambodian ingredients used, Pari prefers (in alphabetical order with their Khmer translation in brackets, not in Pari’s preferred order) — anise (phkaa chan), basil (mreah prov), cinnamon (che em), galangal (romdeng), ginger (k’nyay), kafir leaf (kroch saoch), lime (groach ch’maa), lemongrass (sleak krey), mint (gi ang kaam), rice paddy herb (moorm), pepper (mrek), tamarind (ampel), turmeric (romiet), and wild ginger (khchiey).
For sweeteners she always reaches for sugar palm juice (toek om pov) or palm sugar (scor thnoat).
As you can see, Pari’s Khmer cocktail-making classes also provide an opportunity to learn some of the Khmer language.
The 90-minute cocktail class, ran by Pari or one of her lovely Cambodian bartenders, first introduces participants to the Cambodian ingredients before teaching 2-3 cocktails from a list of eight, including the Asana Sling, Kampot Pepper Martini, and Tamarind Sauce.
The Asana Sling is Pari’s a take on a Singapore Sling, made from gin, cointreau, triple sec, cherry brandy, bitters, grenadine, lime, pineapple juice, and Sombai’s Galangal-Tamarind rice spirit. It’s a very tropical sit-in-the-sunshine on Serendipity Beach kind of drink.
I also made a Ginger Mojito, and a Little Sweet, with Bombay gin, wild ginger (finger root), lime juice, and sugar cane juice, which I really liked, as it felt more Siem Reap – something that should be sipped while sitting on the leafy riverbank.
The number of cocktails learnt varies depending upon the group. Some groups move more slowly than others, some can hold their liquor better than others – or not!
At the end of the class, participants also get to try their hand at making their own cocktail. I didn’t give mine an exotic name, but I liked the kaffir lime, basil and chilli martini I created and will definitely make it at home.
Even if you don’t sign up for the Khmer cocktail making class, drop by Asana to linger over a drink to a smooth jazz soundtrack. Pari and her boyfriend, Guilhem Maitrepierre (brother to Lionel of Sombai) are often around – especially on Jazz, Blues and BBQ nights, on the first Friday of the month (7-10pm). Make sure you say hi and let them know we sent you.
Asana Bar, The Lane, between Street 7 and Pub Street, Old Market area, Siem Reap. +855 (0) 9 298 7801. Open midday to midnight. 90-minute Khmer cocktail making class from 5.30pm daily, including drinks, US$15 per person. Bookings essential; don’t just turn up. Asana bar website, Asana bar Facebook page.