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SE Asia Report Part 4 - Cambodia

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SE Asia Report Part 4 - Cambodia

estufarian | Feb 24, 2004 06:04 PM

First a comment on transportation. Flew to PHNOM PENH on Vietnam Airlines, and had the best airline food on the trip.
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 chow. 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 Chowhound 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 (thanks Michael Lerner and others)! Started with Green Beans with Peanuts, Chillis, Tomato and Dried Fish – a different style to those we had in Myanmar, but still 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.
Then the boat to SIEM REAP – and chow 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!
Then home via Bangkok (last meal included in Part 2).
And thanks to all Chowhounds who provided suggestions along the way.

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