Review: Backstreet Academy Cambodian dessert-making class, Siem Reap

Cambodian desserts are a world away from what you are probably used to back home, but they are uniquely delicious. If you’re not used to Southeast Asian desserts, the textures and flavors can take some getting used to, but once you give them a shot, you will be hooked! At least that’s what happened to me. I’m a big fan of these tasty treats, so when I heard that Backstreet Academy was offering a class on how to make Cambodian desserts, I had to try it out.

Cambodian dessert making

Savat and Samon, Cambodian dessert-making expert and translator.

Backstreet Academy is a website that allows local producers to offer classes and experiences to tourists directly. Backstreet Academy deals with the marketing and bookings, plus provides a translator and transport, but other than that, the classes are in the hands of the small-scale producers and small business owners who offer them. In Siem Reap several of the classes are offered by market sellers who wouldn’t otherwise have access to the hospitality business, and it allows foreigners access to local culture that they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise.

Cambodian desserts

A table full of ingredients to make Cambodian desserts.

Our teacher, Savat Kan, used to sell desserts at Siem Reap’s Polanka Market, before she was recruited to be a chef in a private household. She didn’t speak a word of English, but was very encouraging of our efforts nonetheless, and always had a smile for us. Samon from Backstreet Academy came along to make sure we got the nuances of her instruction.

Cambodia’s Favorite Desserts: A Khmer Culinary Masterclass offers the chance to make four desserts in a half-day morning class. They have eight different desserts listed, and you pick which ones you will make in advance. We chose pumpkin and tapioca (it’s much better than it sounds), coconut jelly, and a few that weren’t officially on the list, but are two of my personal favorites, nom plai ay, and num thnaot, small steamed cakes made from palm fruit.

Cambodian dessert

One of the finished products, a delicious pumpkin and tapioca dessert made with coconut cream.q

Our class was just the two of us, and I suspect that because Cambodian desserts aren’t very well known, most classes will end up being private because not too many people are booking this particular experience.

Backstreet Academy’s Cambodian dessert-making class costs $22 per person, plus a $1.50 booking charge. Classes must be booked at least a day in advance. Students meet at the Angkor Handicraft Association (AHA) on Road 60, and transport is provided from there. You will be allowed to take your desserts home with you. If your class was anything like ours, you’ll end up with more you can eat and will be able to share with (and impress) your neighbors! Bring a notebook and pen if you want to take down the recipes to try at home later.

Making Cambodian desserts in Siem Reap.

Making Cambodian desserts in Siem Reap.

We haven’t tried any of the other Siem Reap classes with Backstreet Academy, but many of them look interesting and aren’t just the typical make-spring-rolls-and-amok cooking classes (although there are a few there, as well). Overall, I am impressed with Backstreet Academy’s program that helps local artisans and craftspeople connect with tourists in Siem Reap, increasing their income and visibility.

BackStreet Academy Siem Reap

Angkor Handicraft Association (AHA), Road 60, Siem Reap
T: 098 382 046

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