Chinese food is ubiquitous in Phnom Penh. But somewhere between the chicken bones in the fried rice and the shark fin soup, they can be more of an adventure than a relaxing night out. Although one shouldn’t expect anything different upon moving to Asia, many foreign nationals come from countries where Chinese cuisine has been tailored for our prickly culinary sensibilities and even bold diners in Phnom Penh may find themselves missing that kung pow chicken from their favourite hometown Chinese restaurants.
Mama Wong, from the owners of Duck restaurant on Sothearos Boulevard, has managed to strike the perfect balance between authenticity and familiarity. Located on Street 308, which is arguably becoming Phnom Penh’s newest nightlife strip, it offers a the West’s favourite dishes from throughout the Middle Kingdom. At nighttime, dim light from the ornate red lanterns could send a shiver down the spine of any Sinophile.
The menu, while small, features a wide range of Chinese dishes using handmade ingredients. Hand-pulled noodles, which are made fresh at Mama Wong’s every day, are served in soup, stir fried or cold tossed. I tried the stir fried with pork ($3.50), which is simple but wholesome, while my companion had the noodles cold tossed in satay and sesame oil with shredded cucumber ($3.50). The latter, which was garnished with fresh tomatoes, had a slight resemblance to a Western pasta salad and provided a vegetarian counter-balance to my pork dish.
Mama Wong also whips up hand-rolled dumplings that can be served in broth or as pot stickers, with pork and Chinese cabbage ($3.25), prawn and chives ($3.50) and spinach and shiitake ($3). I went with the pork and cabbage and was delighted to have steamed dumplings that were tenderly rolled with only a slight crisp on the bottom.
My personal favourite was the ma po tofu ($4.75). Literally meaning “pock-marked ma’s bean curd” in reference to the old lady who purportedly invented it centuries ago in Chengdu, this tofu dish is packed with minced pork and chili sauce. I am not always a fan of tofu, but soaked in pork juice, salty bean paste and black pepper from Sichuan, it becomes a meat lover’s best friend. And yes, kung pow chicken ($4.75) is also on the menu.
Mama Wong is tasty, chic and a great value. Although most dishes run for less than $5, it has the feel of somewhere far more expensive. Its cozy atmosphere also makes it ideal for lingering around after dinner for drinks. Perfect for a bite of China without leaving your comfort zone.
Mama Wong is located at #41 Street 308. Open 9am until 11pm every day.