Here at the Kampong Cham base our closest multicultural city is Phnom Penh (just a quick 2 and half hour bus ride away!) This means whenever we find ourselves in Phnom Penh, food becomes a massive priority as it’s our opportunity to delve into all of our cravings and satisfy the void of food we miss from back home or around the globe. Don’t get me wrong, I love Khmer food – it’s flavoursome, not too spicy and pretty diverse, it’s just after living in Asia for 3 years you find yourself needing a break from rice.
Phnom Penh has a lot to offer, including the weirdest service experience of my life! For those of you that have travelled around Asia you’ll understand the service industry works very differently, with its extremely unique charm. I have regularly experienced long waits in quiet restaurants, food coming out at completely different times and in extremely illogical orders, forgotten or wrong orders, nothing being available that you try to order, and from being friends with chefs – I have witnessed out right refusals to cook something they’re not in the mood to do. As I said it is uniquely charming, it’s not for everyone but I enjoy the laid back chaos of it all. One fateful in Phnom Penh, a group of us were out for food with the usual random order of meal distribution and slow service. Salt is rarely on the table, so on this occasion we asked the server if we could have some, which seemed pretty reasonable and straight forward. Upon his return, this request was met by him presenting us with a handful of salt… Our confused expressions, mixed with toing and froing from his hand to his face, must have prompted him to realise this was NOT what we were expecting! He then presented his plan B, a salt shaker – how this was his back-up choice I’ll never know!?! The food was still good and decently priced, and above par entertainment provided by the fistful of salt.
Cheese! This is always the first stop whenever we get to Phnom Penh – biggest craving to be satisfied, which usually comes in the shape of pizza. Lately, we’ve stubbled across a couple of good options. Romano’s is a definite favourite for pizza! They provide a massive variety of pizza options, a medium pizza is obviously cheaper and MORE than enough to fill you up, they use proper cheese and have a great option of Italian cheeses to chose from, additionally drinks are relatively cheap and you can get a nice glass of wine. If you’re looking for more options than just pizza, but want to stick to Italian there’s always Trattoria Bello. It’s definitely not the best Italian food I’ve had, but it’s affordable and has a really great cosy atmosphere. Staff provide you with a cheery welcome as soon as you walk in the door and are very friendly and attentive throughout. There’s a good variety of options to choose from and the definite highlight was dessert – especially the ice cream on the side!
One of our most exciting finds has been The Curry Pot – an Indian and Nepalese restaurant. This find has been especially important to us as I lived in India for 2 years and the person I was with has lived in Nepal. There are a lot of Indian restaurants around Phnom Penh and this is a little more out of the way, by the Russian Market. It is definitely worth going that bit further, the food is so much better and more reasonably priced than the other options available. A restaurant is always in my good books when they provide things for free to the table, whether it’s snacks or refillable cold water – in this case it’s both! To start they give you strips of deep fried popad, with 3 equally amazing chutneys to accompany them! The momos (Nepalese dumplings) were authentic and accompanied by a traditional dipping sauce, we shared a plate of 8 and it’s safe to say we absolutely demolished them! There’s a great choice of curries to choose from, I tend to prefer South Indian food but beggers can’t be choosers, as far as curry goes they do a decent job (I have high standards when it comes to Indian food, so that’s as nice as I’m going to get). It was nicely spiced, rich and super filling – especially when you opt for a cheesy naan bread…
Another firm favourite is Viva, a Mexican restaurant on the riverside. They provide good portions, a long menu to choose from and have a great lively atmosphere with music always playing in the background. In all honesty the food is not the main draw, but their happy hour (which is basically all evening) where all cocktails are $1.50!! I’m a sucker for a bargain. The cocktails are really nice, they’re not watered down like some places do for happy hour and once again a lot of variety!! As it’s a restaurant they don’t stay open late, so you know it’s the end of happy hour when they subtly bring you the bill around 10pm. It’s a great place to chill for a few hours before you head back to where you’re staying or to start off your night.
BRUNCH!!! Probably the meal I get most excited about, I love eating out for breakfast or brunch, no better meal to go out for! It’s possible this is the main reason I love going to Phnom Penh – there’s so many great cafes on offer, I don’t even know where to begin! As a coffee addict, stopping my coffee shakes in the morning is always the first thing on my mind. It’s super easy to find a good café in Phnom Penh, just avoid the chains as they tend to be super sweet and use poor quality coffee with an almost artificial flavour. Lot 369 have great food and coffee on offer, as well as a cool place to chill out. The best recommendation I can give is to try their frozen Khmer coffee, simply put it’s amazing. Normally Khmer coffee is way too sweet but they’ve found the right balance and it’s delicious. They also offer coffee loyalty cards, which I may or may not have grabbed. The Artillery Arts Café is another cool spot which has great food available, all allergies and dietary restrictions are represented on their menu, in addition to good quality coffee. It can be a slightly hard to find as it’s down a little road where tuk tuks can’t reach, but look out for signs and you’ll get there! Always check out their specials board, it changes regularly and has great alternatives to their regular menu. Feel Good is another great café, they are also a social enterprise so as the name suggests you can feel good about yourself whilst getting your coffee and breakfast fix!
Phnom Penh for sure knows how to satisfy all my greedy needs! But it is definitely not a friend to my bank account, they are definitely not on speaking terms. As it’s an occasional treat for me I’ll quite happily splurge, but the places I have discussed are definitely not for the budget conscious. If you’re down to treat yourself though, I could not recommend these restaurants and cafés enough!! And if you’re watching the pennies, Phnom Penh still has plenty of streets food and local restaurants options to try. Enjoy noming your way around Phnom Penh!!