Our Daily Bread
By: Jon Bugge.. Picture by : Bobby Viceral ( July, 2002 Volume 2 No.7 )

The wooden building at the end of the alleyway gives no indication of usage. The only signage is the stenciled name, on the stacks of baskets piled in front of the dark entrance. In bold red lettering spelling out "Seven Makura." Before reaching the end of the alley the aroma emanating from within speaks more than any sign could. The smell of freshly baked bread is, without doubt, a reassuringly delicious scent and arguably serves as the best advertisement possible. Man first started eating bread in approximately 10,000 BC - this was basic flat bread. It was the ancient Egyptians who first baked livened, or raised, bread around 3,000 BC. The archetypal baguette style bread was introduced to the region during the French colonial era. Since it's origins bread has provided a "nutritionally dense" food, due to the concentration of complex carbohydrates within bread. It is these carbohydrates that provide a sustained energy source.

The importance of this food group within a nutritional context can be seen in fact that since 1990, United States Dietary Guidelines have recommended the daily consumption of six to eleven servings of bread and other grain foods. It was in 1987 that the Seven Makura bakery was established in Phnom Penh. Taing Pao Sreng prior to this had been a baker in Chhlong district, Kratie province. Like so many of his countrymen he found himself drawn to the capital. "I moved to Phnom Penh because the market here is bigger and I hoped to be able to do better in the city." Sreng learnt his trade from his father in law, who worked in the bakery when it started. Although starting as an inherited trade, Sreng's wish now is for his children to receive education and not to follow in his footsteps. With the glow of a proud father he displays the certificates of achievements for his children. He supports his four children and one nephew from the bakery, but says, "My children should do other things. It is too hard to make a living this way." "I called it Seven Makura because this was the date that we started the bakery. Having asked a monk it was chosen as a lucky day," Sreng explains. "It was also the date of the liberation by the Vietnamese. So many people survived because of this event I hoped that by calling it this, my bakery too would survive."

The heat, from the four ovens, creates a mirage around the six workers Sreng employs. The work begins everyday at six in the morning and continues for most of the day. There is an omnipresent cover of flour to everything inside the bakery. The bakery is sparingly light through skylights and the orange glow of the fierce fires that are at the heart of the process. Tirelessly the workers produce hundreds upon hundreds of loaves. The huge shelves are loaded and unloaded with an almost mechanical precision. The oppressive heat and the heavy loads appear not to faze the bakers as they maintain their production line. The entire process is continuous; when one batch is baking others must be rolled, weighed, counted, sorted, packed and dispatched. Sreng seems to have been right about the larger market in Phnom Penh. When he started in 1987 he produced, on average, about 1000 loaves a day. Sreng now reckons "Each day we produce about four thousand loaves. Some we sell to middle men and some we sell direct to customers." Much of his work is ordered prior to baking, he hopes to increase the production when he buys an automatic oven. Although he produces bread year round there is a degree of seasonal fluctuation. "From about now, when it starts to rain, we sell more. The best time for us is in the cold season. Then we are very busy" Sreng explains.
The wood fueled ovens make the temperature inside the bakery soar. On average each day they burn two cubic meters of wood. This daily expense is about 60,000 riel (approximately U$15). The tall chimneys, which rise above the alleyway, testify to this consumption: billowing out smoke from early in the morning. The crucial part of the process is unsurprisingly in the flour. "We use very good flour that we buy from a local company who imports it from Australia." Sreng is proud to announce. The price of the flour is around U$360 per ton. Whilst proud of the flour, Sreng displays uncharacteristic false modesty regarding the building itself. "It is not beautiful and it is old too. I have plans to renovate the building soon." The depth of his feeling became apparent when he refused Leisure photographers to document the bakery. Whilst turnover maybe high it seems profit margins are less so. "It is difficult to do this business. There is very little profit. If I sell ten loaves I may be able to make about 200 riel (U$ 0.05)" laments Sreng.
he French style baguette is definitely one of the tastier colonial legacies and is evident across Indochina. Having been amalgamated into the Khmer cuisine, it is a common site in the markets across the country. Traditionally considered a Western staple, Cambodians find a variety of ways of consuming this product. One such "recipe" is Naum Paing - usually an evening snack sold by mobile vendors, it consists of a sandwich of luncheon meat and vegetables. A more obscure variation is Karem - the ice cream sandwich - the perfect way of jazzing up slightly stale loaves! One does not need to be in the kingdom long to be able to recognize the vendors of the bread. Cycling round with small charcoal burners to ensure their produce remains warm. The characteristic dulcet tones of the sellers echo throughout the city. The eponymous "Naum Paing" or "Paing Paing" announces their arrival. Come rain or shine they peddle their wares and ensure our daily bread.