Supper and Breakfast in BattambangNovember 12, 2008
We’d planned to take last night’s supper just out of town at ‘the restaurant with three wives,’ Chhay Vet and myself, mainly because I was highly curious to see the owner, a man with not one, not two but three wives.
Vet told me that the arrangement is perfectly amicable, cushioned, as it is, by certain ground rules. Wife number one – the cashier – gets three nights of loving a week whilst the second wife – the cook – the gets two, with the final two nights (Friday and Saturday when hubbie is at his friskiest) going to the harem’s most recent addition, a teenaged waitress. ”The waitresses are very pretty, but apart from the kruet, the food is terrible,” said Vet, and as I fancied a comfort food green curry rather than quail (kruet) we hastily abandoned our plans and went to the well known Phkay Proek, Street 3 instead.
Things did not initially bode well, with this wide barn of a restaurant being empty except for three or four staff staring grimly up at a TV wedged above the kitchen door blaring out a Hong Kong action movie while drippy, saccharine Khmer pop music wafted over from behind a small bar area.
This total, abject, wrist-slitting emptiness was simply depressing and wasn’t made any better by the upright wooden chairs which were a bit boardroom. It seemed very much like a formerly popular restaurant, known for its fine food in large portions, was doing badly these days and had well and truly gone to seed.
Yet the curry arrived full of flavor, silky-smooth and buttery. All the tastes and textures were there including largish shreds of tender pork, galangal, a hint of lime, egg plant, green beans, sweet basil, lemongrass, kaffir lime and of course coconut. In short, it had the appropriate richness and complexity. And at 10,000 riel ($2.50) the price was about right.
This morning my 8am breakfast stop for noodles was bright, chatty, packed with locals slurping loudly on their soup, and, in terms of ambiance, the exact polar opposite of Phkay Proek. They’re used to doing a brisk trade here – a waitress flipping a menu was hovering within seconds of me sitting down and my coffee and bowl of soup arrived in minutes (more than one but I’m guessing less than four.)
If you’re looking for soft, fresh flour-and-water, light Chinese noodles served in a broth tasting of something other than dishwater then this is most certainly the place in Battambang.
In my bowl I found generously thick slices of tender, slow-braised silky and tender duck swimming in the broth accented with, I’m guessing, chili oil, and then plenty of spring onions and shallots lending texture. Finding three plump juicy juicy pork wantons hiding under the duck and egg noodles came as a joyous bonus and the soup was accompanied by a small bowl of peanut and chili curry with which to add further excitement to the dish, as if it was needed. (Duck soup with wantons and Chinese noodles – 7500 riel).
The fact that the restaurant is three shophouses knocked together and made open plan on the ground floor dining room brings a pleasing in-and-out, breeze-through vibe to the place. In fact, the restaurant started in the 1980’s as a single run down, borderline derelict shophouse with a noodle stall outside of it but has expanded into both its neighbors as the business prospered. Put simply, there is no better noodle shop in Battambang and yet, strangely, it still hasn’t found a name for itself.
So just look out for the former Angkor Hotel on the river, walk for thirty seconds up that street until you get to the Smokin’ Pot and then stare across the road and you’ll see a triple fronted restaurant with no name.