As the sun sets on Northern Phnom Penh, the surrounding streets of Toul Songke Market near Wat Phnom are abuzz with street food stalls. One particular store is packed with hungry patrons. Miniature tables and plastic chairs protrude all the way to the street.
Directly across the road, six women work frantically, frying skewers of chicken on a rising flame. Chicken eggs sizzle in small, seemingly delicate bowls. Next to the Khmer barbecues are large bundles of skewered pig intestine, cow intestine, cow spleen and pork meatballs that float in two enormous pots of hot water to maintain heat.
Purchased from the market earlier in the day, they have already been thoroughly washed and boiled for two hours, according to Channy, 34, who smiles and then returns to frenetically serving table after table with more meat.
Referred to as pus vean in Khmer, this is a popular dinner for locals, not simply because of the assortment of meats available but also due to the delicious toektaohu sauce that accompanies them in a small dipping bowl. It is made by boiling tofu until it’s soft, then mixing it with raw chilli, sugar, salt and fish sauce. Chilli gives the sauce a great kick while the balance of salty fish sauce with sugar makes for a wonderful condiment. The tofu is pleasantly thick, similar to a tartar sauce, which makes the sauce ooze off the meat when dipping it in.
The store owner says she has made this dish for six years and sells around a kilo of meat every day. The toektaohu recipe was passed down to her from an older lady and is the reason for her popularity, she says. While two shops nearby also produce toektaohu with the same ingredients, that all-important recipe ensures a perfect balance of flavours.
The meats, sold at 500 riel per skewer, aren’t for the faint-hearted. Both the pig intestine and cow intestine are chewy and slimy in texture. Neither has a distinct taste and both are rather bland, allowing the sauce to shine with its heat and subsequent tang. But it’s the cow spleen that’s truly peculiar. With a granular, paste-like texture, it feels unfamiliar to say the least. Similar to the other meats, there’s not so much a distinguished taste, more a sense of griminess that sticks with you. The safest bet is to go for the pork meatballs and fried chicken balls.
Pus vean with toektaoho is served next to the market from 2pm, but if you’re looking for a more atmospheric dining experience, eat after 5pm when the stalls are at their busiest.