When she first saw Chinese handmade noodles being made, Phal Sophorn, 29, was struck with wonder.
It’s “like magic,” she said, using “flour and water, and pulling it together. When I [go to] Chinese restaurants, I always watch them [making noodles].”
This amazement is the inspiration behind the name of her new restaurant, De Magic Noodle, a Chinese handmade noodle joint located two streets down from Russian Market. It is owned by Phal Sophorn, and managed by her close friends – husband-and-wife duo, Tith Sreymom, 24, and Thoen Ranet, 23.
Also known as la mian in Mandarin, the origins of the handmade noodle date back to the Ming dynasty during the 16th century. Variants of it can be found all over East Asia and Southeast Asia, with the more famous Japanese version known as ramen.
“It’s the simplest of the noodles and dumplings,” Phal said, explaining why she decided to focus on handmade pulled noodles. “No one has done it yet [in Russian Market].”
Having worked in Chinese restaurants since he was 14, Ranet occupies the position of head chef, twisting and pulling with an expert hand, and drawing the dough out until it becomes long and thin. Then, with a flick of his wrist, he separates the strands of dough from the main bail and throws them into a pot.
“[My previous restaurant] taught me how to make the noodles, as well as offered me the opportunity to explore the kitchen,” Ranet said. “They also show me and my wife how to run the restaurant and handle the ingredients.”
This experience has been invaluable in the running of De Magic Noodle, especially in crafting the menu, which is entirely Ranet’s work. When working at his previous restaurant, Ranet learned their recipes, and then brought them over to De Magic Noodle before tweaking them.
He recommends three dishes: the duck noodle soup ($2.50), and the fried beef ($3) or pork noodles ($3). A sampling reveals the broth to be flavourful, the meat to be tender and tasty, and the vegetables fresh.
While the menu is currently limited, with only noodle dishes and dumplings, Ranet has plans to update it soon, adding new dishes such as stir-fried vegetables with meat, fried rice and Tom Yum soup.
Most of their customers are locals, Tith said, although many Westerners do drop by for meals. Chinese customers, on the other hand, are few and far between, which Phal attributed to the location.
“Tuol Tompoung doesn’t have as many Chinese as compared to foreigners and locals. But I hope that when Chinese people become more aware of the restaurant, they will start to support [this restaurant].”
Even though the restaurant is still new, Phal is already considering expansion. “I have some friends who want to bring it to [destinations] such as Siem Reap,” he said. “If it suits their taste [in Siem Reap], then [my friends] will bring it over.”
While the chefs are working within a traditional, and tried-and-true, culinary milieu, Ranet said the willingness to experiment separates the restaurant from competitors.
“In our restaurant, we see cooking as an experiment. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we fail, but it is very amazing when we are able to create something better and original,” he said.
De Magic Noodle is located at #29 on Street 456. It is open from 7:30am until 9pm on all days except Saturday.