Roo has reflected elsewhere on the delights of Khmer food and how much it has changed in the 10 years since we last visited Cambodia.
Like other forms of cultural expression, the local cuisine–not to mention the food supply–was decimated during the Khmer Rouge period. Eating Cambodian food has an added pleasure in this respect: a celebration of Khmer resilience and survival.
Of course, many people in this country survive on a subsistence diet of fish and rice, while years of scarcity–and sheer necessity–have also given local people a taste for unusual (to a Western palette) sources of protein, such as deep-fried tarantulas, crickets, ants and bee larvae, some of which is actually quite tasty.
Also, little is wasted in Cambodia when it comes to food. Whilst not quite as extreme as the Laos where ‘if it grows or moves, you can eat it’, it’s common for people to eat animal and plant parts that we’d discard without a second thought. Lotus stems, roots and seeds, banana flowers, fish heads, pigs eyes–these are just a few examples. Even the rice that gets cooked on to the bottom of the rice cooker is soaked off, dried in the sun and sold as pig feed–though I have seen desperately poor people eat this, too.
On a good day at Boeung Keng Kang Market, in addition to a plethora of fish, meat and poultry, you can find frogs, crabs, snakes and eels.
Anyone’s list of favourite restaurants in Phnom Penh is bound to be subjective, even controversial. But for what it’s worth, here is ours.
Top Cambodian Restaurant:
Boat Noodle - corner Streets 288 & 63 for authenticity; at 8B, St 294 for the beautiful wooden house setting. Low-cost, authentic food, the spicy soups are particularly good.
Malis – 136 Norodom Bld. High-class joint with reasonably-priced traditional breakfasts in lovely garden setting.
Seven Bright – opposite the GPO; what was Gerard Depardieu’s bar in The City of Ghosts is now a hugely popular place for breakfast noodle soup and good local coffee.
Dosa Corner - 5, Street 51. Cheap dosas, idlis, vada and other Indian delights.
Stir-fried lort (caterpillar shaped noodles) from numerous vendor carts around town. At 2,000 riel (USD50 cents), probably the cheapest option. Enjoy on the footpath with tuk-tuk drivers and school kids.
Tom Yum Kung – 10, St 278. We’ve probably eaten here more often than anywhere else in Phnom Penh. Great Thai & Lao food, including larb and sticky rice. Try the yam ta krai pla tod (spicy lemongrass with fried fish and herbs) for a real treat. $8-$12 for a 2-person feast!
Romdeng - 74, St 174. I like this place more than Roo does. Gorgeous villa setting, good local food and it supports vocational training for former street kids. Great place to take visitors, especially during tarantula season!
54 Langeadh Sros – 15a, St 178. Bustling Cambodian beer garden where you can DIY BBQ over a gas jet on your table, or order cooked food like prawns with black pepper or beef with black ants. Beer can be ordered by the ‘tower’ for USD$5. Lethal.
Annam – 1C, St 282. Excellent Southern Indian food, genuinely kid-friendly, great lunch thalis. Not to be confused with…
An Nam – 118 Sothearos Bld, another kid friendly option where you can eat a wonderful variety of delicious Vietnamese food. Not cheap but dessert is free.
Singapore Kitchen – 110CD, St 360. Tasty Singaporean and Malaysian food at bargain prices. Good mee wan ton, sambar, laksa, etc.
Suzume - 14 AEo, St 51. Affordable and delicious Japanese food.
Le Cedre – 1, St 360 (near Norodom Bld). Never though Brunswick locals would be impressed with Lebanese food in Phnom Penh. Great for take-away.
Diplomat’s Bar/Sarika – 69, St 566 (Tuol Kork). A recent find: bar in a romantic wooden Khmer villa, a former diplomatic residence, above a garden restaurant. Huge, tasty entrees – try the pork sausage with crispy rice and herbs.
Living Room – 9, St 306. Tash’s favourite place for breakfast pancakes. A community hub in a beautiful villa. I’d like to live there! Award for the friendliest staff in Phnom Penh would be a toss up between here and…
Le Jardin – 16, st 360. Serving home-made ice-cream in a lush tropical garden, complete with sand-pit and cubby house for kids, day-beds for grown-ups.
Van’s Restaurant – 5, St 102 (next to GPO). A must for lovers of French food, in an exquisitely restored 110 year old colonial building. Cocktails on the rooftop are recommended.
There are more I could add, but maybe I’ll throw open that challenge to my readers…
This post is dedicated to my foodie friend Yee Khim Chong.