Didn’t have as much time as I had hoped for in Cambodia to hunt out decent eats, so here’s what I managed to scoff in between working and travelling. Kratie, Eastern Cambodia is a small provincial backwater just over 4 hours drive east of the capital Phnom Penh. It’s not an easy place to get to and only a thin trickle of tourists make it this far. Most folk go to see the ultra-rare Irrawaddy dolphins. I had lunch and dinner with the main dolphin researcher in town at the only foreign run restaurant – Red Sun Falling – run by Joe from Chicago, one of only 7 or 8 expats in Kratie. The food is below average, Khmer fish soup (6,000 riel/$1 = 4,000 riel), full of bones, lacking any flavour, Chicken Coconut curry (6,000 riel) bland, fatty, dull. Good for a beer, but not gourmet. Looked like there was better food on the market; sweet desserts, noodle soups and papaya salads. Although the meat section (pictured above) didn’t do much for my appetite at 7 in the morning.
A busy schedule in Kratie meant I only got to try a couple of spots on the gutter grub scene. Street sugar cane juice, much the same as this one in Saigon, only smaller and minus the ice – cost 500 riel I think. I spotted a sandwich seller just along from my hotel – the basic, clean, Heng Heng 2, $10 a night and as good as it gets in Kratie – I thought a comparison with Vietnam’s finest sarnies was in order. The bread is heated on a charcoal burner, sliced in two, filled with some kind of pate and served on a bed of luncheon meat, 2 sprigs of spring onion, sliced cucumber and there’s a papaya side dish. First rate and just 2,000 riel.
Back in Phnom Penh, I took a room facing the Tonle Sap river at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC) for $55 per night. In my experience it’s difficult getting a decent mid-range room in Phnom Penh and the FCC is fine, although the shower fitting was broken, but I can’t help feeling the journo link to this place is a load of bollocks. Sydney Schanberg didn’t stay here in the 70’s, he was down the road. In fact, the FCC only opened 11 years ago. However, I spotted a BBC bod from Seoul at the bar and there was a scribe for the Phnom Penh Post there too. Oh, and I was there. But, that’s the thing. If you build it they will come and if you fill it with booze, the journos will definitely come. I have never seen a hotel room mini-bar more heavily stocked. No less than five large bottles of 40% proof alcohol in there plus your regular beer and whatnot. According to the website “the FCC has created a unique niche in the Cambodian restaurant industry, earning an unmatched reputation for fine quality dining.” Hmmm… I doubt it. I tried a ‘wood fired pizza’ for $6.5, it was fine, but definitely not ‘quality dining’, and I didn’t see anything of note coming out of the kitchen for other diners. The FCC is a great bar, but there’s gotta be better food in town.
But, I didn’t find it at this joint. There’s a reason the restaurant pictured above at No. 11, Street 178 in Phnom Penh is completely empty. It’s crap. I ordered the Pho with well done beef brisket ($1.50) only to experience a disastrous cross-border foray into pho-land.
Skag end of chewy beef (or more likely water buffalo), thin stock, boring meat balls, crappy noodles. Do not eat here.
Better were these street eats just around the corner on Street 13.
First stop was this stall at No. 172E. She served two dishes. The first was a noodle soup with cow’s innards and star anise. The stall holder advised me to add sugar which sweetens up an already saccharine soup. The broth itself was great, but I found the texture of the intestines and stomach not quite to my liking. The rice porridge was better.
I skipped the sugar on this one. I gather, like Laotians, Khmer folk have a pretty sweet tooth. This porridge had fresh flakes of fish inside. It was heading into bland territory, but I have a soft spot for rice porridge and I would come back for more. Each soup was 1,000 riel each.
Just a few steps further along Street 13 I found this grilling on the pavement. This was the only stall I was able to get a few dish details as the seller’s brother spoke enough English and told me what it was. This is called An Som Ang (Banana with rice wrapped around, grilled in a banana leaf).
Open her up and you get a finger banana with the young sticky rice coating which is burnt on one side. There’s a hint of coconut in there too. All in all this was a very tasty street snack dessert. Just 200 riel.
Less than 20 paces down the street I spotted a cake maker.
100 riel a shot, crispy exterior opens up into a sweetened coconut interior with a satisfying fluffy crunch. Bargain find and not bad at all. By the time I reached the junction with Street 154 I was pretty much stuffed which is a shame. On the corner I found a woman crouched on the floor serving a green coconut curry over rice. The brief glimpse and lingering curried coconut smell I caught downwind of this stall tells me it would be a winner. Next time.