Make a beeline to the Sunday morning Asana Organic Farmers Market in Siem Reap, when you’re in Cambodia. If you’re planning on renting an apartment and settling into Temple Town for a while, buy a cotton bag and do your grocery shopping. If you’re not, pop down for some picnic supplies and post-temple snacks.
Asana Organic Farmers Market in Siem Reap
Each Sunday morning since the Asana Organic Farmers Market opened in Siem Reap, lovely Asana bar has seen a different sort of customer to its evening cocktail-sipping crowd kicking back on the recycled rice- and cement-sack cushioned sofas beneath the traditional Khmer house that is one of the town’s most relaxed bars.
Not long after the backpackers have stopped dancing on Pub Street and staggered back to their hostels, Siem Reap’s expats grab their baskets and head into town to this tiny market hidden on an alley perpendicular to the lane running parallel to Pub Street that is home to Miss Wong bar.
The regulars at the Asana Organic Farmers Market — largely expats, and mostly Europeans — will buy something from each of the stalls before settling into a sofa with a coffee and pastry to peruse the Phnom Penh Post Weekend or catch up with friends.
The baskets and bags at their feet will be filled to the brim with locally grown organic produce, homemade French charcuterie, including delicious pâtés and terrines, freshly baked German-style bread, delicious Middle Eastern dips, free-range chickens and eggs, and jars of creamy palm sugar.
Started by the delightful owners of Asana bar, Sophary ‘Pari’ Unn and her partner Guilhem Maitrepierre, the petite farmers market is a very welcome addition to the little city that is worthwhile checking out event if you’re not staying somewhere with a kitchen.
Go to pick up picnic supplies for the temples or dips and terrines to snack on with a bottle of wine on the hotel balcony. It’s also a great spot to meet Siem Reap’s welcoming locals.
“I wanted to start this market to recreate the nice feeling of farmer’s markets in France, where people go to socialise and see their neighbours as much as to shop,” Guilhem told me.
The couple had been mulling over the idea of holding a farmer’s market at Asana for a couple of years, motivated by a few factors.
“I was talking to someone from Agrisud and they told me about the difficulty that the organic farmers had in accessing the local markets and how little money they made as the sellers took most it,” he explained. “I was surprised, because naively I thought all local markets were farmers markets and then I realised they were not.”
Agrisud International is a French NGO that supports small farming enterprises by encouraging diversification and promoting more eco-friendly agricultural methods, including organic production.
The growers that Agrisud works with produce many different kinds of herbs, vegetables and fruits, including those not found widely in Siem Reap, such as European-style basil, tomatoes, and peppermint, which don’t necessarily sell well at local markets, but which are in demand from five-star hotels and restaurants,
Guilhem suggested to Agrisud that he and Pari host a farmer’s market in the Asana courtyard so the the growers can have direct access to consumers to help them make more money by cutting out the middlemen at the local markets. Plans stalled when Guilhem and Pari got busy with other things — like building houses and having babies.
The motivating factor to launch in December was the expansion into Siem Reap of a massive Thai agribusiness that had already entered Cambodia some years ago, that Guilhem suspected would provide further challenges to the small producers. As a parent of a young child, with another on the way, Guilhem is dubious about the health and safety conditions of large manufacturers — which is one reason why the couple is also establishing their own farm.
Pari and Guilhem are pretty happy with the market’s progress so far. While there are only ten vendors at the moment, including several Cambodian farming families who work with Agrisud, an organic poultry and egg producer, producers of charcuterie and homemade Middle Eastern dips, a pastry school, and a baker, they will soon be joined by organic fruit-growers from Mount Kulen and bee-keepers who will be selling their honey.
“Each week we’re getting about fifty customers and it’s the same people coming,” Guilhem told me. “This is great, because it means people are forming habits and making the market part of their weekend routine — and this is better than being part of a trend.”
The delicious French charcuterie, including pâtés, terrines, rillettes, sausages, and duck confit are made Patrick Lesecq, who owns Tropical Garden restaurant, where he makes his products from organic ducks and pigs.
“It is marvellous for my product,” said Patrick, who had a market stall back home in his native France before moving to Cambodia eight years ago. Although he admitted the early Sunday mornings were a challenge. “I am up until 12 o’clock drinking at my restaurant, so it’s difficult to start at 7am! But I am very happy to be here. We all are.”
What to buy at Asana Organic Farmers Market
Whether you’re renting an apartment or settling into a holiday rental and have a kitchen or you’re staying in a hotel, you’ll find something to buy. Here’s what we like to take home:
- beautiful local fruit and vegetables by the Cambodian farming families, just picked on the morning of the market – expect to find everything from crunchy cucumbers and crisp green tomatoes (popular in Cambodia) to fragrant herbs and the shiniest, deepest-purple eggplants I have ever seen. Remember, what you’ll find on any given day depends on what is in season.
- organic free-range chickens and eggs — the chickens don’t have a great deal of meat on them, but they’re very tasty, as the eggs, which while small are bright orange and packed with flavour. For ideas as to what to do with them, see our Weekend Eggs recipes from around the world.
- homemade pâtés, terrines, rillettes, tapenades, and dips by Frenchman Patrick Lesecq of Tropical Garden Bar Restaurant, which are fab for picnics by Siem Reap River or balcony snacks after a long day scrambling the ruins. If you have a kitchen, try his duck confit, sausages.
- organic European-style sour dough breads with grains and oats by Canadian-Cambodian baker Zita Long who owns Siem Reap Bäckerei. You don’t have to buy a whole loaf — he’s happy to sell you a half and slice it so you can slap together some sandwiches with the beautiful salad ingredients your bought from the local farmers.
- traditional French financials and madeleines, chocolate eclairs, lemon meringue pies, chocolate fudge, brownies, and cookies made by the young students from the Ecole du Bayon’s new pastry school have a stand where they’re selling their sweets. When you buy them you’re not only buying a scrummy treat, you’re supporting the disadvantage kids that attend their school near the Bayon temple.
- dips, spreads and pastes from Siem Reap Whole Foods, made by a young Australian couple, and including hommus, baba ghanouj, cashew butter, almond butter, tomato chutney, and coriander, lime and chilli pesto. Don’t expect to find everything every week — products change according to what they’ve whipped up that week.
Asana Organic Farmers Market
The alley between Street 7 and Pub Street
8am-noon, every Sunday during dry season, less frequently during monsoon