Budget Dining in Phnom Penh South of O’RusseiSeptember 8, 2013
O’Russei market tends to be the kind of place I go to buy vegetables and then leave again straight away. With new, garishly-coloured budget guesthouses continuously popping up all over the streets south of the market, those visiting appear to frequently complain that they have to walk for miles to find anywhere to eat. But for those in the know, there are actually a number of surprisingly good little restaurants in the area.
Close to the market on St 111 is Mama restaurant, located between streets 182 and 198.
For such a small, locally run place, the menu spans an astonishing number of cuisines; you can literally choose from curry, fried noodles, couscous with meat and sauce, stuffed tomatoes with vegetables, pork cutlets or shepherd’s pie to name a few, plus Khmer standards such as fish amok.
Unlike some local cafes where more western dishes can be a little hit or miss, meals like the spaghetti with vegetables – which has the potential to be extremely underwhelming – are bursting with flavour and very reasonable at just 8000 riel. Nothing is much more than a few dollars; at 16,000 riel the beef meatballs with fries is one of the most expensive options. Mama also serves a decent selection of western breakfast options for 4-8000 riel if you’re heading to the market early.
Just two doors down is a new little place called King Kong Bamboo Restaurant. While the menu may be just a single page of local dishes, the friendly welcome and unbelievably good value make this well worth a visit. With lime juice at just 50 cents and only one dish costing over $2 (the beef lok lak at $2.50), it is very easy to have dinner for two here for under $5. The restaurant has also started hosting a BBQ every Saturday night from 5-9pm, with the $3.50 price tag including a free soft drink or beer. If you are very lucky, you will also receive a rather enthusiastic greeting from Lucky the dog!
Royal India, just north of St 214 on St 111 (opposite Narin 2 guesthouse), is a tiny, family-run place which serves excellent, authentic curries at good prices. Most curry dishes are priced around $2.50-3.50 – the dahls and the spinach dishes in particular are guaranteed to get your taste buds going. Servings of naan are generous and decent value at just a buck for the plain option and $1.50 for other varieties. Naan is not available early in the day, but the chapattis are a tasty substitute. Samosas and pakoras are also a great option if you’re just looking for a quick snack on the way to or from the market. For those venturing here in the evenings, there is the added bonus of a succession of highly dramatic Indian soaps blaring from the television.
Further down St 111 just north of Sihanouk Blvd are a couple of other little restaurants worth a visit. Bayon Korean Restaurant offers a startling variety of dishes, mostly, as you would expect, from Korea. Order the BiBimBap to receive a large bowl filled with rice, pork, egg, carrots, mushrooms and an assortment of greens, all with a spicy sauce to mix in. A range of side dishes including kimchi and spicy pancakes are served alongside this. While it didn’t come in the traditional hot stone bowl, it was still well worth the $5. The only downside for those who wish to be specific about the contents of their dinner is that it is incredibly difficult to deduce from the menu what each dish actually contains – the BiBimBap is described as something akin to ‘rice bowl with assorted fillings’.
At the Asian Spice Cafe and Pub just across the road, the friendly staff are very helpful about recommending good dishes to try from their extensive menu. The clientele appear to be an eclectic mix of locals, backpackers, families and groups of expats, presumably all drawn by the excellent selection and relaxed atmosphere – this place is at least twice the size of any of the other eateries on the street and so it feels less like you are eating in the someone’s living room. As well as some delicious Asian recipes – a wide range of shareable Khmer dishes for $2-$3.50 plus a few inspired by other countries in the region – this restaurant also offers western options such as fish and chips.
For those looking for somewhere with AC and wifi, the recently opened Noodle Cafe on St 113 appears to be aiming for local street noodles meets Starbucks – an interesting combination that seems to work for the locals. The ‘noodle’ part of the cafe consists of noodle soup with meat, seafood or both, most priced around $3.50. Other than the excellent service, there is not much to set this apart from any other noodle place around the city.
The ‘cafe’ element appears to still be in development, as it’s a bit hit and miss whether your chosen menu item will actually be available – currently the display counter offers a selection of rather dry cakes and fancy-looking deserts costing anything from $1 to $4. The drinks menu will eventually be impressive, with everything from chai tea to the intriguing ‘harvest coffee cider’. However, in the meantime they are operating a much slimmer range of options taped to the menu. You may not choose to go out of your way to eat there, but for those with a little time to spare in the area, the quiet ambience and attentive staff mean it’s not a bad place to have a drink and get some work done.
If a quick coffee is all you’re after, the ABC Bakery to the east of O’Russei on Monivong is ideal for grabbing a swift pick-me-up. The main draw here is the Lavazza coffee, which is very reasonably priced at just 6000riel. They also offer the usual choice of standard and downright bizarre bakery items, including a decent selection of fresh bread. While the shop may not have much in the way of atmosphere, it does have AC if you are looking for a break from the heat on the way to or from the market.
All in all, while the area may not host the next culinary phenomenon in Phnom Penh, those venturing into this part of the city are unlikely to be hungry. Whether you’re looking for an early breakfast coffee or a filling dinner with friends, there is a diverse range of options to suit most needs, with some authentic little gems that are well worth visiting.