Search

Search form

Num pang pâté: Growing to love mystery meat

Num pang pâté: not as bad as you might think.
Num pang pâté: not as bad as you might think. CHARLOTTE PERT

Num pang pâté: Growing to love mystery meat

Whenever I mention num pang pâté to foreigners in Phnom Penh, I get the same reaction.

“Those sandwiches with the … meat-stuff in them?” they say, as their faces recoil into a disgusted sneer.

Yeah, those ones.

Crusty baguettes, greasy butter, crisp-yet-sweet pickled vegetables, oddly delicious meaty pâté and, er, that mystery meat stuff.

They should be a popular snack among expats, but everyone’s always complaining about those weird off-white – sometimes mottled pink – slabs.

They are like Vietnamese banh mi’s unloved, slightly less attractive cousin. But we’re in Cambodia not Vietnam, and love the one you’re with, eh?

Popular among Khmers as a lunch or early evening meal, there are vendors all over Phnom Penh. When I first arrived in the city, on most days around dusk I used to wander down from the Capitol 3 guesthouse to O’Russey Market and buy them from a stall on the corner of streets 111 and 182.

I found the richness of the melted butter was offset by the pickled vegetables, the baguettes were warm and crunchy and the meat … well, it didn’t bother me. With a thick spread of chili paste, they were cheap, tasty and – because the guy who sold them spoke good English – easy. I became a fan.

Recently I tried to convince a friend that num pang pâté wasn’t nearly as bad as she thought.

With a couple of other mates in tow, we headed down to the corner of streets 51 and 136 where there are a bunch of restaurants that specialise in the much-maligned sandwich.

We ordered three and while they were being prepared I asked the serving lady about the nature of the meat.

It’s really not that mysterious. It’s just good old fashion luncheon meat, the same as you find in children’s lunchboxes across the world.

Through a friend who translated, the woman said the manufacturers took what could be loosely described as “pork”, minced it up into paste, formed it into blocks and boiled it. Sometimes they added some pepper into the mix.

The worst you could say about it is that it’s a bit tasteless.

Oh, and then I found out why the pâté was so oddly delicious. She said it was finely chopped pork with salt, pepper and one other extremely important special ingredient. No, not love. MSG.

We sat down with our num pang pâté for the taste test. My other friends, who refused to let the processed meat pass their lips, had bought some sach ko ang jakak (a similar sandwich with grilled sausage meat instead of luncheon pork) from around the corner instead.

We all watched on as my would-be convert friend chowed down on one of the filled baguettes and, to everyone’s surprise, didn’t find it offensive.

“It’s actually not that bad,” she said. “You can’t even really taste the meat stuff. I might start eating them.”

Then she tried one of the sach ko ang jakak.

“This one’s better though,” she said. ​​​

RECOMMENDED STORIES

  • Breaking: PM says prominent human rights NGO ‘must close’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”. The CNRP - the

  • Rainsy and Sokha ‘would already be dead’: PM

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday appeared to suggest he would have assassinated opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha had he known they were promising to “organise a new government” in the aftermath of the disputed 2013 national elections. In a clip from his speech

  • Massive ceremony at Angkor Wat will show ‘Cambodia not in anarchy’: PM

    Government officials, thousands of monks and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself will hold a massive prayer ceremony at Angkor Wat in early December to highlight the Kingdom’s continuing “peace, independence and political stability”, a spectacle observers said was designed to disguise the deterioration of

  • PM tells workers CNRP is to blame for any sanctions

    In a speech to workers yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen pinned the blame for any damage inflicted on Cambodia’s garment industry by potential economic sanctions squarely on the opposition party. “You must remember clearly that if the purchase orders are reduced, it is all