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Miss J

Eating in Cambodia

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Okay, I'm asking waaaaaaaay in advance for information on this topic, because my preliminary research on eating Cambodian food in Cambodia hasn't turned up very much.

My boyfriend and I are going to be in Cambodia for two weeks-ish later this year. (We'll be visiting a friend of his who's running the VSO programme from Phnom Penh.) While there's a chance we may pop into Vietnam or Thailand as well, there's a pretty good chance we'll be spending most of our time in Cambodia.

Being a food geek, eating my way around a country is very, very important. However, I've seen very little info on Cambodian cuisine, and what I have found as been for restaurants based in the US rather than Cambodia. Does anyone have any info on Cambodian food, and any recommendations on good places to find it? Or (and I'm a little afraid of this), is the country still recovering from all the trauma its been through, and is food just not very high on the agenda?

Thanks hugely in advance,

Miss J

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OK, so how is the trip firming up ? I'd love to just pickup and go for a few days to lands yonder.

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Well, we're booked now!

We're going to fly into Bangkok on November 8, and spend a bit of time poking around Thailand (translation: eating everything that doesn't move) before catching a flight to Penom Pehn. There we'll stay with our mate Matthew, who has kindly offered to show us 'round by jeep and take us up to Anghor Wat for a few days. Then we'll travel back and down to the south coast, and slowly meander our way across Cambodia and into Vietnam. Finally, we'll make our way to Ho Chi Min City where we'll finally fly back to London.

I am VERY excited.  :biggrin:

Miss J

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Miss J, I can only give you information based on my "typical tourist" visit to Cambodia; i.e. Phnom Penh two days and Siem Reap (Temple land) for five. For some reason the Raffles Hotel Group is providing excellent food at Le Royal in Phnom Penh and some of the worst food imagineable at the Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap. Avoid that one like the plague. The food at the Angor Village Hotel in Siem Reap was quite good, and was also decent at some local places whose names escape me, but which I got from our guide. Generally, though, I found the food in Cambodia did not have the range, quality of produce and subtleties of what we ate in Bangkok, although still tasty and interesting.

Otherwise, I strongly recommend hiring a guide, which you can arrange for at the tourist office aross from the Grand Hotel. In three days you can see the five or six temples that are the most important while skipping the rest. If it is still oppressively hot in November, start your sightseeing at dawn, come back for breakfast and go out again around 3:30.

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Generally, though, I found the food in Cambodia did not have the range, quality of produce and subtleties of what we ate in Bangkok, although still tasty and interesting.

Robert, thanks for the restaurant tips - I'm grasping frantically at any info I can get, so yours is very timely indeed.  :smile:

I've been starting to get the impression that food in Cambodia is a bit of a let-down, which is why we've rejigged our plans a bit to spend a bit more time in Thailand than we were originally intending. It's been suggested in one of the books I'm reading that the reason why Khmer cuisine falls short is because the hell that Cambodia went through changed its approach to food from pleasure to survival. (Well, how else can you explain tarantula sates? I'm just hoping I never see that. I think arachnophobic rush of horror might flatten me.)

How long were you in Cambodia for? And at what time of year?

Miss J

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Miss J, we spent one night in Phnom Penh and four or five in Siem Reap. It was in the first week of June last year. If you want a Western  meal in a Colonial/Western hangout, the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh is one place to have lunch. It is not a glamorous as it sounds, but it faces the river and is in a funky neighborhood, also Colonial. The furniture is low-level 1930s modern. It is on the second floor of a small building and is as much a snack-bar feeling as a casual restaurant. It is worth a visit. Next month when I am back in proximity to my guidebooks, I will dig out the name or two if where we ate in Siem Reap or that our guide mentioned.

Even better, if you want to contact him directly for names, try:

Phorn Bunnarith

khmerang@camintel.com

Remind him of my name and dates I was there with my wife staying at the Grand Hotel. He is well-informed about places to eat and is a wonderful guide. Very sweet, too, with many incredible stories about his existence during the Khmer Rouge time. Of course there are about 300 guides there who have to pass an exam. But at least you know from the outset that he is a good one. He also took us to Saap Lake, an enormous body of water and home to about 800 species of fish, as well as to a near-by National Park where there is a lovely picnic area and some interesting old stone carvings in a stream.

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Miss J, I haven't been to Cambodia, but I've spent a fair amount of time in Bangkok and would be happy to make recommendations.

The Lonely Planet Cambodia book is one of their better ones for food coverage.  Also, Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour has a couple of chapters on Cambodia.  He didn't like it much, but he seemed to be going out of his way to have a gonzo experience, and didn't eat well for it.

(We were going to do Angkor Wat on one of our trips but decided to go to Laos instead.)

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mamster, any info you have on Bangkok would fantastic! I suspect I'm not going to have as much time there as I'd like, but I'm extremely keen to have a definitive Thai street food experience. *bounce bounce*

Are there any areas or districts we should head for in particular? Particular treats we should make an effort to track down? Hard-and-fast rules on what kinds of stalls to choose?

Miss J

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Miss J--I have a bunch of Bangkok coverage on my web site (http://www.grubshack.com/).

You're not going to be surprised at my general advice about street food, which is: don't ever eat it because it will kill you.  Just kidding!  Thai street food is one of my greatest pleasures.  Basically, using common sense will keep you healthy and, more important, lead you to the most delicious food.  A vendor with a long line of customers is a good sign, of course.

If you're in Bangkok on Saturday or Sunday, don't miss Chatuchak Market, which is said to be the largest market in Asia.  If it's not, it's close--I've been there several times and have seen maybe a third of it.  They have everything from traditional handicrafts to used American t-shirts to food to (sadly) live endangered species.  It's the last northern stop on the SkyTrain--I hear it used to be an agonizing 90 minute cab ride, but no longer.  Chatuchak does a good job of appealing to both tourists and locals.

On my site I have an article about a few of my Thai favorites that you probably haven't seen in at Thai restaurants in the West, such as fluffy catfish salad, Thai sausages, and sour curry.  If you like papaya salad (som tam--if you haven't tried it, do so), you should eat a lot of it--it's served everywhere, from street stalls to the best restaurants, and is subtly different every time.  If you get som tam on the street, you can design it as it's made:  specify by holding up fingers how many chiles, whether you want crab, and so on.  Learning to count from one to ten in Thai is easy to do and very handy.  Most vendors can count and specify prices in English, but not all of them, and any Thai you can learn will be both appreciated and genially laughed at.  At one restaurant, Laurie and a waitress were absolutely cracking each other up while coming up with a rudimentary Thai-English pidgin with plenty of broad hand gestures.

I could go on forever.  Maybe we should move this to a new thread;  if you have questions about particular tourist attractions or the like, please feel free to ask.  I am Bangkok's biggest booster.

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Hmmm... I met some people who only ate french fries in cambodia because they thought everything else was bad. Sometimes that may be the case, but not really. It is however not exactly a developed country, remember its recent history.

I can only remember a few things to reccomend:

Prices: Cambodia is the place with the highest income gap I've seen. Mercedes driving past homeless people on destroyed dirt roads. That would be for example the road from the airport in the capital. $2 is a lot for many people.

Siem Reap: The town with the most 'tourist prices'. However, the most best food I had there was from a street vendor selling spring (well, fresh) rolls. Along the east side of river at the north end of a row of concrete houses, I think it's not far north of the new bridge leading to a temple (the only bridge with a gate).

Battambang: Don't know why you'd end up here, but if you do, there is an excellent new italian restaurant on the right bank of the river. Name is something like the world cafe. The NGO standby is apparently Mr. T's, and it is good. Ask how to get there, even though this is the 2nd largest city in Cambodia, there are no maps.

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During the Korean Chusok holiday, my family and I will be spending 4 days with friends in HK, then the remainder of the week in Siem Reap. HK is not an issue, but I'm looking for a little guidance in and around Angkor.

We've lived and eaten from end to end of Asia, but this is our first trip to Cambodia, so we're looking for any recommendations. We used to live in Thailand and love simple, rural Thai food. We live in Korea now and. uhm, unusual things are not a problem.

Anyone who knows the area and could give some pointers beyond the hotels and foreigner-targeted places could be a great help.

Thanks in advance,

Jim

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We lived in Thailand too and I think you'll be happy with Sawasdee Garden Restaurant (attached to a B&B) in Siem Reap, just north of National Hwy 6 one street east of the river (right in the main part of Siem Reap). At least their guaytiaow phad siiew, laad naa, and yam talay were well more than acceptable (though you may have to ask for the condiments -- phrik namplaa, phrik namsom, etc), and the deep-fried snakefish with green mango salad that passed by our table smelled heavenly. Very friendly and relaxed atmosphere, and there were more than a few Thais eating there.

Would also recommend Khmer Kitchen, a small place in a slightly grotty alley a block in from Psah Chas. We enjoyed a delicious samlaw m'juu (tamarind-based sour soup) with fish and a wonderful (as in, I still dream about it) oven-baked something with made with yam or sweet potato and fish sauce that was truly Cambodian comfort food. Prepare to wait awhile as the kitchen is small but it's worth it.

Angkor Borey Restaurant, right on the river (west side) did not look promising --- it's a large place and I expect that when the season is high tour groups end up here (in June Siem Reap was nearly empty) --- but really delivered. A delicious amok (like Thai hawmawk but less custard-like), a fine fish soup, and a grilled fish. This meal was not a compromise.

Restaurants tend to close by 9p -- though this may have changed with the return of the tourists.

Most of the food out at the hawker stalls fronting the temples is not very good -- you may want to head back into Siem Reap for lunch. Just lackluster fried rice and fried noodles made with instant ramen (!)

The food at the FCC is a waste of calories, IMO --- but it's a nice setting for a drink.

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ecr:

We're off tomorrow morning to HK, then on to Siem Reap on Wednesday.

Thanks for the suggestions and I'll report back when we return.

Travelling with a 5 year old. I just hope we get a chance to do much interesting eating.

He's adventurous with food and a great sport, but after a long day at the temples, we'll see.

Jim

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Let us know what you find, apparently the town has a lot of new backpacker-focused places in the last year or so. Not much on food, but up-to-date info can be found at www.talesofasia.com.

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We've just returned from our brief Cambodia trip. It was a great trip in all respects.

Thanks to "ecr" for the recommendations. For lunch the first day we went to Khmer Kitchen and were thrilled. Everything is made by hand. The only electrical appliance to be seen in the kitchen was some sort of small fan that had been converted into a tool to scrape the flesh from coconuts.

We were so please that we went back the next day for lunch as well. Favorites included: amok curry, coconut and pumpkin soup with fish, a minced pork with basil dish that almost resembled a cooked laarb, and a spicy fish soup that was much like a dtom yam but perhaps a bit more gentle and just a hint minty. These were the highlights from the two meals; everything we ate there was delicious. Including fruit and coffee shakes, as well as beers, we paid a total of $21US for the two lunches (which included a total of nine dishes).

After our first lunch there, we couldn't bear to switch over to Thai food, so we tried another Khmer restaurant for dinner. We went to Bayon I. There are two Bayon (I and II, simply enough). Bayon I has Khmer music and a shadow puppet show. I am told that Bayon II has the full-bore tourist-focused "cultural" show. Fortunately, our mototricycle driver steered us to number one. The food was very good, but I would have to say I preferred Khmer Kitchen. The major highlight dish at Bayon was a green mango and smoked fish salad.

The one other thing I had read here on eGullet was that the food at the Grand Hotel was disappointing. We were pleased with breakfast, but our one foray each into the room service and bar menus proved the info right. The food was thoroughly mediocre.

We did not get to the street stalls near the central market due to the weather and the fact that we had a four-year old in tow. Next trip....

Jim

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Looking for excellent Khmer food of course, but really suggestions for anything tasty would be welcome.

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Was there last month and can thoroughly recommend Khmer Surin restaurant (on Phlauw 57 about 200m south of Preah Sihanouk Blvd; 2 blocks east of Monivong Blvd). Started with Green Beans with Peanuts, Chillis, Tomato and Dried Fish – pretty good. Then the star attraction – Seafood Amok – absolutely fabulous, a superb dish. Squid and Prawns in a mild curry with onions, coconut, kaffir lime, basil and lemongrass – everything in perfect balance. I’ve only seen this dish once in Canada – and that restaurant has now closed. Also had Cha Greund Frog – minced frog with galangal, lemongrass, peanuts and onions. This had excellent taste, but the frog had just been chopped leaving small bones that were difficult to distinguish from the peanuts, so this dish had to be eaten slowly to avoid swallowing sharp bones. The restaurant is also beautifully appointed with large bamboos in pots giving the illusion of being outside the city. We ate fairly early and received good service, but later on a tour group of 30-40 people arrived and all the servers disappeared. Great value $17 including beer and water.

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I'm in Phnom Penh now.. thanks for the recommendation, it was excellent!!!

I'm here another 3 days, so a lot more is on the menu..

Anyone know where I can do a one day micro cooking course in Khmer food. Going to try and do that in every country..

Bye

Joel

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no idea on cooking schools there... though you're in backpacker land, someone might know, or ask in a restaurant you like.

if you want interesting stories wander over to Cafe Freedom if it's still there (i'm going to make a wild guess that you're in #9 or #10, keep walking south on the road to the very end) and talk to Brian (?) the owner. His wife is a good (Thai) cook too.

remember, motodop rides are fixed price. (2000 riels if I remember right, though add a bit @ night.)

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Hi everyone,

I’ll be travelling to Cambodia for a lookaround a bit later this year, and haven’t come across much in eGullet to recommend or dis-recommend much there, in terms of restaurants and/or culinary investigations.

Any experts on the Kingdom lurking about? My time is short, so will be limited to the obvious: PP and Siem Riep.

In terms of knowledge of the cuisine, and what I hope to find there, I willingly plead ignorance. Though I can readily find my way around a Vietnamese or Thai menu, haven't quite sorted out what I should start thinking about w/r/t Cambodia. I’ve gone through the Lonely Planet (2002 ed.), but LP rarely has much relevant about the food of a place.

And, given that Cambodian/Khmer is far, far less frequently represented than its neighbours, in terms of restaurants to go and introduce yourself to its staples and explore variations, (if you can find a Cambodian restaurant at all), then I only have words to go on.

Which is where you come in.

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I was there in February and wrote up the food part of the trip (for another board). But worth a reprint here:

Cambodia

PHNOM PENH

The first night went with friends (they drove) to Hang Sen, which is across the bridge on the other side of the river. We had asked for ‘typical Cambodian’ and this is a huge (airport hangar?) place with virtually no tourists but crammed with families and a continuous stage show (of which we understood not a word except the body language). We were initially besieged by wine and beer representatives – sort of a disorganized “Miss Cambodia” pageant, and it was explained to us that these are paid on a commission basis by the various beer/liquor companies. We sat well away from the stage, overlooking the river, which reflected a perfect full moon. It could have been romantic except for the approximately 1000 other attendees. Yet, at the same time it was comforting to see so many large family groupings – including the kids of all ages. It reminds one that people in far-off countries still have values revolving around families being together and having a good time. And prompts the question about why most travellers (including us) don’t travel with children or, perhaps more relevantly, don’t take children to restaurants (except fast-food and theme). But back to the food. What would one expect in a place like this? Solid, filling, competent, huge portions. We had Pork Spring Rolls – excellent and, strangely, included potato; Steamed Elephant Fish with Ginger; Sour Soup (lime) with Beef; Squid with Peppers – the peppers were green peppercorns, still on the twig and they exploded with flavour. This style of ‘twigged peppercorns’ was repeated several times in Cambodia yet we never saw them being sold that way (although realistically we were there for Angkor, so didn’t spend much time in the markets).

Had a strong recommendation for Khmer Surin restaurant (on Phlauw 57 about 200m south of Preah Sihanouk Blvd; 2 blocks east of Monivong Blvd), and this is a must visit! Started with Green Beans with Peanuts, Chillis, Tomato and Dried Fish. Then the star attraction – Seafood Amok – absolutely fabulous, a superb dish. Squid and Prawns in a mild curry with onions, coconut, kaffir lime, basil and lemongrass – everything in perfect balance. I’ve only seen this dish once in Canada – and that restaurant has now closed. Also had Cha Greund Frog – minced frog with galangal, lemongrass, peanuts and onions. This had excellent taste, but the frog had just been chopped leaving small bones that were difficult to distinguish from the peanuts, so this dish had to be eaten slowly to avoid swallowing sharp bones. The restaurant is also beautifully appointed with large bamboos in pots giving the illusion of being outside the city. We ate fairly early and received good service, but later on a tour group of 30-40 people arrived and all the servers disappeared. Great value $17 including beer and water.

Then the boat to SIEM REAP – and food opportunities here were more limited as we wanted to maximize time at Angkor Wat. The top meal was planned for Bopha Angkor (on Stung Siem Reap St also called East River Bank Rd, just north of the main area) but was very disappointing. More show than anything else. Had Banana Bud Salad with Lake (Tonle Sap) Fish served in a half banana blossom leaf – very pretty, but the flavours and textures were all mushed together; Beef with Cambodian peppers – tough beef, the same veggies as were served with the salad, but great peppercorns (again on the stem), and a good sweet garlic dip. But no real flavour definition again. Finally Chicken Amok – and this wasn’t anywhere near the Seafood Amok in Phnom Penh. First, the colour was unappealing (coconut, curry and chicken conspired to give a grey-brown colour). The chicken was stringy but did have good flavour. Just OK overall. Dessert was a fruit plate (excellent) and a pineapple spring roll with Caramel Sauce – very sweet (of course). And this restaurant that only served small bottles of water, necessitating buying more (at restaurant/hotel prices). Total cost $24 (expensive by Cambodian standards).

Lunch at one of the sit-down covered restaurants outside Angkor Wat (the one near the gate but furthest south). Fish Amok, served in a green coconut. Not bad to very good. No fish bones but flavours a bit fuzzy. And Pork with Lemongrass – mostly vegetables and a bit greasy. Cost $11.

That night hoped to go to Khmer Kitchen – but directions were not precise enough (lane near market) so, as this was the last night, we arranged to eat with other people we were travelling with on this part of the trip. This was at the Soup Dragon which is on the main commercial street, running NW from the bridge just north of the market (369 Group 6 Mondol 1, Svay Dangkum). Ironically, we arrived early (deliberately to explore) and discovered that the Khmer Kitchen was on the side street just SE of the Soup Dragon. It looked well worth trying, but only has about 4 tables and a chalkboard menu with a few selections. And it was full. At the Soup Dragon we had Battered Squid, Bonelesss Fish in a Clay Pot (lacked spices) and dessert. Unexciting but reasonable price. $12 with beers.

And the final meal – up at 4:30 to see the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Except the sky was all cloud covered, so didn’t see the sun! But strolled across the street to the same group of restaurants and this time chose the north covered one and had a superb fried egg – free range as always and a superb baguette still warm from the oven. Perfection!

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Khmer Kitchen in Siem Reap is a must. Homestyle Khmer cooking, absolutely delicious. All the tuk-tuk drivers know where it is (near the market) and the folks at our hotel did too (Pansea) so you should be able to track it down. We had two wonderful, memorable meals there. You may wait a while for your food but it's worth it.

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Khmer Kitchen in Siem Reap is a must. Homestyle Khmer cooking, absolutely delicious. All the tuk-tuk drivers know where it is (near the market) and the folks at our hotel did too (Pansea) so you should be able to track it down. We had two wonderful, memorable meals there. You may wait a while for your food but it's worth it.

Couldn't agree more. We went there on ecr's recommendation and it was the food highlight of our trip. Good enough that we wound up going twice in a three-day trip.

Enjoy,

Jim

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Any new updates on Cambodia as of late?

I will going there in the near future and would love any insight into great local food in Ankgor, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville or anywhere in between. Thanks.

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