Leo Beer

Brewer: Boon Rawd
This isn’t actually a Cambodian beer, it’s brewed in Thailand by the same folks that bring Singha Lager to Indochina. Boon Rawd introduced it in the 1990s to compete for the bottom end of the Thai market where Singha dare not tread and, sadly, it has made its way into Cambodia, possibly aimed at people who don’t find the leopard on the can confusing. Leo is Latin for “lion”, but my guess is that it is also Thai for “insipid”.

Boon Rawd says: “Leo Beer is a full-flavored standard lager beer with a smooth and pleasant finish”

I say: Another beer so thin that it has an aerodynamic quality. At the very least, you can tell that there actually is some malt in there, somewhere, hidden behind a weak honey smell. It’s characterless but not irredeemably awful.

Klang Lager and Extra Klang Stout

Klang

Brewer: Cambrew

One of my more fond memories of my American housemates while I was living in California was sitting out the front of our rented dive on Friday afternoons in some plastic deckchairs, drinking 40s of malt liquor from brown paper bags. We were white (and Hispanic) trash and we enjoyed white trash beer and the process lowering the tone of the entire neighbourhood. My housemate Adam would always buy Bud. Generally, I’d buy either Mickey’s or Schlitz malt liquor, mostly because the word “Schlitz” rolls off the tongue so slickly that it makes you feel that someone has greased you up all over.

Klang Beer brings back those memories for exactly the wrong reason. If I was generous I’d call it a “strong lager” but it isn’t. It’s malt liquor. It uses beer as a vague point of reference to which they add too much alcohol. The one reason you drink malt liquor is for effect and it holds no illusions otherwise. Klang means “strong” in Khmer, and to illustrate the point, Cambrew have put Cambodia’s strongest non-mythical creature on the bottle, the elephant, to assist the illiterate to get blind as well.

Cambrew says (on the can): “Klang Beer is carefully brewed using the most advanced brewing technology available. It is brewed to the highest possible standard for beer drinkers the world over. Klang Beer is a perfect drink for all kinds of celebration and it can be savoured at any time of day. Mind you, it’s a very strong beer but go ahead and take the challenge! After all, it is specially brewed for you.

I say: How can you resist a beer that actually issues you with a challenge? And you can take that challenge at any time of day? Mmm…alcomohol. Thin and yellow with a curious bile aftertaste. No head, no hops, no fun.

Extra Klang Stout.

In my scribbled notes for Extra Klang Stout, I wrote these words in capital letters: THERE IS WRONG. There was something severely amiss with this beer. It had gritty sediment in it and it wasn’t the positive, bottom-fermented yeast sediment. This sediment was jet black and crunchy. Strangely, this Klang is less klang than the lager, with a paltry 6% alcohol by volume.

Cambrew says: “A superb combination of malt, hops and yeast. Brewed to perfection for that wholesome, satisfying taste”

I say: A superfluous combination of malt, hops, and sand from the Mekong. You can smell the alcohol through the malt, but is redeemed by a hint of brown sugar. Customary bile aftertaste. No burnt dark malt flavours. Poor head retention. I’m giving this one the benefit of the doubt, because maybe I unluckily received an extremely old can of it.

Availability: Can only, stocked by most roadside stalls.

Paucity of Phnom Penh Power: Icecream in Crisis

“It’s a disaster,” says Giorgio Arcasi from behind the bar in his riverfront restaurant, Pop Cafe.

“I can’t buy ice cream any more, because after one day it melts. It’s so bad for business. In April or May, if you don’t have a generator you’ll have to close.”

Guy De Launey from BBC foretells Cambodia’s most important news: the coming of Phnom Penh’s riverfront icecream meltdown. By April, icecream will be flowing in the streets. Giorgio from Italian restaurant, Pop Cafe, even gets a concerned looking photo of him in front of his equally endangered vermouth supply.

See: Lights out in Phnom Penh

Icecream Sandwich on Wheels

There is an icecream vendor that plies his wares somewhere near my house at about 5:00 am each morning. I know this because he deploys the most common tactic to sell icecream in Phnom Penh: playing a garish electronic ringtone version of the Lambada. The process by which the Forbidden Dance came to be associated with mobile Cambodian icecream vendors is another story, a story that the pictured icecream vendor, Cheourn, couldn’t begin to answer because he uses the less sexy method of ringing a handheld bell to attract customers. Since Hun Sen placed the kibosh on broadcasting sexiness late last year, Cheourn’s more conservative approach is justified.

icecream sandwich

The icecream itself is made primarily from sweetened condensed milk and the block of cake surrounding it is carved from the same sort of rubbery foam from which they used to make Muppets, until the puppeteers began contracting a new form of hand cancer. Next time I’ll have a go at the sweet bread roll instead.

Phnom Penh Hamburger Fiesta

BB World

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.

Lucky Burger
Lucky Bacon Burger
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.

BB World

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.

California 2

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

Steve’s Steakhouse
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.

Big Hamburger
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 (?)

Sharky’s
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.

Angkor Extra Stout

Angkor Extra Stout
Brewer: Cambrew

Living in Cambodia is about being constantly surprised by everything that transpires around you. That Cambodians both manufacture and drink dark beers came as a small surprise. That they can do it well came as an even larger one. After trashing practically every cambodian beer I’ve imbibed purely for reasons of science, I had come to expect that the rest of the beers that I had left to review would fill me bewilderment and unease rather than surprise. I was wrong.

Cambrew says: Nothing. The 640ml bottle says alcohol by volume is 8%, and its contents are of “export quality”. As far as their website goes, Angkor Extra Stout does not exist.

I say: Toffee aroma on the inital pour without much head retention. Alcohol is well disguised behind excellent burnt malt flavour with a hint of chocolate. Slightly oily mouthfeel.

If this beer was one of James Brown’s hits, it would be: Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud

Lotophagi

Lotus flower head vendor
When Odysseus arrived at the island of the lotus eaters, he sent three men ashore to report on the locals. The men promptly got stuck into the lotus fruit, forgot their mission and desire to return home, and eventually had to dragged screaming back to the ship. Unafraid of the tales of Homer, I’ve been meaning to try some of these lotus heads ever since I’ve seen vendors balancing them on their heads down on the riverfront but never really knew how to open the things up and feast on the goo inside. Over the weekend, I ran into one of my work colleagues, a confessed lotus-eater, and he showed me how.

The heads
Firstly, acquire yourself a few lotus heads (1000 riel for three)

Separate the seed pods
Secondly, remove the seed pod from the shower head and remove the outer green casing to reveal the white innards.

mmm...lotus
Lastly, eat the white part. It tastes like slightly astringent snow peas and is probably one of the lowest yielding snacks around.

Sihanoukville is the next Goa 2: Electric Boogaloo

Now that most travel writers have discovered that their audience are sick of reading soporific accounts of their day tour of Angkor Wat, they have set their sights on sunny Sihanoukville. Unlike most writers, John Henderson of Inside Bay Area loves the beachside food:

…I eat delicious, authentic Cambodian food at prices I haven’t seen since rural Egypt in the ’70s. At one charming, romantic bar/restaurant called Le Roseau, a new taste thrill called coconut amok chicken is simply one of the 10 best dishes of my life. With sticky white rice and an ice-cold beer, the total cost: $3.50.

If commercialization in Cambodia has risen, prices have not. In two weeks in Cambodia, my most expensive dish has been $5. For that I received a plate piled high with a pound of crabs in garlic sauce at Treasure Island Restaurant, where I had my own gazebo overlooking the Gulf of Thailand a few feet away.

I’m not sure about the authenticity of amok chicken but if it convinces people that there is more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat, I’m all for it.

See: Cambodia is an affordable paradise

Enjoy Restaurant

In need of the chilli hit
My friend Roman has been in Phnom Penh for about 4 months now and claims to eat every single meal at a restaurant. His list of top picks closely matches mine which is a very good thing. Whenever he needs a cheap endorphin hit, he heads for Enjoy Restaurant for a dose of their chilli chicken (pictured). It’s cheap, boneless and hot enough to blow a clear path through your sinuses.

Enjoy serve Khmer, Western and Chinese food, but err towards the side of Chinese. Visually, they’re indistinguishable from your metal tabled, scraps-on-the-floor Cambodian restaurant, but cater to the non-Khmer crowd by actually having a menu.

Location: Corner of st. 217 and the loop around Psar Thmei.