It’s a fact that in the UK, whilst Indian restaurants are to be found on every street corner they almost always have a certain sameness about them. Indian food is cooked for the western palette and is a vast continent away from the food that Indians would eat at home; it’s said that the ubiquitous ‘chicken tikka marsala’ was invented when an Indian chef threw a tin of Campbell’s cream of tomato soup into a pot and tossed in a few chicken pieces and spices. Voila; a hybrid culinary classic. There are plenty of these kind of places in Phnom Penh but if you’re looking for more authentic, albeit basic no-frills Indian food then the Chi Cha is the place to go for cheap and filling plate or three.
There is nothing ironic about the Chi Cha nor will you find any Bollywood pizzazz. What you will find on entering is sleepy works canteen feel and a bunch of Indian/Pakistani/Sri Lankan/ Bangladeshi men lounging around in front of the television, all eyes glued to whichever South Asian team happens to be paying cricket that day. The atmosphere is about as far apart from the lager fuelled, poppadom strewn and laddish atmosphere of a British curry house as it’s possible to get.
The food itself is dirt cheap and I usually go for the $3 dollar meal which includes a meat or fish dish, a vegetable dish, a daal, rice, a salad and of course, chapattis. Judged on the basis of price it’s pretty damn remarkable that all this can be served for $2, especially as everything apart from the meat course can be topped up at no extra cost.
As in any Indian home, the meat is served on the bone and is never less than flavoursome or tender. The daal, is well…..a daal; it would be very difficult to go wrong with such a simple dish and the Chi Cha make a perfectly acceptable stew. The vegetable dish varies so its pot luck as to whether you’ll get a plate of spiced aloo (potatoes), bhindi (ladies fingers) or cauliflower. Nevertheless, all come clean and fresh, flavoured with cumin and I normally ask for a refill.
Sadly, don’t come here expecting fresh, crisp on the outside but tender on the inside, slabs of naan bread as the Chi Cha, just like every other curry house in Phnom Penh, doesn’t have a tandoor oven. Nevertheless, the griddle-cooked chapattis are absolutely spot-on. I always judge a curry house on their breads and the chapattis here are as good as any I’ve tasted and perfect for scooping up a mouthful of curry.
Lassis are on sale to tame the spiciness, but the perfect drink to go with a curry is a chilled pilsner lager and whilst the religious sensibilities of the Chi Cha’s Muslim owners will not allow them to sell you alcohol, they have no qualms about you bringing in your own and will even put your canned beer in the fridge until you’re good and ready to drink it. Otherwise, the usual assortments of soft drinks go for a very reasonable 1000 riel a bottle.
Don?t come to the Chi Cha expecting anything exotic or glamorous. This is about as small scale and as homespun as restaurants get but after eating a basic yet highly filling meal the bill for two, including a couple of soft drinks will come to $4.50, and you can’t argue with that.
Chi Cha #27, Street 110, Phnom Penh