By Joe Tarr
and Kim Chan
The Cambodia Daily
The “egg men” roam the streets of Phnom Penh from early morning until late at night, riding three-wheeled motorcycle contraptions and hawking a mysterious concoction of eggs roasted in their shells that some believe are addictive.
Since their first appearance not long ago, the number of active egg men has swelled to as many as 100, and so has their notoriety both for uncannily delicious eggs and their maddening means of publicizing them.
Using loudspeakers mounted on their vehicles, the egg men broadcast an endlessly repetitive, monotone message: “Roasted eggs, special ingredients, very delicious.”
The noisy advertising has led to calls by some expatriates for Phnom Penh City Hall to silence the egg men. Municipal officials say they are aware of the complaints, but don’t feel the egg men yet rate as a noise nuisance. The egg men say they are just trying to make a living and their advertising is necessary for sales.
Dy Ratha, 27, moved to Phnom Penh from Pursat province four months ago to look for work. After a day in the city, he found his niche in eggs. “With no loudspeaker, I cannot make good sales. Nobody would know I’m here,” he said.
Egg man Ban Seiha, 22, agreed. “When they hear the sound, they come. I play it all the time, every day,” he said.
These days, competition among egg men is strong.
Chhay Sambath, who claims to be the biggest egg retailer in the city, employing 12 men to peddle his home-cooked eggs on his distinctive red carts, estimates there are about 100 egg sellers cruising the streets of Phnom Penh every day.
Independent egg man Thon Plau, 37, has also noticed a jump in sellers. When he began selling eggs a year ago, it seemed like a wise business venture. He could keep his own hours and, with eggs selling at 500 riel ($0.13) each, he could earn as much as $15 on busy days.
“Now I’m looking for another job because the number of sellers has increased. It’s harder to make a living,” he said as he parked on Street 338.
So what’s all the fuss over these eggs? They taste like pre-spiced hardboiled eggs that have been blended to a uniform consistency and magically returned to egg form. Slice one of the eggs open and you can see air bubbles and tiny speckles of spices, which don’t overwhelm the egg flavor.
Chhay Sambath refused to divulge his recipe to reporters. “I cannot describe it because it is my business,” he said. “It is not complicated. But if I tell you, everyone would know how to make them.”
Chhay Sambath’s production facility is in a house on what could be called “Egg Man Row,” a small alley in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune where several roasted-egg producers have set up shop. Throughout the day, egg men come and go, reloading their carts.
As Chhay Sambath talks, several women squat on the floor at his production facility, poking thousands of eggs with knives, making small holes in the shells. The yolks will later be drained into a tub, mixed with secret ingredients, then returned to the shells to be steamed and later roasted.
The whole process takes about eight to 10 hours, Chhay Sambath said, adding that he sells about 8,000 to 12,000 eggs per day and that he sometimes worries about his egg men.
“Selling eggs is dangerous work. One of my sellers was hit and kicked by a drunkard last night,” he said two weeks ago. “Sometimes customers ask for salt and when the seller reaches into the cart to get it, they start to punch and hit them.”
Nevertheless, Chhay Sambath doesn’t have any trouble finding people to drive his carts; he hopes to expand his fleet to 36 carts.
Although egg sellers insist loudspeakers are a vital part of doing business, city officials said they’re keeping watch to make sure they don’t become a nuisance.
Pa Socheatvong, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said there is no law against using a loudspeaker to sell eggs on the street. But the sound is annoying some people, and authorities are talking to owners of egg businesses to tell them not to broadcast too loudly or be too annoying, he said. If this fails, he added, they will gather the egg men together in a group for “education.”
None of the egg men interviewed said they were aware of the complaints about their loudspeakers. They said they start cruising the streets around 8 am and work until 8 pm to 11 pm.
Chhay Sambath said his sellers are careful not make too much noise. During the night, they reduce their volume, he said.
“My sellers only play at medium volume, but others play at full volume. It only takes one person to make a lot of noise, and then people think everyone is the same,” Chhay Sambath said.
During the period leading to the April commune elections, city officials had asked his egg sellers to turn off their loudspeakers. But when the politicking ended, sellers started using their loudspeakers again.
Chhay Sambath doesn’t understand why people would complain about a friendly, neighborhood egg man: “This is just a business, trying to make money,” he said.