Monthly Archives: October 2014

How to Spend Friday Night In Phnom Penh

It’s Sunday afternoon, and I am relaxing with a steaming hot cup of tea and reflecting on the weekend. The market has been visited, the pool has been swum, the yoga has been flexed, and—like any Sunday afternoon—the laundry has been washed.

As it is the middle of October, and the rest of the world is on the pumpkin spice craze, I want to take a minute to boast a bit about Southeast Asia.

I can eat pumpkin year round. And I do.

I get pumpkin smoothies.

Pumpkin tea.

Pumpkin curry.

Pumpkin muffins.

Pumpkin pancakes.

Pumpkin egg rolls.

Pumpkin custard.

Pumpkin ice cream.

Cambodia loves pumpkin. They don’t season it with nutmeg and cinnamon, but rather treat it as a melon or gourd, which can take on a variety of complex flavors. My favorite method of pumpkin consumption is the pumpkin smoothie, and Sean’s is chicken-pumpkin egg rolls from Sesame Noodle Bar. We are on the pumpkin bandwagon as much as you are, but we are rockin’ the pumpkin craze 365 days a year.

Moving on, this weekend was pretty great. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but I made sure I brought my camera out with me so I’d have something to share with you.

But first… a picture of a Kampot sunset:

IMG_2002This was snapped last weekend as we drove down to Kampot for a short getaway. I didn’t have another blog to fit it into, so I thought it would be a nice kick-off to this one.

Anyways, Sean and I went out last night for dinner and some live music. Our friend Chino is in a band, and they’re getting pretty popular here in Phnom Penh.

I had read about a Chinese place that had good food, so we headed up Monivong to check them out.

IMG_2330The name of the restaurant is Jiang Ren Su Jia, and is near Central Market on Monivong. The place was downright CHINESE, man. Everything in there screamed China: the customers, the walls, the menu, the food, the pictures, the tea. Sean was not amused of my tourist-photography, but I had to document our visit to share with you.

IMG_2329We got in a little over our heads with food. Everything on the menu was between $2-5, so we thought the portions were going to be small. Starting by the teapot and working clockwise we have roasted eggplant with chiles, peanuts, pork and chive dumplings, sweet and sour chicken, heavenly chili oil in a saucer, and crispy spring onion pancakes.

The verdict? I loved it. Sean wouldn’t go back. So I suppose that’s 50/50, right? Which means you’ll just have to try it for yourself to find out.

After dinner we headed over to the Foreign Correspondent Club’s property, The Mansion.

The-mansionA historical gem, The Mansion is a relic from the French colonial era of Cambodia. It was built in the early 1900’s, and was a private residence for 60 years. Imagine strolling those halls in your bathrobe! When the Khmer Rouge took over, they looted the place, but left it standing and intact. It currently hosts live parties and an evening cocktail hour, but the Foreign Correspondent’s Club is looking to sell it.

Here’s another photo from the Khmer Times article about the sale1406223532If you find yourself in Phnom Penh any time soon, you absolutely have to visit. Who knows what the future of this building may be, but for now, it’s a piece of living history.
Our friend’s band, Bacano, is a Latin Rock band here in Phnom Penh. Check out an article on them here, and here’s their Facebook page. In case you’re wondering, the word bacano is a Colombian term for something very good, cool, or nice.

IMG_2336Here’s a few shots of them from last night at The Mansion. Normally the bands play outside, but there torrential rain so they moved the event into the dark and mysterious cavern of The Mansion itself.
IMG_2338They’ve got an amazing mix of culture in their band. Starting from left to right, the guitarist is Russian/Chilean/Swedish, the bassist is Cambodian, the singer/guitarist is Colombian, the female drummer is Filipino, and the guy on the djembe is Pakistani.

IMG_2344Everybody was rocking out by the end of the night.

So, there you have it. A typical weekend evening in Phnom Penh. Good food, good company, good music.

 

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Dumpling Street: The Legend of the Penh


 

The dumpling.

A warm, steaming ball of glutinous goodness. A crispy, flaky packet of love. Globally, there are as many styles of dumpling as there are version of “Insert Country Name” Idol. (No, really. Look how many countries have their own Idol show.)

America has chicken  and dumplings. Italy has ravioli. India has the samosa. Poland has the pierogi. Japan has gyoza. Crab rangoons. Gnocchi. It’s hard to find a cuisine that DOESN’T have a dumpling.

In Cambodia, one street that has become something of a legend when it comes to all things dumpling. Street 136, adjacent to the bus stop near Central Market, has been serving up the most delicious dumplings I have found in the city yet.

But maybe that’s only because there are five dumpling restaurants in a row. Five. How could one go out for dumplings and stop after just one?

Enter the dumpling crawl.

I first heard of the dumpling crawl on Move To Cambodia’s site a few months ago. Since then I have been itching to head to street 136 and try things out for myself.

IMG_1861Our first stop was Feng Yuan Restaurant, closest to Central Market on 136. If you couldn’t guess, everything was in Chinese the second we walked in the door. Even the staff spoke Chinese before Khmer, it took a few minutes of pantomiming to clarify our order!

 

IMG_1860I knew we were in for a treat when I saw heavily-used steaming baskets  outside the entrance.

 

IMG_1862Not only that, but seaweed swaying in the breeze! On a drying rack, as if it were laundry, they were drying kelp. My friends Jeff and Lily were great models for all my photos. (How much Chinese can you see behind the seaweed? See what I mean?)

 

IMG_1859It wasn’t hard to warm up to the idea of the dumpling crawl. Restaurant #1 had us off to a great start.

 

IMG_1863As we moved onto the next restaurant, we found a very confusing poster. The thing is, I don’t know it is yelling at me, or if it is giving me wisdom?

 

IMG_1864I’m not so sure about the “Mind no evil” monkey…

 

IMG_1865Regardless of their ambiguous poster, this place had by far and away, the best dumplings. Totally crispy, flavorful, and succulent.

 

IMG_1867

Restaurant #3’s dumplings were a bit of a disappointment. The bright side was that they had an entire cup of minced garlic for us to drown our tasteless bites in. Not only that, but each of these places had out-of-this-world chili oil. I don’t know if this is how the oil is made here in Cambodia, but this website has pretty nice photos of the possible process.

 

 

IMG_1868Now, restaurant #4, on the other hand, had it’s own unique theme going on. Not only were their dumplings pretty top notch, but they had a complementary picked vegetable platter in addition to the chili oil, minced garlic, and hot peppers. Their dumplings weren’t have bad either.

 

IMG_1869By the end of our dumpling crawl, we had feasted at four different restaurants, learned a lot about the dumpling culture in Phnom Penh, and played lots and lots of cards.

The worst part? Now, I can’t stop dreaming about dumplings. I thirst for them almost as badly as I do for coffee in the morning. I seek out any opportunity to overwhelm my tastebuds with dumpling goodness.

The moral of the story: Dumplings are a slippery slope of indulgence. Eat with caution. Or, throw off the bowlines and drown yourself on street 136.

 

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