Having been out of Phnom Penh for a couple of weeks on a combination business trip with a few holiday days thrown in for good measure, I found myself eating out a lot on, or around, the beach, Snooky, Sihanoukville, Kompong Som, call it what you will.
As the trip was mostly work, I did not have time to do a detailed report and survey all the possible eateries, however, I did manage to scribble a few notes between the beers and the talk of the usual nonsense that people involved in development usually prattle at me when they think I am off guard (sad deluded fools; you NGO workers might be two pint wonders, the Lord Playboy is not)
However, enough of my raving about those 4×4 lentil weavers and free-range muesli knitters.
Not wishing to stay at Sokha beach resort this trip (two weeklong stays there in the same month is a little OTT even for me) I looked around for reasonable accommodation with the correct amenities. One of the things I have leant about visiting Sihanoukville during the rainy season is that you can guarantee an afternoon / evening, or two, stuck in your hotel, best to make sure that it either has an excellent bar and restaurant, or is very, very, near some.
Upon arrival in Kompong Som I was pleased to see that The Holy Cow, 012 478 510, had moved, to what appeared to be a much better location and bigger venue. Fans of the previous cheap (US$4/Night) yet pleasant rooms will be disappointed to discover that they no longer do accommodation, but are solely concentrating on the food and drink market. Given the usual high standards of Steve’s kitchen, I am sure that it will be a winner. Any proprietor dedicated enough to make their own yoghurt for the breakfast muesli is a gastronome worthy of attention in my book.
However, being out of luck on the handy lodgings there I asked Steve for a few pointers as to a reasonable and well located establishment. After much discussion with him, checking out a couple of places myself I deposited my ‘colleagues’ at the Golden Sands Hotel (of which, more later) while I stayed at a pleasant enough Chinese run hotel on Ekareach Street opposite the Caltex station, called tic, or tack, or tet or something, I forget, but it was clean, new, near a couple of dozen bars and restaurants and the Playboy Bunnies managed to bargain the rooms down to less than US$5 a night; air-con, cable TV, en suite, et cetera.
Most of the days, and more than a few of the evenings, were taken up with work related stuff, however, my scribbles on various soggy beer mats and napkins inform me that:
Funny Restaurant; on Ochheuteal Beach
Yes, that is its real name. About halfway along the stretch of shacks on the southern end of the beach. I had an afternoon to myself before the work silliness started, so it was down to the beach for a spot of R&R and a sampling of the seafood.
I had a papaya and crab salad, bok la’hong, which was excellent, enough chilli to warm the mouth, but not so much as to totally kill the flavour of the crab or the prawns. Keeping to the seafood theme we also had, the almost obligatory, barbequed squid on a stick, with sweet chilli dipping sauce, also excellent and very, very, fresh (I know a thing or two about fish you know) the salad was US$2, (8,000r), the squid US$1 (4,000r) for 10 – apologies to backpackers and tourists who usually pay US$1 for 4 or 5 squids-on-a-stick. Ha Ha.
Angkor Arms; Ekareach Street, downtown.
The first free evening I have in K. Som I head over to the Angkor Arms to have a quiet, happy hour, glass of Angkor (or three). Bert the owner is nursing a hangover, with the aid of another beer and some of that soccer stuff on the telly (he is very enthusiastic about it). For my own part, I decide that rice is not going to be on the menu for the evening.
Opting for the Fishermen’s Basket I was not disappointed; calamari, battered prawns, bite size pieces of white fish in batter, served with a portion of chips (that would be French fried potatoes to those of you from outside the UK) all very tasty and for a reasonable US$4.
My companion selected a bacon cheese burger with fries, which I thought sounded tempting. Unfortunately, the ‘burger’ part of it looked like a sloppy half baked turd, which just crumbled into piles of mince meat when she picked it up. I am told that it tasted fine though, I just did not feel like sampling it myself. The seventeen chips that accompanied the burger looked a little bit lost nestling on the side of the plate, but they were not lost, indeed they were found and eaten in approximately three forkfuls.
The Emerald Bar; Sopheakmongkol Street, downtown
A first visit for me, several nights into my stay. The owners name was something like Rob, or Paul, or Rumplestiltskin; the accuracy of my memory and the beer laden napkin eludes me at that point, however, he was a charming wee fellow of thick Irish brogue, most friendly and accommodating. Furthermore, his cheese and ham toasties were an ideal mid-drinking-binge-snack, being neither too big, thus inducing the need to have a bit of a lie-down, nor being so small as to fool you into thinking you need a second one, thus inducing the need to have a bit of a lie-down. Both of which can be a problem when you have 2,000r Angkor happy hour from 5 to 8, which is where we had been prior to the Emerald at……..
Mash / Melting Pot; Weather Station Hill.
Yes, Happy Hour is 5pm until 8pm with Angkor draft at 2,000r (0.50c) after suffering the effects of that, the following evening I returned to sample the food (having completely forgotten to do so the evening before)
Ordering a generic ‘Chicken Curry’ and a pair of chapattis I was pleasantly surprised when the dish turned out to be a close relative of a chicken rogan josh, medium to hot in spiciness, pieces of white meat, tomatoes, onion and the odd bit of green capsicum. As well as the good chapattis it came with steamed rice and a more than ample side salad. Not wishing a repeat performance of the prior evening, I decided to go for a few cans of US$1 beer Lao to wash it down with.
A few days later I returned to Mash for the full English breakfast, double egg, bacon, chips, sausage, beans, tomato, mushroom, toast and coffee. A true transport cafe portion and the best hangover cure known to man. Much appreciated by a somewhat jaded trencherman like myself, rivalling even the fabled Rising Sun in Phnom Penh, it was well worth the 16,000r.
Fisherman’s Den; Sopheakmongkol Street, downtown
Work was out of the way for a day or so, however the sudden change in the weather resulted in enough rain for me to consider sending Noah a text to put him on standby. Making the exceptionally short journey to John and Brian’s place I holed up here for a congenial evening with the host, more than several beers and what the menu describes as ‘the best fish and chips in town.’ Well, having tasted said victuals I would go as far as to venture that it is one of the best in the Country; three medium sized fillets of flaky white fish, wrapped in a light crisp golden batter, a pile of freshly made, double fried, chips and a mixed salad on the side as a token nod towards something green and healthy. Not to mention an absolute snip at US$2.50. Carrying on with my ‘taste of home’ craving, I ordered up Cherry Pie with vanilla ice cream US$2.50 for dessert, mmm, puddings are not something that Khmers really understand, so you do not usually get them, unless it is some sort of fruit, or sweet rice wrap, or a combination of fruit and rice.
Espresso Kampuchea; Sopheakmongkol Street, downtown.
The following midmorning, with the memory of short crust pastry and cherry pie filling still fresh, I stop at a coffee bar to see if I can further indulge my sweet tooth.
Despite a large billboard advertising pastries and ice creams all that was on offer was various forms of coffee. I found the cafe latte to be more than acceptable however and manage to waste half an hour with a pair of them. The two Khmer girls working there seemed more than happy to sit chatting and share some of their barbequed banana with myself and the Bunnies.
After a while the somewhat portly owner hoved into view and it seemed that he had been partaking of something other than caffeine as a stimulant, despite us being the only customers in there, he was not impressed with the staff not doing anything and immediately set about ordering then to rearrange the ‘untidy’ magazines on the bookcase – we left shortly thereafter.
Golden Sands Hotel.
Of course, all this fun could not go unpunished, so it was back to the grindstone for me, with some workshop about something or another of no relevance, importance or meaning to anything known to mankind. Yes that is right, it was a facilitated participatory workshop run by an NGO working on Inclusion Advocacy (hire more fat ugly women with tennis ball haircuts and dungarees) just as I was vacillating between (i) losing the will to live and (ii) climbing a tall building with a high-powered sniper rifle I was saved by that most wonderful of inventions – the lunch break.
Dining en masse in the hotel restaurants buffet was not exactly high on my list of things to do, but having had a sufficient amount of my life forced sapped by these idiots I was unable to summon up a lie quick enough to get me out of the building.
Having said that, I was most pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the food on offer here, seven or eight different dishes to chose from, with an endless plate policy – just keep eating until you explode – just a tiny, wafer thin, mint sir? ? I piled my plate high with the fresh squid, stir fried with fresh green pepper corns, it was spicy, it was tangy, the squid was not overcooked in the slightest, thus reluctantly I am unable to use my favourite description of badly cooked squid here – like rubber bands coated in snot; although the brains of some of the NGO facilitators might well have met that description.
Inside P’sar Leu, random market stall.
Having a ready made excuse the following day to escape the tedium of a lunchtime workshop post mortem and analysis I head on over to the local Khmer market. Nipping inside as swiftly as possible, lest I be seen by NGO spies or the Playboy Bunnies, I plonk myself down at one of the food stalls inside and am presented with; Fresh spring rolls and deep fried spring rolls, fish sauce for dipping, to which was added smoke flakes of dried garlic and a teaspoon of chilli paste. The fresh spring rolls contained rice noodles, lettuce, basil leaves and dried prawns; I am not entirely sure what the fried ones contained as they just crunched into flakes of fatty pastry when I bit them. The fresh ones however were delicious – ch’nang – and I managed to polish off a round dozen of them much to the toothless old crone’s surprise, washing the whole lot down with a near endless supply of jasmine tea, well worth the 5,000r.
Te Lee Hon I Restaurant.
(Khmer Restaurant: opposite the West entrance to P’sar Leu)
Awaking exceptionally early the following morning I decide to have breakfast on my own, rather than with everyone else at the workshop – today’s theme was gender mainstreaming in rural areas.
As I often do in Khmer breakfast restaurants, I had the rice~pork breakfast, bai suh ch’rook, it was very good, the pork lean and coated with some sort of flavouring that I could not quite place the taste of, the usual accompaniments of pickles, sweet chilli dipping sauce and fish broth were also above average, slightly above average at 3,000r.
I returned here the following lunchtime with the Playboy Bunnies who were equally impressed with their sweet and sour prawns, chicken stir fried with ginger and spring onions and the Chinese vegetables stir fried with clear noodles. Lunch for the four of us, US$11
The views in this column are entirely those of Lord Playboy (of Phnom Penh, Sonteipheap and that muddy patch of ground next to the school;) they are in no way are representative of Khmer440, its editors, staff, advertisers or pet cats, of any Ministry of the Royal Government of Cambodia who employs Lord Playboy, of people who look down on Khmer girls with white husbands, of employees of NGO?s who think that it is okay to talk about Khmers in front of them just because they do not speak English, those people who go to the beach in the rainy season and complain about the weather, or Khmer HGV drivers trying to hit me head on by overtaking other Khmer HGV drivers racing to the Port of S. Damn, things will be different when I am running the Country.