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).