Un article sur Sombai publié dans The Siem Reap Post (en anglais).
I know, it sounds like a Japanese exclamation, just before the hero in a comic strip hits the baddy! Well, you’re a tiny bit close with the Japanese, but only a tiny bit close. Actually it’s an infused rice spirit, marketed in Siem Reap by a very nice group of people. I met with Lionel and Joëlle to chat about the drink.
Apparently the idea came from Joëlle (who is from Mauritius). There, they have a drink based on an infused Rum. Known as “Rhum arrangé” in the French, it is a delicate drink, which is popular on the island. When Joëlle came to Cambodia, the idea came for an infused rice spirit. The first task was to find a base spirit that was neither too strong, nor had too powerful a flavour, so the infusions would be tasted over the raw spirit taste.
The result was “Sombai”. The word means “Some rice please” in Khmer, and is obviously appropriate. The spirit comes from Phnom Penh. When it arrives it is at 35%, but with the addition of sugar cane and the fruits, the alcohol content drops a little. It ends up at 29% to 31% , depending on the flavour. The fun came when they tried to make the blends. They came up with 8 flavours, which I have copied from their website, but I’ve added notes of my own (in red below).
The 8 Flavours
Anise – Coffee
Expert combination of badian (star anise) from Cambodia and Ratanakiri coffee beans. Ideal as an aperitif to enjoy the natural virtues of anise and coffee. As a digestive after a nice dinner, the coffee taste that lingers on your palate keeps you coming for more…
The flavour of the licorice is powerful. It’s a very “Mediterranean” drink, bringing the power and passion of the latins through.
Banana – Cinnamon
A blend of sweet and spicy, the prevalent taste of cinnamon gives a festive touch to this flavour. Perfect to accompany a dessert, namely the famous banane flambée with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.
This is a delicate blend. Lovely and tingly on the tongue. The cinnamon really comes through.
Coconut – Pineapple
Cambodian version of the Piña-Colada, with a sweet hint and coconut predominance. Be careful, this drink can be scrumptiously treacherous.
This really is a sweet drink. It smells and indeed tastes of cake. I have been told it makes a wonderful flavouring in soufflé!
Galangal – Tamarind
Clearly the most exotic flavours of the 8, mixing the sweetness and acidity of the slightly candied tamarind to the spicy aroma of the fresh galangal.
This is one of those drinks with the “marmite” syndrome. You either love it or hate it. Personally I love it!
Ginger – Red chilli
The spiciest flavour of the range, combining 2 hot flavours that have been smoothly softened. Ideal to wake up any kind of appetite without it being a rotgut…
This one would make a great base for a cocktail. Very interesting flavours!
Green tea – Orange
It will appeal to those who are less inclined to sweet, with a subtile woody aroma and a scent of wild honey. If you become too fond of it and find this too delicious, you can focus on the antioxydant and anticancerous benefits of green tea; you will feel much better and less guilty…
The smell, amazingly is of honey. This comes from a stick of sugar cane put in each bottle. You can taste it there too. It is wonderful as a flavouring for Sprite.
Lemon – Lemongrass
Inspired by a recipe common in traditional Khmer medicine, lemon being an excellent natural tonic while the infusion of lemongrass has proven anti-fungal and calmative virtues. This Cambodian Limoncello makes a delectable digestive.
It is super refreshing. I have also been told that as a rub, it makes an excellent anti-mosquito balm. Just don’t be surprised if your friends start licking you!
Mango – Green chilli
With a high fruity tang, relatively sweet, and a pleasant spicy touch, this flavour is the women’s favourite. It can be enjoyed as an aperitif or with a mango-based dessert or made from other exotic fruits.
This had a most interesting taste. It would be one I’d return to time and time again.
So there are the eight flavours. Now it’s your turn! Why not go over and have a free tasting yourself? Just call Joëlle on 095 810 890 to make an appointment. They are located at the back of Angkor High School (see the map below – click for a full size version) and it’s not too hard to find. Go down the right road, and look for the Thmor Meas Hotel on the left. A little after that is a huge blue shed, opposite the Angkor Artwork Building. Their track heads off by the side of the blue shed. They are just down there on the right. It’s possibly easiest if you call when you get into the track again, and one of the kind folks will come out and open the gate for you.
In fact, it’s best to go with a group of friends. A party atmosphere is always nice for a tasting and you can all compare notes. When you’ve finished, bottles are on sale from between $6 for a small plain bottle to $18 for a large, painted bottle. Oh I didn’t mention yet. There are options of painted bottles as souvenirs. The bottles are painted by local young Cambodians. Each one is different and unique. It’s as much fun for Lionel and Joëlle as it will be for you, to open each new shipment and look at the designs they have created. Occasionally, there is a particularly special bottle. I was shown one of an Apsara dancer, with gold glitter added. This gave the effect of jewels in the costume. Alas that particular bottle is not for sale!
After the tasting, you can join in the debate. Do you drink the spirit as a cocktail or an additive with soft drinks (such as Sprite) or do you drink it straight (maybe with ice)? I can see an argument for each. But I’ll leave you and your friends to enjoy the discussion.
Finally, you may well be asked what Nationality you are. Don’t get offended. Lionel and Joëlle are looking at which flavours appeal to which Nationality. So far it’s the Anise/Coffee that appeals to the French and other Latins. The Americans and Australians like the Banana/Cinnamon. The Japanese go for Lemon/Lemongrass and Coconut/Pineapple. The Germans favour the Mango/Green Chilli and the Brits are, as yet, undecided.
Whatever you do, where ever you are from, go and try. Then buy a bottle or two as presents for friends. Or better still, buy some for drinking yourself. It’s a unique experience and only in Siem Reap!
For all the details, see their website at www.sombai.com