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A surprisingly sweet take on Cambodian fruits and vegetables becomes a viral hit

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The sweet treats are prepared to order at Ngov Sok You’s home. Kimberley McCosker

A surprisingly sweet take on Cambodian fruits and vegetables becomes a viral hit

Don’t be fooled, you won’t be biting into anything healthy with Sok You’s candy

Ngov Sok You’s burgeoning business was born out of idle curiosity.

While working as an English translator in Phnom Penh, the 22-year-old started to feel nostalgic for her favourite childhood treat: the tiny, sugar-coated sculptures of fruit and vegetables that she used to snack on while in primary school.

When she couldn’t find anyone serving the strange delicacy in the capital, she decided to put her artistic talents to the test and try making the edible sculptures herself.

After some experimentation, she hit on the correct formula: a yellow bean and coconut mash, moulded and then coated in boiled sugar mixed with food colouring to give each legume its distinctive appearance.

Sitting in a Phnom Penh cafe last week, a chatty, immaculately turned out Sok You explained how the pet project had blossomed unexpectedly into a full-time business in only the past month.

“I just made some, and posted the pictures online,” she said. “I found a lot of people who were interested to order them from me.”

As she spoke, Sok You demonstrated the technique she now has down to perfection, squeezing small lumps of bean paste into shapes between her fingers then propping them up on toothpicks and painting them with sugar dye.

She proffered a bowl of already dry candies to demonstrate the diversity of her range: tiny strawberries, cherries and bananas, as well as seemingly savoury options such as aubergines and red chillies.

Despite her enterprise having no physical premises, Sok You’s product is proving so popular that she has had to cap orders. “I accept only 500 to 700 pieces of dessert fruits [per day] because I could not handle 1,000 pieces,” she said.

The sweets cost $3.75 for 30, and $6.25 for 50 pieces. Sok You now has two employees helping her complete orders, bringing in revenue of between $50 and $100 per day.

Sok You said that as a result of her lucrative earnings, copycat enterprises had already sprung up mimicking her designs.

But so far, she said, none of them had hit on the right recipe to make the sweets’ glossy, plastic-looking topcoat. It’s a secret that she is keeping close to her chest: “If I taught people, it would be like selling my business,” she explained. “But I don’t complain if there are more businesses like me because it’s a free world, and I believe in my taste.”

Sok You said that her snacks had so far proved most popular as a novel party accessory. “It’s really famous among young people who order it for their wedding receptions,” she said.

“They love the decoration and the taste of the small fruits, and they generally take pictures before they eat them, to send to their family or friends.”

The Instagram-friendly nature of Sok You’s sweets has allowed her product to take off via social media and word of mouth alone.

Now, the young entrepreneur is hoping to professionalise her month-old operation. “In the future, I will make more choices for the dessert flavour,” she said. “And I will have a proper shop.”​

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