Amokalypse Now: Khmer Surin

Fish Amok - Khmer Surin
Located in the middle of NGO-infested suburb Boeung Keng Kang 1, Khmer Surin restaurant has started to accept tourists by the busload. For anyone living locally looking to lunch on a lazy amok, this is as bad news as my ham-fisted attempts at alliteration. The huge villa seats patrons over three levels and while the second floor boasts the nicest furnishings, the best tables are on the top floor where you can rail against the Gods in their full view for not providing an evening breeze. Be sure to sit away from the edge of roof on a rainy night.

While the surrounds are fancy pants, the service can be burlap sack on a slow night. One evening the waiter responsible for our floor decided to take off his shirt and have a nap in the corner suggesting that he already knew that Australians have appalling record at tipping. On many nights Khmer Surin provides a traditional Khmer band to keep its employees awake, which to my uncultured Western ears sounds as romantic as playing a marimba with a live weasel. If you live in Cambodia, you get enough traditional music anytime there is a wedding in your suburb. The common practice for Cambodian weddings is to have a tent set up out the front of the happy couple’s house, serve 300 of your closest friends a few Chinese-Khmer meals and play about eight hours of Khmer traditional music at ear-bleed levels. This is only punctuated by monks, who say “hello hello hello hello hello hello” into the microphone at 4:30am and then rock the mike with seven hours of groaning in Pali, a language that few Khmer folk understand or enjoy. Come to think of it, I haven’t met any Khmer people with a pure love of traditional music either.

Surin gets top marks for nontraditional presentation. Their fish amok arrives on a divot-filled plate with 7 individual servings of the curry that challenges you to play a clever game wherein you battle your tablemates for the final nugget of fish. I was going to call the game “Hungry Hungry Subsistence Farmers”, but it doesn’t really have much of a ring to it when I write it down. The sad part is that this amok is all bling and no substance. It’s the MC Hammer of fish curries (minus the later career as a celebrity judge on Dance Fever and his current career as a blogger). Relatively heavy on the lime leaves, shredded chili and MSG but otherwise pared down to a very minimal spice blend, coconut and a small amount of yesterday’s fish, served cold.

Location: #9 Street 57, Phnom Penh. Fish amok, US$3.50.

5 thoughts on “Amokalypse Now: Khmer Surin”

  1. Love the blog, one of the best Cambodia/Food things. I read it religiously.

    A pity to hear your views on Khmer Traditional Music but “one man’s steak is another man’s mutton” as the saying goes. You should have a listen to some of the stuff coming from CLA’s Masters. I’d encourage you to go and listen to Kung Nai (chapei) in Phnom Penh, check out Yoeun Mek (traditional wedding music) in Battambang or Prum Uth (smot) in Kampong Speu. I admit that some of the “traditional” music you hear in restaurants and hotels can be second rate but hearing the CLA Masters and their students has changed my perspective.

    While you may not have met any Khmers with a “pure love of traditional music” I can assure you there are plenty out there. Mongkol (who is one of Cambodia’s most eloquent bloggers) would be one who I am sure would speak eloquently about his “pure love”! In my time at CLA I’ve seen the impact that Khmer Traditional Music has on Cambodians. Many of these are young students who are desparate to keep their tradition alive. I’d have a look at CLA’s website ( ) to learn more.


  2. Phil,

    I had an excellent variation of amok trai the other day

    Added to the usual fish and mixture were two ‘sausages’ of roe – although I dread to think what the outer casing actually was.

    Amok po’own trai royt

    If you get the change to try it, do so

    Lord Playboy

  3. Another fantastic review – I almost feel like I’m there again, and the review reads very accurately on the Surin! I have a suspicion that the reason “Hungry Hungry Subsistence Farmers” title doesn’t sound quite right is that subsistence farmers are usually so damned polite when it comes to sharing food: there’d be no contest except to see if you could get the other guys to eat the last bit! Maybe you should call it “Hungry Hungry Middlemen.”

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