We were feeling pretty good riding on our super cute tuktuk when our driver stopped at a small roadside market. And there we got introduced to the making of palm sugar, palm fruit, palm sap – basically everything palm.
When you see the tall and skinny palm trees that are so abundant in Cambodia, it is hard to imagine what they represent economically for most Cambodians who live in rural areas. These trees are called Sugar Palm Trees, or in the west known as Palmyra Palm. Sugar Palm Tree is the national tree of Cambodia and literally each and every part of the tree is used from its root, tree trunk, leaves, stem, flowers, to its fruit to make utensils, supplies, shelter, clothing, etc but most importantly to make palm sugar. It grows everywhere, doesn’t require much care at all. And it takes 20 years to get the first harvest, but once it is mature, it will thrive many generations.
Have you ever tried palm sugar? I hadn’t, until I went to Cambodia. It’s has this caramel like sweetness, is rich in flavor, but more subtle than white sugar.
Palm sap (juice) is collected from flowers for 3 to 6 months, and each tree produces 5 liters of juice a day on average. Once they stop producing juice, the flower will turn into the fruit, which has a jelly type texture and a kind of lychee taste, with apricot notes (or was I dreaming?). In the end, it has a very refreshing taste, especially its core is full of fluid, which really helps when it is that hot and humid.
To make the palm sugar, the juice is boiled hours at a time until it evaporates and thickens, then poured one by one into round shaped molds. Once it is cooled, it gets rock hard, and then it is sold in packages and jars.
If you traveled in South East Asia, you may probably have eaten it, it is very common in curries, sweets etc. Here is the link to a delicious Panang Chicken Curry recipe as an example.