I expected Phenom Penh to be a cross between a small Indian city and rough Ulannbataar, instead of a French colonial city with France’s refine tasted and inexpensive wine. Three restaurants we sampled provided some world class food for shoestring budgets.
On New Years Eve, after walking the riverfront reviewing menus of the many tourist-friendly restaurants, we selected the Dutch-owned Frizz for it’s authentic Khmer specialties and lengthy wine list. It was one of the best meals we have ever eaten. The beef with smoked eggplant was truly unique, with a subtle mix of tangy sauce and earthy spices. Amok, our second dish, is a common Cambodian dish of curried fish wrapped in a banana leaf and Frizz does an exceptionally good job in presentation and flavor. The hot evening called for a bottle of house white in an ice bucket to bring our bill to nearly $20 USD.
Across the street from the notorious Tuol Sleng genocide museum is the Boddhi Tree, a restaurant which deserves fame in its own right. Jan and I ordered triple-decker sandwiches with goat cheese, grilled eggplant and other vegetables. After craving goat cheese for months, it was a euphoric treat.
On our last day, we visited Friends Restaurant which trains street kids for opportunities in the restaurant industry. A small army of students and a few teachers, all of whom seemed to be in their late teens or early twenties, runs a slick operation with attentive servers, a creative menu and tasteful décor.
We selected dishes from the tapas menu, crustini smoked eggplant dip, marinated fish and cucumber salad, crispy shrimp wontons and cashew chicken with mango. Our drinks, green peppercorn strawberry margarita and chili pineapple margarita, complimented the tequila with sweetness and a little heat to create exceptionally creative and tasty margaritas.
Still eager to explore the menu, Jan finished off with splendid caramelized pineapple and ice cream, and I tried the lemon and blueberry cake. Again, we kept the meal under $20 USD.
Lonely Planet also directed us to a supermarket where we took advantage of the colonial legacy to self-cater a meal to remind us of France. Few pleasures beat brie, a good baguette and a bottle of wine sitting on a patio on a beautiful day. We already feel Phenom Penh’s epicurean luxuries pulling us back.