Lemongrass, kaffir lime, and passion fruit are all ingredients you might associate with Cambodia. But what about chocolate? For the past six years, Griet Lorré, owner of The Shop in Phnom Penh, has been making handmade chocolates inspired by these traditional Southeast Asian flavors.
How inspired? Just look to their chocolate map of Cambodia, where each province is represented by a different flavor. One of the first chocolates I tried represented Kompong Speu, to the west of the city. The smooth milk chocolate was filled with a deep golden caramel made from a special palm sugar from that province. The special ingredient contributed a delicate warmth to the gooey filling.
Mondulkiri's flavor was an oval-shapred dark chocolate filled with layers of the region's signature honey, sesame, and dark chocolate ganache. The mild honey complemented the powerful chocolate and sesame flavors, and its floral notes were still discernible. Two of their most popular chocolates are flavored with pepper from the province of Kampot. Customers can choose from a dark chocolate tablet dusted with coarsely ground red and black pepper or a praline filled with a black pepper infused ganache. Heat lovers should reach for the tablet; the pepper topping hits your tongue with an aggressive kick. The creamy ganache filling in the praline, however, has a more nuanced but prolonged spiciness.
Lorré and her husband have lived in the Cambodian capital for over fourteen years. Originally from Belgium, they moved to Phnom Penh for his job, and a few years later Lorré opened a bakery and cafe on the quiet Street 240 near the Royal Palace. Six years later, she opened the chocolate shop in a storefront a few doors down the street.
"You can do a lot in a very small space with chocolate," says Lorré. She and her team made their products in the back of the chocolate shop for years, but making chocolates in an old building in a tropical climate caused a variety of problems with air conditioning and condensation. Now the chocolates are made in the back of their recently opened second location on Street 63, just a short tuk-tuk ride away from the original space.
With no background in chocolate making, Lorré returned to Belgium to study the process. "We visited a lot, and we tasted a lot of chocolates," she recalls. "The company who sells the machines gave us a chocolate making lesson, and so for six months we tried making our own before selling."
Some ganaches are made by infusing fresh herbs like lime basil or mint with milk, while others, like pineapple, are made from a base of a coulis made with the fresh fruit. The staff fills chocolate molds and paints on any decorations by hand. After the chocolate hardens in the refrigerator, it is filled and chilled again, and then the final layer is added. The whole process of making a batch of chocolates takes about three hours.
"We really like our product and all the girls really appreciate chocolate," explains Lorré. Very few people in Cambodia have chocolate experience, but she hires and trains local people to work at the The Shop. In fact, the dark chocolate ganache with jackfruit was developed by her employees and it's particularly popular with Cambodians. Now they've also developed a potent durian flavor with white chocolate and sesame. "It's way too strong for me, but the Cambodians like it," Lorré says with a smile.
To see more of the collection, you can check out the Shop's website.
About the author: Meredith Bethune lives in Austin by way of New York and New Orleans but grew up in Rhode Island. She has worked lots of odd jobs along the way including cheesemonger, farmers' market coordinator, and youth gardening instructor. As a writer, her work has appeared in Gastronomica, BUST, The Local Palate, Modern Farmer, Edible Austin, Austin Monthly, and others. She has also been known to smoke a pastrami or stuff a sausage from time to time. For more updates, follow her on Twitter @meredithbethune or check out her website.