First it was petting dogs and cats. Now it’s playing board games. The latest Korean eating-and-other-activities dining trend has made its way to Phnom Penh cafes with the amusingly named Hahahoho, in the city’s Toul Tumpong One commune, which opened last November.
The concept is simple: Patrons pay – on top of food – for the pleasure of getting all ‘jenga!’, ‘uno!’ or ‘yahtzee!’, with a group of friends. A Korean fad that peaked seven to eight years ago and brought one of these to each neighbourhood in Seoul, these board-game cafes are now found the world over, from Canada to Western Europe. At $1.50 per hour on Saturdays and Sundays, the dollars could add up over a protracted game of Monopoly. But I visited the cafe with a friend recently in hope of some weekday lunch cheer and paid only $1.50 for the day, plus food.
The location is savvy – close to the Russian Market, a community with many expats and families who could fill up the substantial indoor and outdoor space. It has a friendly feel, with bright Jenga and Monopoly-themed hand-painted murals on the walls.
The staff was what you would expect: lively and attentive. They were quick to answer questions about the variety of games available, in which they seemed well versed.
All the options are listed in a large binder, with a picture and brief description. There were Western favourites like Uno, The Game of Life and Clue as well as Korean games like Yut no ri and Janggi or Chinese checkers. Some were labeled “for Korean players only,” but wait staff said people could easily pick up the rules.
There were no other patrons, which made for a slightly lonely experience, but we soon settled down to a game of Chinese checkers over ramen and kimchi fried rice. It’s a good game for a slightly hurried lunch: short and simple enough to allow non-competitive conversation.
The same does not apply to the ramen ($2.50), which was simply some instant noodles with a dollop of kimchi on the side. Nice and spicy, though. The kimchi fried rice ($4.50) was better, filling and colourful with bright vegetables and egg. Sadly, my iced caramel macchiato ($2.65) was forgotten, and I returned to work empty-handed and under-caffeinated.
The problem with Hahahoho – aside from the perversely jolly name – is that nobody knows about it yet.
The emptiness might have been expected on a weekday, but when I returned that weekend it was the same story: deserted. There’s something a little old folks homey about a big expanse with lots of board games so, if you do go, make sure to bring friends. And to get the most from it, try to find someone who reads Korean.
Hahahoho is at #74, Street 456 and is open from 11am to 9pm.