Regardless of how committed you are to eating Khmer food, about a week in, you will crack, eat hamburgers, and then have the nerve to complain about the blandness of Khmer food. Then you’ll see the error of your ways and the circle of life will continue, unhindered. I’ve selected a random assortment of places that serve hamburger because anyone with a charcoal burner and the ability to grind up animal components has it on the menu.
With the unsubstantiated rumour that McDonalds is doing some poking around in the Cambodian market, I thought I’d do a quick round-up of the Phnom Penh burger scene before the international competitors can begin on the path to domination. To make a bold statement, I’m willing to bet that both a Burger King (whose Thai franchise is run by the same crew that own The Pizza Company) and a McDonald’s will be open in Cambodia by year’s end. Lazy travel writers will no longer be able to use the thesis that Cambodia is still unspoiled by global culture because there are no Western fast food outlets.
The scary thing about global capitalism is that it reveals that everyone in the world actually wants the same McDonalds hamburger. People put their local spin on it depending on the dictates of national culture (e.g. Ramadan happy meals, Hindu lamb burgers) but ultimately everyone actually wants to eat the same thing. There is something about frying beef fat that bypasses culture and hits people in their reptilian brainstem. Maybe when the asteroid hit the surviving animals were the ones with a predilection for their charred mammalian comrades. As no Maccas nor asteroid has arrived in this neck of Indochina yet, Lucky Burger is the next best (and slightly less apocalyptic) thing.
I had their Lucky Bacon Burger Set which came with a side of fries and a Coca-Cola ($2.70). The burger patty was thin and uniformly circular, accompanied by bacon, shredded iceberg lettuce, raw onion, “special” sauce and a very lonely slice of pickle. Tantamount to a McSomething? I have no idea. I tend to only eat at McDonald’s when I’m trapped in an airport and the only other culinary option is washing down a gigantic duty-free Toblerone with an equally gigantic bottle of Tanqueray.
Location: Sihanouk Boulevard, above Lucky Supermarket, near the corner of Monivong; at the Mao Tse Toung entrance of Parkway mall; and on the corner of Monivong and St. 217 near Psar Thmei.
As a testament to the lack of imagination when it comes to design, BB World’s previous logo was an inverted McDonald’s “M”, which they used as the “W” in World. You can still see an example of it on the menu above the counter, hidden slyly on the cups of cola. I’d love to know how McDonalds got to them because it seems like the only act of piracy in Cambodia that has been cleaned up in preparation for the 2013 accession to the WTO copyright provisions. The logo has now transmuted into BB Man, primary-colored defender of wholesome Khmer burger goodness, in preparation to kick that thieving Hamburglar’s ass.
I had originally planned to rig up a double blind taste test with Lucky Burger to see if they were essentially the same product, but I’m not really up to eating more than one of those burgers a day. For a change of meats, I ordered the porcine BB Cambodia Burger Set with extra cheese and an egg, side of fries and a Coke ($2.90).
As far as I could tell, the burger was indistinguishable from Lucky’s burger with the exception that the BB Cambodia burger has a pork patty rather than the traditional beef. With a mushy bun, all elements of the burger had an undifferentiated consistency, apart from the iceberg lettuce. The bonus egg was more like an omelette and a mistake on my part. Fries were well-fried to a pleasing dark brown and their box assured me that they were fried in nought but vegetable oil.
It still sits like a ball of lead in my stomach.
Location: 2nd floor of the Sorya mall; and on Sihanouk, near the corner of Monivong. The Sihanouk store has a giant model hamburger on the roof which I bet has the same nutritional content as their burgers.
I only ended up here because faux-english bar, Rising Sun, was closed and I had it set in my mind that today was the day I’d give Khmer food the middle finger and review burgers. I had the double cheeseburger ($2.75) and a side of thick cut fries($1). I was greeted with two small hard pucks of beef, cheese, mayo, tomato and lettuce on a sickly sweet bun. To its credit, those pucks were beefy.
Location: #317 Sisowath, near the corner of 148
There is something in me that wonders if the Steve from Steve’s Steakhouse and Steve from Steve Water are the same man. If so, I commend his entrepreneurial spirit and his Eulerian ability to name things after himself. I went for the Big Hamburger with a side of fries ($3.49 + service charge). It had certainly the biggest patty of fresh, juicy beef I’ve seen; a slightly sweet bun, Asian lettuce, tomato and raw onion. Steve’s serves condiments on the side: so you can run the gamut of HP Sauce, “Classic Yellow” mustard, tomato sauce, and probably prahok if the Imp of the Perverse had taken your senses for a joyride. You can literally order burger by the pound here, and while my heart says “yes”, my colon says “no”.
Next time I need an iron fix, I’ll head back to Steve’s and do his Argentinian steak some justice with a real review.
Location: Corner of st. 51 and St. 282
Roadside Burger Stand on st.432
The last hamburger I ate from a roadside stand was in San Jose del Cabo in Baja California and I only ate it because had already eaten the last of their delicious chili clam tostadas and had a belly full of cheap Ballena lager that yelled “cowflesh”. This one plies its greasy wares at the Toul Tom Poung school gate, letting kids experience the epiphany of Western grease at an early age.
They must run a roaring trade in breakfast burgers because each time that I’ve stopped in for a burger at midday, they’ve already sold all their meat. Lack of refrigeration be damned. Sadly, they were fresh out of beef this morning, so I had to content myself with a breakfast of well-cooked porkburger (2500riel) which was served with a squirt of mustard and chili sauce on a sweet bun. What it lacked in vegetables, it made up for in hog fat which the bun did a fairly poor job of soaking up.
Location: St. 432, near the corner of St.155
Other burgers of note:
Songtra Icecream and Hamburger
Somebody hooked me on Songtra’s sundaes about a week after I arrived in Cambodia and I’m still going back for their chocolate and coconut icecream. Like their general ambiance, the burgers are sloppy and cheap.
LocationOpposite the Phnom Penh Center, on Sisowath near the corner of. There is another restaurant of the same name further north on Sisowath.
Part of the licensing process of opening a Western-style supermarket in Cambodia obviously involves a certification of your ability to serve a hamburger. As such, Big A Supermarket has followed Lucky’s lead and opened its own chain-style burger joint next to its supermarket on Monivong. I have no idea what the burgers are like and have only been into Big A on the strength of a rumour that they stock home brew kits at the same frequency that both Sam Rainsy and King Sihanouk are in town. I’m willing to bet a case of Anchor that the Big A burgers are exactly the same as Lucky or BB World.
Location: At the corner of Monivong and St.178 (?)
A friend recommended their burgers, but I’ve had enough of eating grease to make it there. If the burgers are as good as the rest of their Tex-mex bar food then they’re definitely worth a try, as long as you don’t mind the sex worker atmosphere.
Location:Street 130 between Street 15 and 19.
Got a favourite Cambodian burger joint amongst the hundred or so that I’ve missed? Comments are open.
Addendum (15 February 2006): McDonald’s replied to my email questioning their motives in Cambodia with this fairly vague response and the criteria with which you could own the first Cambodian McDonalds outlet.
Thank you for your inquiry regarding a McDonald’s franchise in Cambodia. McDonald’s intends to develop restaurants in Cambodia, however, a firm date has not been established for this development.
When we proceed with plans for the development of restaurants in Cambodia, our primary franchise candidates for a McDonald’s franchise will be individuals who possess the following basic requirements: (1) high integrity; (2) business experience in the market; (3) knowledge of culture and customs of the market; (4) willingness to devote full time and best efforts to the McDonald’s venture; (5) willingness to train in another country for approximately nine months (6) knowledge of the real estate market and management experience; and (7) ability to work well within a franchised organization.
Additionally, candidates must possess the capital necessary to invest in the venture. Since international franchising structures and methods can vary greatly, financial requirements cannot be ascertained.
If you meet the basic requirements set forth above, please complete the attached questionnaire and return it to us. We will summarize and catalogue the information and when we move forward with our development plans, we will contact you if we wish to proceed with you as a franchisee.
Thank you for your expressed interest in McDonald’s Corporation.