Food Glorious Food in Phnom Penh
Days 830 – 837
This is for all you foodies out there, - who'd guess there was food glorious food in Phnom Penh! We found some cracking places, but were they the best? I haven’t a clue, but here are our reviews of cafes, restaurants and sunset bars that we visited.
Our first cuisine was at Sleuk Mrum (the emblem is from the Moringa tree sometimes known as the Tree of Life). It’s a newly opened Cambodian restaurant jointly run by a delightful German Mo, and his Cambodian wife and just 50 yards away from ABC Dutch B&B where we were staying. The decor is very attractive complete with indoor fish pond. It was great chatting with Mo and hearing about his Cambodian wedding. They got away with one day of celebrations rather than the usual three, but he wore at least 3 elaborate traditional outfits during the day. The food came in dribs and drabs, the norm here in Cambodia and Vietnam. They don’t seem to have the western-style hot plate so that everyone’s food can be served at the same time. The food was tasty, but the waiting staff struggled to understand our requests. Photos on the menu didn’t seem to match up with the dish that arrived. I was expecting a fried fish dish, it came in a broth with lumps of liver floating in it (good job the pescatarian pair hadn’t chosen this!) It’s all part of the experience.
We did return a few day’s later to give them a second chance; marginally better. I wouldn’t recommend the stir-fried chicken with cashews; the bony chicken wings were not easy to eat!
On our first full day, being a Sunday, I visited the International Church Fellowship which coincidentally was next to the S21Museum where Lindsey and Tim were visiting (See blog). After the service, I met people from all over the world and was invited to join them for lunch. Lindsey and Tim came later and we enjoyed chatting to people, hearing about their lives and what led them to live in Phnom Penh. I can’t remember much about the food except I chose badly, and ended up with some rather chewy fish balls and very salty morning glory!
Later in the evening, I found a restaurant called Dine in the Dark. Lindsey had explored going to Dans le Noir in Islington, London and Dine in the Dark in Bangkok, but the prices were quite steep. When we heard that the one here was US$22, expensive for Phnom Penh, but within our budget, we booked a table. What an experience! We ordered drinks and a set menu - vegan for them, international for me. Boray, our partially sighted waiter asked us to get into a line and put our hands on the shoulders in front. He was quietly spoken, gentle and reassured us that we would be ok and he was there to help. He led us up a staircase where the light was dimming, through a curtain into a room that was in complete darkness. We had no idea as to the size of the room, we called out to discover there were some other Brits in the house. Boray transferred each of us to our chairs and then taking us by the hand put our drinks where we could feel them. I was glad that Tim got us chatting as I was feeling quite panicky and not sure how I would cope for the duration of a meal in complete darkness. Cutlery was given and each course bought and cleared efficiently. Without sight, we quickly discovered that although we can touch the side of the plate, we had no idea where the food was! A mix of fishing about with the spoon and using our fingers, we tucked into what was a delicious meal, keeping it mostly in our mouths, but certainly, my fingers were covered and I dread to think the state of my napkin by the time I had eaten all five courses!
We guessed what we were eating and after our meal, we were led back to reception and given back our mobiles and watches. (I kept the fact quiet that I had a tiny torch in my bag; I didn’t use it!) The receptionist asked us what’s we thought we had eaten and then showed us photos of the food we had eaten. We got it mostly right, but I am sure my main dish was chicken rather than beef. What a humbling experience and one we would all highly recommend.
Social enterprise restaurant and shop projects. The next day we ate at two of the many social enterprise projects here in Phnom Penh.
Daughters of Cambodia is situated on the riverside and we sat upstairs on the balcony, watching life on the river and boardwalk. The waitresses would have approached this organisation for a job either in the restaurant, shop or workshop rather than a life of prostitution, which they were destined for or already working in. The food, a fusion of Cambodian and western-style came well presented. It was quite tasty, the soup a bit watery and the veg stack needed a bit more feta but we were very happy to support this great project, and of course I wanted to help them further by buying a few gifts from the shop below!
Sundowner No 1
As we were in the vicinity, after visiting a local market, we found Petra’s recommendation of the Juniper Gin bar on the top floor of The Point Hotel. We were ready for sunset with great music and photo opportunities of a stunning sunset, though Lindsey and I discovered that being such lightweights, alcohol in this climate goes straight to our heads! I certainly couldn’t finish my one cocktail!
Later that evening, after the Cambodian Dance Show at the National Museum, we found ourselves by Friends International; a bustling place with full tables inside and out. We were lucky that, despite no reservation, a table was found. The food was very tasty, though maybe a bit on the small side. We loved the artwork on the walls which Lindsey discovered were painted by students the project support and enjoyed popping into their shop next door with great craftwork made by small businesses supported by this French social enterprise. On Tuesday, our day to the Oudong mountains saw us trekking up and down in the midday sun and it was after 3 pm that our driver stopped at a roadside restaurant. The food was nothing to write home about. I’m glad I couldn’t see the duck that Lindsey caught sight of hanging up in the kitchen behind me; some of which I ordered for my lunch! Sundowner No 2
On our way back, we asked our driver to drop us off at the Amanjaya Pancam Hotel as we had been recommended their Le Moon rooftop bar! Not such a great 360-degree view, but nice comfy sofas, views of the riverside, good tapas and welcoming staff. We got chatting to a friendly Aussie, Matt, who has been returning to Cambodia for many years. On Wednesday we walked round to Ploy’s a trendy little cafe where we had a bit of a job making ourselves understood. It took ages for our drinks and food to arrive. Struggling to find something I fancied I ended up with an unusual but tasty soup made with pin oats and spinach in a flavoursome stock and Lindsey and Tim enjoyed their spaghetti dish with salmon.
With a google score of 4.6, the small place was buzzing, mainly travellers. The food was ok, though they seemed obsessed with making food look and taste like meat; a bit strange and unnecessary to us! I did venture upstairs to the loo but it was the old ceramic hole in the ground and I couldn’t face using it! Thursday saw us having an early lunch before our dance workshop, this time to a fab Lebanese restaurant called Aroma. The owner and staff were most welcoming and we enjoyed a selection of small delicious Middle Eastern dishes while sitting outside and watching the world go by.
Friday, we were excited to find Vibe, a vegan café and our favourite place to eat in Phnom Penh. We sat on the rooftop, surrounded by lush green plants, attractive wooden furniture and comfy cushions. The food and drinks were lovingly prepared with a focus on exciting combinations of flavours. My avocado, tomato and basil on buckwheat flatbread were so tasty and the bbq buffalo cauliflower bites were very yummy! Not surprisingly, Lindsey and Tim opted to eat here again on Sunday, needing some quiet respite after their harrowing trip to the Killing Fields. Sundowner No. 3
We went on to the gorgeous Royal Palace and after we thought it befitting to stroll across the road and into the calm paradise of the Palace Gate hotel. We made the most of the Happy Hour at The Organic Skybar at the Palace Gate Hotel, enjoyed taking some fabulous shots over the Palace. (Our favourite Sundowner and not so expensive when it's Happy Hour (2 x G&T for US$4)
For dinner, we found Mok Mony. and served by their friendly staff. I’ve since read on their website:
“At Mok Mony, we have a "no question ask return" policy. To encourage you to order out of your comfort zone and try different dishes that you may not have tried, should you order a dish that is not to your liking, please feel free to send it back. We will be more than happy to make you something else that is suited to your taste without charging you for the rejected dish. This policy ensures that you enjoy your time with us and have a great dining experience. Please do not feel like you are wasting food as any unwanted food plus our leftovers are given to the local homeless.”
Had we read this we may have been tempted to try the Ginger Lemongrass Frog or the Coffee Deep Fried Ribs! The food was delicious but afterwards, both Lindsey and Tim felt unusually thirsty. Was there too much salt or did they use MSG? Saturday was our Art day and took us to a different part of town. Having looked at the interesting Street Art, we went in search of sustenance before our Art class.
INSTant T cafe and restaurant is an oasis of calm from a bustling area. They serve interesting juices, shakes and teas and we all ate well. There is a pretty yard out the back with greenery, murals and a fish pond leading to clean and tidy toilets. I enjoyed my stir-fried veg and rice, though there was quite a lot of chilli in the sauce which kept me quiet! To complete our Arty day, after our art class and a short break we headed for the WB Arena for the StreetArtfest, eating at an unusual new seafood place called Tipsy. We soon saw why it was called this, many tables had their own Carlsberg Beer Tower with an ice trough in the centre of each table. The menu was only in Cambodian, thought the food photos helped a bit, And together with a helpful restaurant manager, we managed to order some tasty grilled mackerel. Our last day in Phnom Penh was a Sunday, so I wanted to return to the International Church. It was lovely to spend time at coffee in their upper room getting to know Salla a bit better. She is Finish, married to Bernard from Germany and they are here with her work as a consultant with Unicef.
I also met the Australian pastor Andrew Glover and his wife Liz and went with them and a crowd to a great place for lunch: Eleven One Kitchen. It’s a great idea which other Churches should adopt; particularly good for single or visitor, like me. There is none of this splitting the bill, everyone goes to the till and pays for what they ordered. It worked out fine! The kitchen claims to be the first 99% plastic-free restaurant in Cambodia; also selling plastic alternative products; water bottles, bamboo straws etc. The food was great and somehow the cheerful staff managed to serve the crowd of us fairly quickly. So impressed by this place, I bought Lindsey and Tim back for a light supper that night to experience it plus it was only a three-minute walk back to our B&B. Sundowner No 4 Salla told me about this amazing 360-degree revolving Skybar, Celeste, located in the S Penthouse Residence.
It didn’t disappoint though it was a shame that the sky wasn’t clearer. It was definitely the most expensive bar, yet no need to lure punters with promises of happy hours here. It was humming with happy people drinking, eating and clicking their mobile cameras. Tim enjoyed his G & T, and Lindsey and I, our fruity mocktails and we woofed down the complimentary snacks. We were about to get down to a game of cards when we were rather abruptly told that this was not allowed! Since then we have discovered that gambling is banned in Cambodia, and sadly people have been arrested for playing cards where money has been involved. Notwithstanding the fact that nearly everyone around us was on their mobiles doing - who knows what - we obviously looked dodgy!
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