Phnom Penh Restaurant Reviews: Return to Sichuan

Posted on by Peter Hogan


These days, being far too poor to eat food cooked by white people, it’s back to Chinatown for Sunday lunch with my old friend from Queens NY, Frank Rizzo ( the man whose hairdo is a hair-don’t). Carefully avoiding cheap lunchtime Khmer places since I got three sorts of botulism for less than $5 not so long ago and had to take a day off work as a result, we plumped for my favourite Chinese – the Sechuan – which isn’t in the prettiest, cleanest or toniest part of town, but has reliably excellent food.

I straight away recognized the moon faced waitress (unusually welcoming and hospitable for a Chinese restaurant employee) who directed me to the best table in the house – the one adjacent to the masterblaster standing air con unit. It’s always a good sign when the air con is cooler than the service.

At 11am all was calm and low key here with a chance to admire the clean tablecloths and spic and span floor – tumbleweed wasn’t exactly blowing through the place, but the lunchtime hordes had yet to arrive. But by midday the restaurant would be heaving with clucking Chinese diners and each and every table would sound like the loudest section of a wildly dissonant orchestra, with the waitresses tenaciously zigzagging their way around the packed house balancing sizzling hotplates and jugs of beer.

We started with the seaweed and egg soup (my favourite) – a great, appetizingly light comfort food in which the egg is carefully poured to form long strips around the gooey seaweed. It’s salty, glutinous and very tasty as well as an easy way to load up on iron.

After steering my dining partner away from the offal and innards section of the menu (‘’No intestines for you today, Mr Rizzo’’) and finding that the Italian Stallion lacked the nerve to tackle the house speciality of Sezchuan chili and hot oil duck, we plumped instead for the alternative of boiled duck which arrived just warm, not too fatty, cut up into largish chunks on the bone which were perfect in their juiciness. The portion was satisfying large and the accompanying soy gravy, pleasingly simple but very well done. So far, so fine and dandy.

Frank Rizzo wolfed down the duck and assured me that he loved Chinese food above all foods and would happily forgo all other national cuisines and eat Chinese for the rest of his days. In fact he was about ready to leave for China on the next available flight until I hastily reminded him that China is one of the world’s most repressive regimes and certainly the world’s top polluter.

While he was pausing for thought, our next course – a steamed fish in an intensely flavoured soy based broth with rice wine vinegar and just a hint of ginger – arrived whole with head, tail, skin, and fins all intact, and the light and white meat flaking off nicely. The only downside being that the fish was rather small – some might say it was more bait than catch – so Rizzo and myself were soon scrapping chopsticks for the last slithers of white flesh.

Less exciting (though still quite good) was the plate of morning glory deftly cooked in oil and garlic which accompanied the mains. The greens still had a pleasing bite to them.

It was an excellent lunch with reliable grub and brisk seamless service from nice people, my only regret being that I’d totally forgotten how good their chili dusted soft shell crab was until already fully bloated and ready to leave. Oh well, there will definitely be a next time. On leaving, I glanced up at the burning sky and then across this short filthy street to the dull yellow vastness of Psah Thmai. Twelve fifteen in the afternoon, and the heat was so blistering that it was a challenge to stay upright. There being no outdoor Jacuzzi in the immediate vicinity where I could spend the remainder of the day sucking ice-cold Margaritas through a straw, a brisk trot around the corner to the heavily air-conditioned Svensons had to suffice with the dome of Soriya giving me something to aim for.

Sichuan Canteen (Chinese Street – top of 136 – in between Psah Thmei and Monivong and adjacent to the Total Garage)

Lunch around $15 for two, including a couple of clean crisp and cold Tsing Tao beers.

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