KFC is coming to Cambodia

Along with bringing ATMs to Cambodia and destruction to the Bassac Theatre in Phnom Penh, Kith Meng’s Royal Group is set to unleash Kentucky Fried Chicken on an unsuspecting Phnom Penh in a new joint venture, according to the Malaysian Star.

QSR Brands Bhd is expanding its restaurant business under the KFC brand to Cambodia.

The first outlet is expected to be operational in Phnom Penh by year-end, said chairman Tan Sri Muhammad Ali Hashim during a press conference to announce the new venture Thursday.

The group plans to open four outlets initially in the capital as well as in major towns. This would be followed by two new restaurants every year.

So is the era of Cambodia being (virtually) free from international chain restaurants truly over?

Phnom Penh delivery menus: Antisocial expatriates rejoice!

Fresh from the Ministry of “I wish I’d thought of this first” , Cambodia Pocket Guide has just made every housebound expats’ dreams a reality and started publishing delivery menus for their various advertisers around Phnom Penh.

Current online offerings include:

Cambodia’s Yellow Pages also contains a food delivery section – only the first thirty or so listings marked with a star have menus for take away/delivery.

Two recent street food regrets

Awful barbecued cake

One of the few street food regrets that I have acquired is eating the above barbecued cake. I don’t know what it is named in Khmer and despite exuding the lush aroma of roasted banana and sesame seeds, it appears to be made of either papier-mâché or its even less edible substitute, taro. Taro is proof of God’s disdain for humanity. Cooked on a stand out the front of the French Cultural Centre, its sole purpose seems to be to remind the French not to eat Cambodian food. 200 riel (US$0.05) apiece.

miniature Cambodian donuts

If you could fry a ring of lard in pure hogfat and then somehow bind it all together with toffee, you’d end up with one of the above cakes. These candied miniature donuts test my faith in the rule that deep-frying improves everything (except for taro). Possibly it is designed to mimic the edible equivalent of a looped, hardened artery. 100 riel (US$0.02) each from a guy wandering around the Russian market. He was a bit shirty that I paid the Khmer price and not the tourist price.

USA Donuts

USA Donuts

It was only a matter of time before a Cambodian returned from the USA with a head full of dreams and belly full of deep-fried rings o’ lard. With the opening of USA Donuts, the Californian-Cambodian cruller csardom has spread its greasy wings back to the homeland.

The insides of the store are literally identical to your average American Mom-and-Pop donut shop: wide selection of donuts behind plexiglass counter, cheap furniture, terrible coffee waiting tepidly in vacuum flasks on the counter. Unlike your average USA lard ring vendor, you can buy a taro-flavoured thickshake as well as a variety of other American junk foods. They serve fried chicken, but no sign yet of the elusive chicken and waffles.

After a small amount of confusion as to which of the seven women behind the counter worked there, I ordered one of the plain yeast rings, a chocolate-iced cake donut and a cup of their coffee from the vacuum flask dispenser (2500 riel). Of the three blends of coffee, I went for “Cambodian” flavour and to my surprise, it didn’t taste like either kroueng or prahok. Neither donut was too lardy and if you happened to catch the yeast ring coming fresh from the oven, it would be a fairly close match to Krispy Kreme’s Original Glazed.

USA Donuts

For those of you rendered incapable of leaving your abode, USA Donuts will deliver by the dozen in the Phnom Penh area.

Location:No.15, St 136, Phnom Penh

Interview: Mylinh Nakry Danh from Khmer Krom Recipes

At the second and penultimate New Year, I made a bold resolution to do a spot of interviewing about Cambodian food as an adjunct to simply rocking up to somebody’s stall and asking the vendor what they’re deep-frying today. I’ve also been enthused by Andy Brouwer’s new blog that profiles Cambodians from all walks of life.

The shining light in online Cambodian recipes is Khmer Krom Recipes. At the moment, there is no other English-language Khmer food resource as comprehensive: currently the site lists 561 recipes according to the site’s Khmer Krom expat owner, Mylinh Nakry Danh, not to mention spotter’s guides to Cambodian ingredients, fruit and vegetables.

Now living in the USA, Mylinh started the site as a way to “do something to keep our Khmer Krom culture alive and visible to the public. So much of our culture is take over or disappearing over time as our country was taken and given away to Vietnamese”. I’m all for mixing food and politics, and Kampuchea Krom/Cambodian border politics are some of the murkiest, emotive, and more dangerous of the identity politics locally available. Thanks to my extreme lack of knowledge of these affairs and this website being about Cambodian food, I stuck to asking occasionally torturous questions about Mylinh’s recipes by email.

Who taught you to cook? Who was the best cook in your family?

I learned how to cook from my parents, family and friends. My mom is very good cook but my dad is the best cook in my family. Sorry, mom.

Are there any ingredients that are impossible to find in America?

America is a big country, every state is different, and one state may carry more Asian food than other. I can only tell you that where I live it is hard to find Cambodian ingredients. For example, Cambodian sausage (made with beef), dried salty fish “ngiet trey tok”, pahok trey naing (pickle Asian catfish), and vegetables like fresh bamboo shoots, fresh Neem leaf, “Sadao”, just to name a few. Possibly living in a very large Cambodian community such as Long Beach, California or Lowell, Massachusetts, there would be more of these ingredients available.

Are there foods that you especially miss from Cambodia?

You’re torture me with this question because I miss so many foods from home.

I miss “num pong”, it is white fluffy coconut rice cake that steamed in bamboo stalk. It’s not too sweet and absolutely delicious. I miss “tirk tholk” the most, it is fresh palm juice, not only I miss “tirk tholk” I also miss seeing the elderly man carry heavy bamboo stalks that filled with delicious palm juice on his shoulder. I miss Kampuchea Krom.

Since being in America, do you think that your ideas about food have changed?

My answer: Yes, of course. Now that I am explored more on foods and flavors from all over the world and they are all very good. But I am always drawn back to the traditional foods of my childhood.

Are there any regional differences between recipes from Kampuchea Krom and those from elsewhere in Cambodia? Are there any regional specialties?

Yes, I think that happens everywhere in the world not just only Khmer in Kampuchea Krom and Khmer in Cambodia. “Salor machu” is sweet, sour soup in English. Some Khmer like their “salor machu” spicy hot, other like sweeter or sourer, some Khmer can’t cook with out MSG and some Khmer can’t live without ” pahok” (pickle fish). How do you cook rice? Some people like rice stick together so they add more water. Some people like their rice fluffy so they use less water, but no matter how you cook, its all cooked rice.

There are 21 provinces in Kampuchea Krom and each province has their specialties. For example: Mee Sar (My Tho) province has excellent noodle that made with mung bean. Kamourn Sor (Rach Gia) province is world renowned for seafood and Koh Tral (Phu Quoc) is land for fish sauce. Mott Chrouk (Chau Doc) province is known for Mam (fermented fish) and Pahok (pickle fish).

Do you have a favourite recipe from your website that I could share with my readers?

It’s difficult for me to pick just one out of 561 recipes that on my website because they are my favorite. However, I think your readers will enjoy Khmer Krom vegetarian spring roll.

Recipe: Khmer Krom Vegetarian Spring Roll (Num cha gio pale)

Cambodian food - Spring Rolls

Mylinh from Khmer Krom Recipes recommended the following recipe for vegetarian spring rolls to my reader(s).

Crispy vegetables spring roll with tofu, taro root, cabbage and carrot is very delicious. Khmer Krom vegetarian spring roll is so good that most my friends can’t tell it made without meat.

Ingredients :

  • 2 Cups already shredded taro root
  • 2 Cups already shredded carrot
  • 1 Package 12 oz fried tofu, julienne
  • 2 Cups already shredded cabbage
  • 1 Cup chopped yellow onion
  • 4 Cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • ¼ Teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Package 25 pieces spring roll shells
  • ½ Cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 Cups vegetable oil for deep fry spring roll

Procedures :
Mixed shredded taro root and carrot in a large mixing bowl, and use your palms to squeezes out all it liquid. Add tofu, onion, garlic and cabbage, mixed well. Seasoning with sugar, soy sauce and black pepper, mixed well and set it a side. In a small bowl, mixed water with cornstarch together, mix well and set a side. Gentle pulls out each spring roll shell to separate from other shell. Lay one sheet flat on a cutting board or plate, spoon mix vegetables and put on 1/3 of the shell. Wrap the vegetables filling in spring roll shell, roll it tight and seal the end with cornstarch water, continue to roll till the filling gone.

Note: If you haven’t made spring roll before, look at the back of spring roll pastry package, it has illustrated instruction for you to follow.

Heat 6 cups cooking oil in high temperature. When oil is hot, deep fried spring roll till crispy golden brown. Removed spring roll from hot oil and put on plate covered with paper towel to drained oil. Serve hot with sweet soy sauce, or with rice noodle and vegetarian fish sauce.

See:Khmer Krom Vegetarian Spring Roll

Donuts at Bokor Cinema

Come rain or shine, this husband and wife donut duo never move from just outside the Bokor Cinema on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. They’ve always got a customer or four hanging around which generally bodes well. I’m almost embarrassed when I drop in because I see them every day on my way to work and am yet to purchase a single deep-fried product from them. Through sheer weight of luck, I happened upon them when they were cutting up a fresh batch. The process is as follows:

Donuts at Bokor Cinema
Firstly, remove your dough from the plastic bag underneath the roof of your cart, where it has been proving in the scorching heat.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Secondly, clean the surface of your cart (as unbelievable as this may sound) and give it a liberal dusting with riceflour. Flatten your wheat/rice flour dough out with a rolling pin.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Thirdly, cut into strips, paying attention not to accidentally remove your enormous, decorative thumbnail in the process. Roll into flat disks and dust with a few sesame seeds. Hand over to your wife, the deep frying expert.

Donuts at Bokor Cnr
Serve to the Westerner who is paying far too much attention and asking too many questions for your liking. Charge him 500 riel (12.5 cents) for four.

I’m glad that I didn’t drop in earlier as I’d probably be about ten kilos heavier by now. These yeasty pillows are packed with chewy deliciousness: hollow to the core, only slightly sweet, and blisteringly hot out of the fryer. Sadly, I didn’t get the Khmer name for them, although I had a longer than usual, Beckettian interrogation of the vendors that ran along these lines:

Phil: What are these?
Vendor: (Nervous laugh) You understand Khmer.
Phil: Yes. A little. What are these?
Vendor: Food
Phil: Bread?
Vendor: Yes. Bread.
Phil: Fried bread?
Vendor: Yes. Fried bread.
Phil: Are they chaway*? or fried bread?
Vendor: I don’t have any chaway.
Phil: Yes, I understand. What are these?
Vendor: Food.
Phil: (Clutches head in hands)

Location: Just west of Bokor Cinema, near the corner of St. 95 and Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, Phnom Penh

* – Chaway are the donuts that you often have with soup, similar to the Chinese donuts that you eat with congee.

Addendum (21 June 2006): As a very weird aside, according to AsianWeek in 2000, 90 percent of California’s independent doughnut stores are owned by Cambodian expats.

The Minimalist Cambodian Ginger Fry

Jinja tipped me off about a recipe in the New York Times for The Minimalist Cambodian Ginger Fry (login required). NYT’s coverage of Cambodia (and food) is always good for a laugh, so here is their version of trei chien chnay.

Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, as needed
½ pound ginger, preferably thin-skinned
1½ pounds snapper, sea bass, catfish or other firm, white-fleshed fillet, cut into large chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup flour
1 cup cornstarch
4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 tablespoon good soy sauce or fish sauce (nam pla)
Cilantro leaves for garnish.

1. Choose a pot that will accommodate the fish chunks in one layer. Add 2 to 3 inches of oil, turn heat to medium-high, and bring to 350 degrees.

2. Meanwhile, peel ginger (if skin is thin, this is best accomplished with a spoon) and julienne it, slice it thinly, or peel strips with a vegetable peeler. When oil is hot, fry ginger until lightly browned, about 10 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary so the temperature remains nearly constant. Meanwhile, season the fish with salt and pepper, and combine flour and cornstarch in bowl.

3. Remove ginger with slotted spoon and set aside. Dredge fish lightly in the cornstarch-flour mixture, tapping to remove excess, and slowly add pieces to oil, again adjusting heat as necessary so temperature remains nearly constant. Fry, turning once or twice, until fish is lightly browned and cooked through (a skewer or a thin-blade knife will pass through each chunk with little resistance). Remove with slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels.

4. Fry scallions for 15 seconds and remove with a slotted spoon; drain. Refry the ginger for about 30 seconds, then remove and drain. Put fish on plate and garnish with ginger and scallions; drizzle with soy sauce or fish sauce, top with cilantro, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

I haven’t eaten the actual Cambodian reference point for this recipe. The closest thing that I can think of is much more similar to Mylinh’s recipe at Khmer Krom Recipes with the whole fish deep-fried and a good handful of non-fried ginger shards over the top. Interesting.

Seeing how the other half lives – Malis and Pacharan

I’ve had an excellent weekend of eating because I’ve had a friend in town who was up for an Ibero-Khmer food mashup and acting as an excuse to eat out for every meal.

Previously I’ve avoided Mali’s because of the large number of Black Landcruisers out the front. I’m convinced that if the ratio of Black to White Landcruisers is wrong, either the food is bad, expensive and over-Westernised (too many White) or the venue is actually a karaoke brothel (too many Black). Mali’s is in fact, neither. Khmer purists will inevitably point out that the food is both Westernised (i.e. the delicious Pumpkin Brulee; the general presentation; the lack of bones or napkins dropped on the floor) and under the fickle influence of Thailand (“Ack! Lime leaves!”), but I’m a strong believer that absolute authenticity is for chumps. Eating in air-conditioned comfort during the hot season is a godsend.

You know that you are really settling into Phnom Penh when faux-Angkorean statues have the inability to look anything but cheesy and you have hot season fever dreams wherein you are chased by people with stone Jayavaraman heads or Rama’s deadly monkey army.The cheesiness at Mali’s is toned down a notch but I still can’t help but cringe at neon-lit Leper King statue at the entrance. It isn’t to my personal taste but as Edward Said sez “Since the time of Homer every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric”. Bring it on.

Unable to cope with the postcolonial landscaping dissonance, we ascended the cantilever stairs into air-conditioned comfort. Our attentive, besuited waiter was particularly keen to pimp a langoustine tamarind-sour soup upon us, with which we had no truck. We opted for a round of cocktails while we perused the photo-rich menu.

After much discussion of the campness of the Side Car versus the Long Island Ice Tea as metonym for suburban housewife alcoholism, we agreed upon entrées of the small “natural scallops” in rich glutinous sauce ($4.90) and the extra chunky prawn cakes ($4.90). Despite our waiter’s samla fetish, for mains, we shared one gigantic King Crab “fresh from Kep” ($9.20) with my current favorite local ingredient: fresh green Kampot pepper; stuffed pork fillet ($4.80); and a falling-off-the-bone duck curry with a yellow kroueng sauce ($5.10) rounded out our five meat meal. We washed it down with a bottle of the reasonably priced Marsanne ($16).

There’s no denying that this is the most expensive Cambodian food that I’ve eaten in Phnom Penh, if not the most expensive Cambodian food available. I’m well past feeling guilty about eating a meal that adds up to the same amount as a coworkers monthly salary. If you’re keen to show that upscale Khmer food can fit into the Western paradigm of good food, Mali’s is probably the place to coax your foreign visitor, before you head downmarket.

Overall, I award the experience two Leper King arms and one Landcruiser out of a possible two.

Location: Just south of the Independence Monument on Norodom Boulevard. Yellow Pages.

I can’t believe it’s not patxaran

Pacharan is still Phnom Penh’s most talked about venue, if only because of the impact of walking up the stairs into the second-floor restaurant and feeling that “I can’t believe I’m in Cambodia” sensation warm you like a glass of sloe and aniseed liquor. Its immaculate timber fitout, hammered copper features, custom artwork and stained glass in orange and yellow hues lend the stairwell and room a real warmth and depth of character that most Phnom Penh eateries sadly lack. It certainly isn’t like your average Spanish tapas bar but it is the only one with a view of fisherfolk floating down the Tonle Sap.

I’m glad we booked a table because by 8:00pm the room was packed and loud, with patrons being seated at the bar in wait. It is a strange sight to see waitstaff moving efficiently and at speed in Cambodia, but both were happening as the frantic open kitchen churned out Spanish morsels.

Service was not only quick but impeccable. Our thin wafers of manchego cheese, cheese-stuffed eggplant, albondigas, both the chicken and vegetable croquettes (all around $4 each) arrived within 10 minutes of our order; and our second jug of Sangria ($11) was refilled practically without needing to ask.

The big surprise for me was being served some rocket as a garnish. Rocket self-seeded in my tiny garden patch in Australia and grew at a rate that even the most maddened pesto fiend couldn’t pulverise it into a tasty pulp, before it outstripped my entire backyard. It not only had the ability to grow between the cracks in the pavement but could also materialise from the aether fully-formed. If I hadn’t left the country I believe that it would have achieved sentience and triffid-like defences by now. I realised that I had not tasted a single sprig of the peppery green since I left Australia more than a year ago and now it has returned to overrun Cambodge.

Pacharan might be the first tapas bar in Phnom Penh, but it certainly won’t be the last judging by the response from nearby businesses. K-West is holding a Spanish Week this week and Sa, next door to the Pacharan entrance, has already added tapas to the menu. Misguided stupidity is the sincerest form of flattery. I’m hoping that we’ll also be seeing a new era of Ibero-Khmer crossover: num anksom with Iberian ham, kroeung paella, prahok-stuffed olives and palm wine sangria.

Location: Corner Sisowath Quay and St.184. Enter on St.184. Yellow Pages.