Chinese Noodles Restaurant

Noodle Goodness at Chinese Noodles Phnom Penh

Cambodian restaurants tend to have a deconstructive approach to their kitchen design. More often than not barbecuing is seperated from the rest of the cooking to keep the smoke at bay, but occasionally there is a tendency to knock it up a notch, and say, wash your dishes in a neighbouring house or cook a single component of your meals off-site at an undisclosed location.

Chinese Noodles have caught on to this postmodern wave. The customer needs to dodge past the noodlemaster (above) and the boiling pots of stock at the front of house to enter, and if they happen to order fried noodles, the fresh noodles from the front are transported to somewhere at the back of the restaurant to get the full wok treatment. Dumplings and tea seems to arrive from all directions.

The restaurant seats about thirty in rickety, lurid red steel chairs. Each table is bedecked in the classic “tablecloth under glass” and has no less than eight plastic bottles of light soy sauce, possibly so that each member of your table can wield a bottle in each fist. The place is always packed at lunchtime, so between 12 and 2pm expect that you may only be able to secure yourself a single bottle with which to defend yourself.

I arrived around 1:30 and was guided to the only spare seat in the house. I shared my table with two Central American guys who loudly compared Uruguayan and Argentinian women in Spanish, and a lone but chatty Chinese man who was amazed at my dexterity with the chopsticks and was somehow responsible for ensuring that a large number of Cambodia’s garment factories never run short of power. For someone that had spent the last ten years in Phnom Penh taunting the fickle Cambodian gods of electricity, he was a remarkably jovial fellow.

The menu has not more than 12 items, eight of which are noodle (fried or soup), a choice of fried or steamed pork and chive dumplings, and the mystery items: “mixed stewed meats” and “pure stewed meats”. All are between one and two dollars, except for the stewed meats which will set you back at least three dollars.

Noodle Goodness

While I was taking shots of the fried pork and chive dumplings ($1, above), my digital camera gave up the ghost. Count this as the first review where the main event, Noodle Soup with Pork ($1), is photographically absent.

The stock in the noodle soup was much less complex than Vietnamese pho, but sweet with plenty of porkfat and MSG umami-punch. The greenery component consists of wilted lettuce, already added to the soup. Lettuce should not be a soup ingredient, and once it is in there, is remarkably difficult to avoid eating. The noodles were spot on: perfectly textured, inconsistently shaped but as fresh as a mountain stream; as were the slices of pork: thick, fatty, and almost too rich for lunch. Iced tea was complimentary.

Location:On Monivong near the corner of St. 278

Sam Doo Restaurant

Sam Doo Hot Pot

I haven’t been eating much Chinese food in restaurants since I’ve been in Cambodia because until recently, I’d been sorely let down by it. This was largely a function of my own laziness. My nearest Chinese is just north of the intersection of Mao Tse Toung Boulevard (appropriately) and Monivong, where there are three Cantonese restaurants that specialise entirely in offal – to which I’m not entirely averse, but I’m not really in the mood for organs all the time. One of the places has the evocatively named “Mixed Insides” on the menu and when I enquired as to which insides were included, the waitress told me “All of them”. Just south of there on Monivong is Hua Nam Restaurant, which is designed solely for patronage by Chinese garment factory owners and consequently is just beyond my price range, as is Xiang Palace at the Intercontinental Hotel, which does excellent yum cha ($10 all-you-can-eat dim sum, Mon-Sat).

I was searching for the calibre of Cantonese food that people like Supper Inn in Melbourne would purvey to me at low, low prices but I had not been putting in any effort to find it. It only took four people recommending me Sam Doo before I realised that cheap, good Cantonese was back on the menu for me in Phnom Penh.

I don’t go out for lunch as often as the average expat but needed to repay Roman the favour of recommending me Enjoy Restaurant. I ordered the Seafood and Beancurd Hotpot ($3.60) in homage to my favorite dish at Supper Inn, their Pork Belly and Beancurd Hotpot; and the Siew Mai dumplings ($1.20) in homage to the deliciousness of mixing swine with seafood.

The siew mai had a fairly large slug of sesame oil in it, pork, very finely minced prawn, all enclosed in a chewy beancurd wrapper. The hotpot was spot on: sweet, glossy, glutinous sauce; crisp slices of young ginger and spring onion; soft, fried pouches of beancurd; fresh squid, sliced fish and a few small shelled prawns to make up the seafood quotient. Served bubbling hot. Food this rich makes me glad that it’s Friday and if I was less committed to my real job, I would have floated off to a beer garden somewhere for a mid-afternoon digestif.

Roman selected the chili chicken ($4.40) to make a direct comparison to Enjoy Restaurant just around the corner. Battered, deep-fried slices of boneless chicken with a few scant pieces of diced capsicum and chili wasn’t what he expected, but was hugely enhanced with spoonful of chili oil from the canister on our table. The food arrived less than ten minutes from our order.

By Khmer standards, the restaurant was squeaky clean. Being able to see the kitchen in the front actually made me contemplate eating, rather than thinking about where I’d stashed the anti-diarrhea medicines at home. Service was attentive despite being busy and I think that I’ll be back there often enough for them to get to know me.

Location: On Kampuchea Krom (st.128) between Monivong and Psar Thmei, near the corner of Monivong. Contact details. Phnom Penh photoblogger Mythicaldude has a great photo of the kitchen at the front of the restaurant.