Monthly Archives: January 2011

Anthony Bourdain in Phnom Penh

Travel and Leisure Southeast Asia magazine has a spread on Anthony Bourdain’s recent to Phnom Penh for his No Reservations television show. A great read to see how Phnom Penh’s culinary landscape has vastly improved over the past decade.

 

Travel and Leisure SEA Anthony Bourdain article page 1

Travel and Leisure SEA Anthony Bourdain article page 1

Travel and Leisure SEA Anthony Bourdain article page 2

Travel and Leisure SEA Anthony Bourdain article page 2

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Ngon Restaurant

Ngon is a restaurant that I have been obsessing over for the past month or so. I have been to both locations in Vietnam and am wholly impressed with them both. Which led me to organize a party of 12 anonymous reviewers on opening night to sample as much of the menu as possible. This was probably my first mistake to review a brand new restaurant on opening night. But lets get to that later.

The atmosphere of Ngon is fantastic. The setting is reminiscent of the imperial Vietnam of old with a hutong inspired entrance which leads to a open floor plan dotted with food stations on the sides of the building.The menu is 70% Vietnamese and 30% Khmer with very reasonable prices (most items at 9,000 Riel). After getting everyone in and with a beer in hand, we ordered 10 dishes to share.

Unfortunately, Ngon hasn’t worked out the kinks of running such a large operation and it took a half hour for us to get our first dish. After several inquiries and direct intervention by the GM, we managed to get three other dishes in a timely manner. We were also told that 6 of the ordered items were out and we had to reorder another dish (Ga Chien or fried chicken wings) to get some more food in our stomachs.

In the end, we received the Banh Xeo, Goi Bo Tai Chanh, Bo Nhung Dam, Banh Hoi Thit and Ga Chien. All the dishes were great with the Banh Hoi Thit being my favorite. The fat on the pork belly had a great crust which gave a crunchy texture to a normally chewy piece of meat. The Bo Nhung Dam had ample amounts of onion which once stewed a few minutes in the vinegar broth were heavenly.

During the meal, I  walked by the order station which is located very close to the toilets. I stood by and watched over half the waiters in the restaurant relaying orders to two employees at computer terminals. As a former waiter, I could see this was disastrous. Total mayhem was erupting right before my eyes and I felt a little pity for the waiters. I hope that the management work this situation out, if for the sanity of the wait staff.  In all honesty, this review could have waited a month to give Ngon a chance to work out the kinks so there will be another follow up in the future.

— VinhThe food we did receive was overall pretty great but it was hard to enjoy the experience when it was clear that the management of the restaurant was not yet in order.  From taking over an hour to get our first drink to the blank stares of the staff when we ordered, they were clearly overwhelmed with this new restaurant.  Vinh even broke out his Vietnamese language skills a few times which helped discussing our orders with the management but not so much with the Khmer staff that was actually bringing the food.

Banh Xeo

But it was opening night.  The idea of the restaurant is great, the building, the furniture and fixtures are absolutely beautiful and the food was pretty solid.  Once they work out the kinks in the service, this place will be really great.  The banh xeo was really tasty and crispy and the bo nhung dam was amazing.  The only other time I’ve had bun nhung dam was my first night in Saigon at a street stall with a group of friends so I have very fond memories associated with this dish.  It will probably be a while until I head back and it will probably be with a slightly smaller group but I’m really hoping they get this place sorted.  — Bryse

Bo Nhung Dam

After tallying the votes of the group, the Goi Bo Tai Chanh was the favorite of the crew, garnishing a 4.6 out of a possible 5 nyamies.
Banh Hoi Thit – 3.75 Nyamies
Banh Xeo – 3..5 Nyamies
Ga Chien – 3.6 Nyamies
Bo Nhung Dam – 3.55 Nyamies

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Ca Vang

I happened upon Ca Vang on the way to the airport.  I have driven by it countless of times and have never seen the whole reason for stopping by. Luckily, I was sitting backwards in the tuk tuk and spied the three words on a streetside menu that made me stand up, hit my head on the top of the tuk tuk and yell “Holy crap!”. I  told the driver to stop, pointed at a very confused Ca Vang employee and yelled “Bun Cha Hanoi??”  Fortunately, he said yes but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sample the dish and had to wait a few days to get my fix.

Bun Cha Hanoi

Bun cha hanoi was the favorite of all the great dishes my grandmother used to make for me during my childhood.  There is something so simple yet so nuanced about the grilled to the point of charring pork slices and patties combined with the vinegary, garlicky broth. It is also quintessentially Vietnamese by the DIY nature of the dish. Along with the pork in the broth, you get a garnish of rice vermicelli noodles, green lettuce, assorted herbs, garlic and chilis. There is no real “proper” way to eat it. When I feel like getting messy, I make a mini burrito out of all the ingredients and dunk it all in the broth. Other days, I put everything in the broth and eat it with some chopsticks.  It’s also non-existent in Phnom Penh which is the reason for my freaking out in the tuk tuk.

The menu at Ca Vang restaurant

So back to the restaurant. Ca Vang is a no frills street side restaurant located on a very busy street. Their menu only has 4 items with several variations. I didn’t bother with the rest of the menu (though the Com Thit Heo Nuong or Rice with Grilled Pork might be worth another visit) and ordered the bun cha. Surprisingly, Ca Vang keeps with Hanoi tradition and also offers Nem (eggrolls) on the menu!
After sucking down a fantastically syrupy iced coffee, the bun cha and nem arrived. The nem had a crunchy blistery skin that contained a well seasoned filling of clear glass noodles, pork and wood ear mushrooms. The bun cha didn’t have the pork patties usually associated with the dish but the sliced pork easily made up for it by the tell tale charred bits floating in the broth. I opted to go for the less messy approach and put some noodles, herbs to my plate.  I didn’t miss the patties as the sliced pork had that great charred taste only barbecued meat can give. The broth was spot on and the veggies fresh and bright.  The only thing I would complain was the amount that I got with the order. That isn’t really a complaint as there was plenty, just not the usual gargantuan size you normally get in Hanoi. — Vinh

Bun Cha Hanoi

Bun chaaaaaaaa! Basically the most delicious dish/concept/meal on the planet–grilled pork and pork sausage patties afloat in a tangy, sweet-sour, nuoc-mammy broth accompanied by vermicelli and herbs–and one that’s bizarrely difficult to find in Phnom Penh, despite legions of Vietnamese places with scruffy awnings dishing up pho. This version was adequate but didn’t quite hit the sweet spot. First, there was an off-puttingly astringent note to the pork and pork broth mixture (maybe stemming from the high degree of char on the meat)…and even more dubiously, there were no freaking pork sausage patties. Bun cha without the patties edges perilously close to pointlessness. Still, whatever, pork is generally fucking delicious unless you really fuck it up. And there were plenty of toothsome carrot and daikon pickles in the broth, and huge heaps of fresh herbs and vermicelli to pile the meat onto. The iced coffee was far too sweet for my taste, but it had a nice peanutty afterkick. I think we all felt pangs of desire at the meaty slab of com suon whisked over our heads to another customer’s table right as we were leaving. I regret my self-control at not having ordered one immediately.  — Julia

Bun Nem Hanoi

major p.s., I forgot to mention how incredibly respectable the bun nem were!

Bun Cha Hanoi

This was my first bun cha hanoi adventure having completely missed it the one time I was in Hanoi.  But I really enjoyed everything.  The bun nem spring rolls showed up first and they were amazingly crispy and really tasty.  The bun cha was a bit daunting for me not knowing how to attack it.  Plates like this confuse me, if you are supposed to put the noodles in the bowl, why don’t they just do that for me?  But that’s probably just my unsophistication taste showing.  The broth was pretty greasy but really nice and the bbq pork was clearly straight off the grill and into the bowl; lots of bbq flavor.  The coffee had an unique flavor but was too sweet even after Julia had asked for them to go light on the condensed milk.  But the prices are cheap, it was relatively clean for the type of spot and next to the only fishing store I’ve ever seen in Phnom Penh.  I would definitely go back and try out a few more things on the menu.  — Bryse

Bryse – 4.5 out of 5 nyomies for the food, 2.5 on the iced coffee

Vinh – 4 out of 5 nyomies

Julia – 3 out of 5 nyomies

Ca Vang
On the North side of Sihanouk just East of the Olympic Stadium next to the Mai Linh Bus office
#371 Street 274 (Sihanouk)

 

 

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We’ve gone social!

We have decided to take the blog up a notch and start some social media sites.

So check us out on twitter here.

Also, we have a facebook fan page here.

If you are going crazy, you can see our flickr page here.

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Kampot tales

The view at the Rusty Keyhole.

The view at the Rusty Keyhole and I am not just talking about the ribs.

Kampot is my favorite long weekend destination when a bit of countryside life is needed. Considering its small size (40,000 population), this quirky little riverside town has a large amount of culinary options to choose from.

If I had to make one stop in Kampot for some food, it would have to be the Rusty Keyhole. I have been coming to the Rusty Keyhole for over 5 years now and what keeps me coming back isn’t only the Jurassic sized ribs order but the great hospitality by the owners Kristian and his wife Com. Kristian is a fountain of information if you are into dirt bike riding and with the addition of their 2 year old daughter Kanika, the Keyhole has a great family feel to the place. Over the past year, the Keyhole has moved to a location just outside Kampot town that gives you a slice of countryside life. For those who want to stay in town, Kristian is planning a new location in town and it should be open a couple of weeks from now Its open now!

Okay back to the ribs. They aren’t your typical ribs as Kristian keeps the loin with the order but manages to keeps the meat moist by a closely guarded par-boiling process. The ribs are then grilled to order, a choice of starch is added along with some fresh cut veggies on the side. Heaven on a plate. $6 for a small order, $8 for a large.

Ribs grilling at the Rusty Keyhole in Kampot

Ribs grilling at the Rusty Keyhole in Kampot

Another place that demands recognition is Mea Culpa. A guesthouse located just 5 minutes walk from the center of town, their wood-fired oven pizzas are the goods.

Getting the oven ready for some pies

Getting the oven ready for some pies

Probably the best pizza in Cambodia, the pizzas only take 3 minutes to cook in the 650 degree oven. You can see how much care Ben takes into his final product, inspecting every single plate coming out of the kitchen.I asked Ben, the owner of Mea Culpa, why his pizzas are so damn good and he answered simply “Its all about the crust”.

The crust on the Margherita pizza at Mea Culpa

Nice and firm

I ordered the Margherita pizza ($5.50 for a Medium) which had a generous amount of cheese that didn’t overpower sauce. I also had the feta cheese, tomato and basil dip ($3.00). The punchy tomato sauce was tempered by a generous portion of feta cheese. Homemade melba toast accompanies.

Feta and Basil dip at Mea Culpa in Kampot

Feta and Basil dip at Mea Culpa in Kampot

Some other noteworthy places in Kampot:

Blissful Guesthouse for their amazing duck egg omelettes.

Bamboo Light for Sri Lankan dishes.

Bar Red for their gargantuan late night samosas.

Epic Arts for their gooey chocolate brownie and other pastries.

Rikitikitavi for their 1st floor deck with stunning views of the river. Best place in town for a sunset drink.

Ta Ouv Restaurant for some fresh seafood.

Addresses: Kampot has no street names but it’s a small enough town to get around.

Just ask any tuk tuk driver. Even better, rent a bicycle and do some exploring.

Vinh

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