The palm is a very important commodity in many parts of the world, the trunk can be used for construction, the foliage woven into all manner of products and the fruits here in Cambodia can be made into the popular local drink of palm juice or palm wine.
I have drunk palm wine in a few parts of the world from India to Africa and now South East Asia, in every location it is produced in a different manner and the taste and effect vary. In Gambia bottles are pushed into the top of the tree where the trunk becomes foliage while here the fruits are pressed to extract the valuable juices and the resulting milky white liquid is fermented and sold in bamboo tubes by local vendors on bicycles in the provinces; and produced on a semi- industrial scale, predominantly by a family run company called Confirel, and sold to tourists as well as exported to the European Union and The United States.
While the taste varies, the liquid has similarities to other palm wines the world over, the drink is not at all unpleasant and the basic version is a cloudy white fluid, not too strong in alcohol with a sweet taste. As mentioned this wine is available widely in the provinces but can be surprisingly hard to stumble across in the capital, it is however available. If you are after the bottled version then look no further than Degustation on St 240, very close to the Museum, but what I was searching for was the more local version and preferably in a bar.
If you have been to Phnom Penh you will know that there is no shortage of bars, anything from a high end cocktail bar to a local beer garden or a hole in the wall, rock and roll dive bar is available, a palm wine bar though was much harder to find.
It would seem however that I may have Canadian Mounty blood and my persistence paid off. On St 5, parallel to the Riverside, is a bar which opens some time in the afternoon and closes around nine to nine-thirty, the bar has no signage and no name at all, neither in English nor Khmer, but it does serve palm wine.
Now this place ticks all the boxes I need it to tick, the man who owns the place must be mid 70’s, he wanders round in just a kramar around his waist but this is not really his bar, it’s his house. You rock up and grab your own metal table from the side, grab you chairs and then a small PET bottle of palm wine from the shelf and some glasses. Drink all you want but be prepared to pay the 5000 riel ($1.25 a bottle) when you leave, the tuk tuk drivers and the old governor are really friendly and they never see white peeps in there, it’s pretty cool.
The best way to find the bar is to look for a Belgian restaurant called La Pattate; there are two branches, one on Riverside itself and one on St 5, and a girly bar called Bird in Hand. If you can find these two bars then the house sandwiched between these two is the palm wine bar, if open it will always be obscured by a group of tuk tuks whose drivers are inside getting their buzz on with the local beverage of choice.
You will be greeted with a somewhat confused but cheery smile, don’t expect to be able to use much, if any, English, but do expect good, cheap palm wine and an experience not many tourists manage to get. Grab a chair, some shot sized glasses of wine and chat with the local boys over a beverage.
If you dare.
It’s worth it!
Happy hunting booze hounds!