It may not be on the menu, but the best steamed momo in Southeast Asia, along with 167 other delights, can be found at Sher E Punjab 2 on Sothearos Boulevard.
Crowds have discovered one of my favourite restaurants in Southeast Asia, one I’d been keeping a secret for several years as I watched its gracious Nepalese owner gradually crack the code of the hyper-competitive and deeply fragmented dining market here.
I doubted Shiva would make it but am genuinely pleased that he has.
He started with the menu, adding photos and a mistletoe motif, then WiFi for the intern crowd – who seem to need Google to digest – and finally a charming, no-nonsense wife, who is quick to giggle. She’s banished young waitresses in miniskirts and replaced them with courteous staff who have memorised the menu.
Shiva (or was it his wife, Aunja?) has also dispensed with the disquieting attempts at Westernisation (baked potatoes stuffed with sour cream and corn nibbles) that came across as desperate and grotesque, as well as the plate of salted peanuts that arrived before you were even seated. Now, you are welcomed by a small basket of nimgin, which look like shattered chips and have just a hint of an obscure palate-cleansing flavour.
Every dish on the menu has a number; there are 167. I advise beginning at the back and flipping forward: the same way you read the Cambodia Daily. Start with the naan. Among the nearly 20 types, the cheese gobi (minced cauliflower), paneer (cottage cheese) and keema (minced lamb) are more filling than the rest. The descriptions, however, are deceptive – “stuffed with” should be “sprinkled with” – but the prices, 75 cents to $3, suggest that this is definitional not intentional. The naan arrives steaming from the kitchen with four homemade sauces. Go for the mint, but don’t miss the one that is a few shades darker than the Mekong. The wine menu is waiter-friendly: no embarrassing moments with corkscrews because all the caps twist off. W09 (again, each one has a number) is an almost sweet red from South Africa. It’s dangerously close to overly bold, but after a few sips it begins to liberate your senses. It also suits the climate here, especially if you are sitting at one of the three outdoor tables, and costs just $14.
The main courses are arranged nationalistically – Khmer, Indian and Chinese – but the sub-categories align with ingredients and types: curries, chicken, vegetarian, mutton, seafood, etc. The standouts are all Indian, and these are almost exclusively northern, primarily Punjabi.
Best to go with the chicken jalfrezy ($5.50): it’s worth a flight to Phnom Penh. This is artful cooking: a fresh mix of flavours and ingredients that could easily clash if not handled prudently. The recipes are not new, but they seem fresh: an accomplishment few kitchens in Phnom Penh can pull off. Here, decor is quickly replacing competence.
There are plenty of dishes as well for those who believe that food should not only be good but good for you. Things like dahl ($1.50) and vegetable samosas ($2), as well as the less clichéd, like vegetable Jaipuri ($4).
Not on the menu, but possible to order, are the crown jewels of Nepalese comfort food: momo, the ultimate dumpling. These joyous gifts are served either steamed or fried, stuffed (not sprinkled) with minced chicken or vegetables, and ordered from the sister restaurant: Kathmandu Kitchen, round the corner on the backpacker enclave of Street 258.
Both restaurants offer takeout and free delivery as well as catering. Menus can be received by email. Reservations are recommended in the evening. Tipping is appreciated by the wait staff, most of whom are students. Open: 8.30am to 10.30pm, 7 days a week.