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lunch in the penh…green & vietnamese, part 1

At least once a week, you can find me grabbing the sweet, sour and fresh tastes of neighbouring Vietnam.  Though the complicated geopolitical relationships and war-time history between the two countries sometimes pop-up in debate, Vietnamese food remains plentiful and delicious throughout Phnom Penh (and I’ll be providing a few more stories on the nexus of religion/politics, ethics and food later on in my Lunch in the Penh series).

But getting back to the delectable.  Vietnamese food is a favourite of mine because of it’s ability to combine the sweet and the savoury, and all of those fresh green herbs that usually come with most dishes.  And one of the best locales for m’hope Vietnam (that’s Vietnamese food in Khmer for all y’all) is Magnolia (House 55, Street 51, at the corner of street 242).  Not only is the food delicious and remarkably affordable, but it’s a great place to catch up with friends in a luscious green setting, al fresco or air-conditioned and inside if the heat is too stifling or the rains are raging during the lunch hour.

It is very likely that my favourite Vietnamese dishes of all time is bún thịt nướng chả giò, or Fried Pork with Rice Vermicelli and Spring Rolls.  I first fell in love with it while living in Chinatown during university, when my buddy Nid and I would go for bowls of it at the Pho Hung across the street from our apartment.  I’ve also now had the authentic dishes in Hanoi and Saigon and I can testify that Magnolia’s version is pretty damn good.  It’s a great lunchtime meal, with cold rice vermicelli noodles, grilled pork that is sweet, smokey and hot off the barbecue, a pile of those delicious Vietnamese herbs whose names I cannot tell you, and those rich fried spring rolls stuffed with more pork and taro.  It’s all finished with a splash of the sweet and sour fish sauce mixture that comes with pickled carrots and daikon; and my personal addition is also a big dab of oyster sauce too.  Ridiculously delicious.  And all that for a steal at $3.50!

And another big reason my friends and I head to Magnolia is for the Banh Xeo.  This dish is popular in the regions bordering Cambodia and Vietnam and is a savory paper thin crepe made with rice flour and the yellow colour comes from tumeric.  It’s then stuffed with any number of ingredients of your liking; most often pork, shrimp or chicken, and fried to a lovely golden colour.

But the common question about this dish concerns how exactly one eats it?  It can indeed be a tad overwhelming when one is presented with a big massive stuffed pancake; served with an even bigger plate of fresh greens; and that lovely sweet and sour fish sauce mixture with picked carrots and daikon.  How do you deal?  Well, I was lucky enough to have gotten instructions from a co-worker from the border-region which banh xeo hails.  It’s pretty simple – you use your hands.  First, grab a big piece of lettuce from your pile of greens.  Then using that piece of lettuce, grab a chunk of the stuffed pancake and add some of the fresh green herbs in there too.  Finally dip into the fish sauce and voila….you have pure yummy. And all for $3-4 you say?

I can guarantee that you won’t leave a scrap on your plates with these 2 lunchtime faves.  Check it out if you find yourself in the BKK1/Wat Langka neighbourhood.  Enjoy!All photos in this post, unless otherwise noted, by infinitiff.  Please do not reproduce or use without permission).

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lunch in the penh 2…tom yummy!

Within a month of returning to Phnom Penh this year, I was promptly introduced to this tiny little spec of a gem by my awesome and astounding friend, Jess.  And within one spoonful of this perfectly simple soup – I was in love.

Because of ridiculous proximity to their office, a couple of my girlfriends love this little family-owned resto at the corners of Street 111 and 242 for a cheap lunch.  And I definitely agree.  The Tom Yum Drei (Tom Yum Fish Soup) is so incredibly yummy and cheap here (7000R! or $1.75 including unlimited rice!) that I will definitely make the 10 minute hot and sweaty bike ride across town for some perfectly sour and limey fish soup.

Tom Yum Drei is essentially a Khmerized version of the Thai tom yum soup.  (“Tom” means soup and “Yum” means hot and sour)  This particular soup is filled with local herbs, straw mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots, shallots, lemongrass and fish!  (You can also order it with chicken or shrimp)  So it’s packed with a big flavour punch.  Just spoon over rice and you’ve got yourself and awesome, hearty and tasty meal!

Just spoon over rice!

So if you’re after a tasty lunch that will fill you up (rice tends to do that) at a remarkably low price, then this little unnamed resto at the corner of streets 111 and 242 is what you’re looking for.Or if you’re unfortunately not in PP and want to recreate this dish at home – check out this recipe of a creamy Thai version of tom yum over at She Simmers!  (and yes, that’s a picture of their kitchen, below – this resto is so tiny but always packed during lunch!)All photos in this post, unless otherwise noted, by infinitiff.  Please do not reproduce or use without permission).


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lunch in the penh…chinese noodles!

I had just arrived to Phnom Penh a couple of days before my 23rd birthday.  I had just begun making friends which resulted in some fantastic nights out, and so 23 more or less came with a massive hangover.  And so, my new friend, P, decided to take me for the most amazing birthday meal at what is considered to be an institution among eaters in Phnom Penh – Chinese Noodle.

Ever since, visits to Chinese Noodle are practically weekly for quick, cheap and yummy lunches.  They hand-pull the noodles and make the dumplings on site and often in the front of the restaurant – and this no doubt adds to the experience.  The surly lady of the house is gone and there are more smiles these days. But surly hostess or not, this simple family-run restaurant is always packed with expats, Khmers and nouveau and old Chinese alike during lunch. Dishes are never more than $2 or even $1.50.  Before ht recession, nothing was more than $1.  The constantly poured tea is free.  My regular orders are the fried noodles with egg (you can also have it with pork, beef or chicken), boiled dumplings and the green beans with mushrooms and heaps of garlic (or as I like to call them – green beans on crack).

So as an ode to this institution, I decided to bring my cammy-cam out for lunch yesterday and take some snaps in and around the resto.

Quite simply – green beans on crack.

And that is Chinese Noodle in a nutshell.  If you’re ever in Phnom Penh looking for some cheap eats, or it’s 12pm and you can’t think of anything to eat…look no further – it’s right in front of you.  Or rather, at #553 on Monivong Blvd. (which is sandwiched between streets 288 an 294).

For an excellent review and much better photographs of the food – check out Nyam Penh!

And here are some snappy snaps of some sites I took while on my bicycle to Chinese Noodle.  The amount of development going on in PP is crazy and it seems like the construction will never stop!

PS – Yup, Lunch in the Penh is a new series I’m starting!  Very excited to show you where office monkeys get their nutrients here!

All photos in this post, unless otherwise noted, by infinitiff.  Please do not reproduce or use without permission).