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Around the world in one weekend - without leaving Phnom Penh

By: Kathryn Michie Posted: January-01-2006 in
Kathryn Michie

The sheer variety of restaurants available in Phnom Penh continues to supply me (and everyone else lucky enough to call this city home) with a beguiling array of choices every evening. Missing the culinary specialties of your home country? There's a good chance that you'll be able to find a version of your favourite dish somewhere in this city.
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Although I usually make an effort to adapt to the local cuisine wherever I am living, this weekend proved to be a hedonistic combination of new flavours and old favourites- all without a single bite of Khmer food.

The weekend started on Friday night in the decadent gardens of Lotus, a Vietnamese restaurant on Street 322. The vegetarian choices were few and far between, so I made do with vegetarian spring rolls and potato and leek soup (not particularly Vietnamese, I must admit). Fortunately, the house white wine is excellent and compensated somewhat for the jealousy that I experienced as my friends all moaned and groaned over the apparently exquisite roasted duck. Maybe next time I'll ask the friendly waiters if the kitchen staff can get a bit creative and come up with something equally as impressive "ot sach"("no meat").

We stuck to the Asian theme for brunch on Saturday, splurging on the Yum Cha at the Intercontinental. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of vegetarian choices available - more than my local Yum Cha back home! Despite my friends and I not quite fitting the typical profile of the affluent Intercontinental guest, the waiters took time to point out their favourite vegetarian options on the menu. Although selecting Yum Cha from the menu is not nearly as fun as selecting each dish from the circulating trolleys! I had heard rumors that they offered a $13.50 all-you-can-eat Yum Cha special. Much to the dismay of our wallets, we discovered after ordering vast quantities of food that this only applied on weekdays. However, the Yum Cha served as the perfect hangover cure after all the wine the night before...

The next stop on our gastronomical journey was Morocco. Tamarind is not a new restaurant for me as the lovely rooftop tables have proved to be the perfect setting for many birthdays and the inevitable fare-wells. I can never go past the Goat's Cheese Pizza when I eat here, a pizza that I think may be a contender for the title of the best pizza in Cambodia (Please note that I am more than willing to sample the pizzas of anyone who would like to challenge this title). I can also recommend the vegetarian couscous and the spinach and mushroom pasta from previous experience. If you are considering dessert, the sweet and crispy crème brulée is definitely superior to the baklava.

From Morocco, we next visited Pacharan for a taste of Spain. How can you beat sipping sweet Sangria and sharing tapas whilst looking over the Tonle Sap? Again, a large variety of tasty vegetarian selections are available to share with friends. Whilst beautifully presented, the prices were high and the portions a little small. We were tempted by the $10 all-you-can-eat Paella and all-you-can-drink Sangria Sunday special, but we wanted to save stomach space (and not compromise our concentration skills too much) for our Pakistani cooking class at 4pm...

Monsoon is another old favourite, partially because of its varied wine list and raspberry mojitos. A small group of us had arranged to do an afternoon cooking course where we were to learn how to prepare two dishes and two breads. The original plan was to make saag (spinach and cheese) and a chicken dish, but my meat-eating friends kindly suggested that we make alloo bangan (potato and eggplant) and the teacher was happy to be flexible. The lesson started with a quick trip to an Indian store to purchase the necessary secret herbs and spices. Armed with notepads and pens, we observed the master at his work. Although we occasionally helped chop / kneed / stir, it would have been great if the class was a bit more participatory. Although perhaps if we had created the dishes ourselves, they may not have turned out so delicious! We devoured the richly flavoured dishes, fresh from the pot with hot roti and paratha. I went home with a very full stomach.

The weekend certainly had an impact on both my waistline and my wallet, but it's great to know that food from virtually any corner of the world is available in Phnom Penh for only a few dollars more than what you would pay for groceries from Lucky Supermarket. Nonetheless, by Sunday night I actually started to miss my rice, eggs and stir-fried morning glory.... I'll be back to my vegetarian Khmer staples for lunch tomorrow! And we'll see where in the world our stomachs will end up next weekend.


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