Eating out in Cambodia & visits to food market (phnom penh)

Cambodia trip Part 1 of 3

In a NUtshell

A culinary treat for everyone with a wide palate, lots of vegetables but a bit restrictive for indian vegetarians as there is almost no milk / milk products & pulses in the diet.

Address & other details: Cambodia

Meal for 2: varied at different restaurants. Details in the note below

Cuisine type : vegetarian & non vegetarian

Disclaimer: All restaurants / eateries reviewed by YUMMRAJ were visited by YUMMRAJ himself & he has paid for the full Bill & tips also. http://www.yummraj.com does not have even one featured / sponsored reviews. YUMMRAJ believes in going to a restaurant in anonymity, as a normal guest, experience everything & give a honest account of the same to you.

All bills have been published in the detailed description section

I rate all the food items & then give a final overall rating which is a simple average of the individual item ratings. What the ratings stand for: 5 = Excellent, 4 = Very Good, 3 = Good, 2 = Fair, 1 = Disaster

Short description- in case u r in a hurry

Our tastebuds had a ball of a time eating out in the two cities phnom phen & siem reap. Here is a story of our experiences ….. in no particular order.

Inspite of Cambodia being a country similar to india in terms of people not as fussy about filtered drinking water, the restaurants do not serve water. They charge US$ 1-2 per bottle for the small bottles

In menu cards US$ price is always written. In some, the local currency riel price was also written. In this country US$ does not need to be changed at a money exchange. Everyone from hotels to restaurants to car operations to snacks & roadside shops – everyone accepts & gives change in US$!!!!

Bell peppers (what we usually call capsicum in india) was used in most dishes, at most restaurants. I asked our guide if they use it as often at home during cooking too. He said YES. Our joke was ‘capsicum is the national vegetable of cambodia’.

All dishes had loads of raw vegetables to be eaten with the food – including ones which we never imagined that we will eat raw e.g. baby aubergines, long beans etc.

Most of the dishes we had were stir fried / made into a soup / steamed . The rest were deep fried & we did not try. There were salads in addition to this.

In few dishes spices were used, but most dishes were made with different sauces. Addition of chilies to heat up the dish seemed to be common – if you like hot food, chew the sliced chillies, else just throw it away.

Many dishes had sweetness in them – reminded us of our friends in Gujarat.

The predominant flavour of the dish would come from the herbs. Sometimes just chewing the herb might be quite an experience due to its pungency.

The taste & flavours of the dishes were pretty simple & directional – not too many things happening at the same time. Distinct flavours, distinct tastes.

At the beginning of every meal we were served sliced hot red chillies, minced raw garlic & soy sauce in 3 small bowls. The idea is to mix these in a proportion to your taste & then add the mix to whatever dish you are having – usually soup, sometime salad.

Fish sauce was also given in tiny bowls. This had strong flavours but had a bit of exTra salt as well.

If someone wanted to make the food even fiery, there was a red chilly sauce.

There was no use of milk or milk products in any dish that we had. Vegetarian dishes were actually vegan.

Among meats, the Cambodians seem to be eating everything – all the animals & seafood that is eaten in China & other parts of Far East. Added to that is rats, frogs, different kinds of insects, lizards, snakes etc.

Did not see goat meat being served in most places. Few restaurants had lamb. Not that they don’t want to eat this meat but I guess pork & beef r cheaper & serve the purpose.

There was a time 1975 – 79 when there was a dictator Pol Pot in this country, who completely massacred the society, divided families, executed 20000 intellectuals & social influencers. During his regime 3 million people out of a population of 7 million, died of starvation, over work, disease. Many people who could not bear this, ran away & stayed in the jungle. They are whatever they found – plants, animals, insects etc.

Our guide at phnom phen also lived in a jungle as a child after his father, a school teacher, was executed. Many times they had to eat insects raw because if they lit fire, someone would spot them from a distance.

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From this time onwards, for this unfortunate reason, the palate became wide. Basic survival instinct got the rat to the dining plate.

Coconut milk was used in many dishes & desserts. However, this was real coconut milk & not powdered / packed ones like what is used in many places in india. So the coconut milk had more inconsistent texture & was generally thinner than the packed coconut milk we get in india.

It seemed customary to drink flavourful jasmine tea with the food. It acted as a good palate cleanser between two dishes.

This tour was curated by Veena world, a mumbai based tour company. Neil Patil, a director in the company, whom we met at a good pop up earlier, gave us some food suggestions b4 our trip. We tried to diligently follow that & it was spot on. Here is the list for your reference –

Bai Sach Chrouk, Fish Amok, Lok Lak – Stir Fried Beef, Khmer Red Curry, Lap Khmer (Lime-Marinated Khmer Beef Salad), Praphok- Fermented Fish wrapped in Banana Leaf and GrilledNom Banh Chok (Khmer Noodles), Prahok Ktiss (Pork Dipping Sauce), Samlor Machu Kroeung, Samlor Korko (Stirring Soup), Samlor Machu Trey (Sweet And Sour Soup With Fish)

Phnom phen lunch

Red house restaurant:

Our guide & driver also joined us for lunch. I briefed the guide to order from the list given by Neil.

Fish amok – steamed fish in coconut milk. It was very good to eat, though we had a much better version at another restaurant in siem reap – krousar khmer restaurant. Now which one is more close to what is eaten at home, I don’t know. The one at red house had the fish placed on a bed of purple cabbage, which added a bit of crunch to the dish. Visually the amok looked like a big fish ball floating in a white liquid (like Rasmalai), but actually the coconut milk had solidified.

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Lok lak beef was a combination of different tastes & textures. Small square pieces of beef boneless was stir fried in a sauce. This was served with loads of sliced tomatoes & onions. The beef pieces were juicy & retained the flavour of the meat.

River fish & vegetable soup had a brilliant broth. Robust flavours. The soup was full of veggies like bitter melon, tomato, miscellaneous greens. The fish piece had been deep fried & then put in the soup, like Bengalis do for making the thin, flavourful fish gravy – maacher Jhol.

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Sweet & sour pork was a dish that was not there in Neil’s list. That turned out to be the lowest point of this lunch. The pork was deep fried with a corn flour coating & tossed in sauce & capsicum (bell pepper). The meat was not juicy & the texture was hardened due to the deep fry. We did not eat this beyond 2 spoons.

We were given a complimentary dessert by the restaurant – jelly made out to black sticky rice, served in a pool of coconut milk & palm sugar. This got us chatting with the guide & we realised that in their cuisine there wasn’t too much sweets made from milk or milk products. So sticky rice is used with jaggery & other things to make gelatinous sweets. It also gave me a cultural insight on why a lot of people I know from this region like the colourful jelly kind of sweets.

Yi sang restaurant by the riverside was a beautiful eatery by the Mekong river. We had taken a 20 minutes tuk tuk ride from our hotel that was just on the opposite side, across the river.

We were seated in the open area, next to the promenade by the river, separated by a line of shrubs. So we could hear the chatter in the promenade but the people could not see our plates. A middle aged man & a child were playing traditional instrumental music, that added to the mood.

There was a live grill station. Rest of the food was coming from the kitchen.

We started with Grilled mixed seafood – large prawns & squid. I did not see or taste any flavouring except slight salt being added. They grilled it in front of us. Super fresh sea food that just did not need anything. Loved the texture. The guy grilling it also did it so well that the balance of it being raw & brittle to it being soft & smooth, was optimum. Loved it.

Grilled Saba fish with sea salt was a much larger fish than what we had imagined while ordering. It was grilled by covering it with aluminium foil. That ensured that the fish was very juicy & it’s flakes were distinct. Excellent taste. Cud not get over it. They had also slit the belly of the fish , inserted onions & grilled it together. The result was lovely texture of onion, a bit smoky feel & the onion having incorporated the fish flavours.

We were interested in Num banh chouk kampot style – noodles with dried shrimps & spicy coconut milk , as soon as we read about it in the menu card. The dried shrimps turned out to be way less flavourful than we imagined. The noodles were super fine. The coconut milk was thin & strong.

For dessert we had creamy salty egg yolk – made from real eggs. Super intense taste & flavor. Not too sweet. Hint of salt. Superb.

We also had 2 super tangy & refreshing cocktails – samros phnom & samros chamka. Samros word was being used for a lot of cocktails , which sounded similar to somras, the term for an ancient intoxicating drink in Sanskrit & modern Indian languages that have emerged from sanskrit.

We just asked our server to give us the two best drinks & these two came.

Roadside vendor

After dinner as we were walking on the riverside near the hotel, we saw a man selling something interesting, on a cart. We walked up, to find Small Crabs & snails. He was serving this with juliennes of ginger & a hot, sour & sweet sauce. Since we were full, we did not try the crabs but we tried the snails. Most of them were very good to taste but some of the shells had sand inside the shell, which was irritating.

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We had Buffet breakfast at hotel sokha where we stayed. The logic we used for picking food from the buffet was – Everything local / Asian. Surprisingly the names of dishes / description was not written in English. So we just Randomly tried everything that looked different.

Loved the soupy noodles at the Live counter. Since we did not understand each other’s language, we communicated in sign language!!!

Phnom phen vegetable market visit was not a part of the itinerary but we requested our guide to take us there. The market was built in 1920s by the French – it had many varieties of vegetables, Meats, live seafood.

In addition to this, there were Ready to eat food stalls in the market too – people just were sitting around & eating in the middle of the market.

Green coconut was being sold like in the picture below. Very naturally sweet water. It had a good amount of coconut in it too.

cut fruits with powdered spices were being sold in the market. People were just picking these & walking away, munching

We ate fresh prawn Spring roll from this market. The outer layer made of rice paper was very soft. It was very good.

Sorya restaurant

Beef & vegetable soup had slices of beef, loads of different kinds of veggies (long beans being most of it). The broth was outstanding – perfect taste & bursting out with flavours. Drank up the soup till the last drop.

Praphok is a Fermented Fish dish eaten in Cambodia. It was served with sliced raw red chillies on top & assorted raw vegetables on the side. Like I mentioned above, this was the first time I had aubergines & long beans raw!!! The idea is to take a bit of praphok, some veggies, mix with sticky rice & have it. The fermented fish dish was high on salt & it was a bit hot too. The flavours were intense. The mixing with raw veggies & sticky rice, beautifully balanced the gulp.

Lap Khmer (Lime-Marinated Khmer Beef Salad) was a very interesting dish. It was a pile of meat mixed with crushed peanut & with a little bit of greens & veggies on the side. Did not look like most Asian dishes.

We super loved the Carrots, shallot, prawns & local beans curry, on a coconut milk based sauce. The veggies were crunchy. The prawns were very fresh & absolutely perfectly cooked – super soft & full of flavours.

The Dessert was made from sticky rice paste. Low on sweet. It had a tinge if salt in it, to balance the taste.

After this we flew out to siem reap, another city in Cambodia.

read Part 2 & 3 here – siem reap

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