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Phnom Penh breakfast the Cambodian way

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Enjoy noodle soup, Cambodian porridge or beef stew with French bread at one of Phnom Penh's many tin table street food stalls

Photo by:
Tracey Shelton

A street food vendor in Phnom Penh prepares for the day's business.

ONE mark of an urban society is eating breakfast outside the home, and in Phnom Penh there are thousands of places offering this morning sustenance.

Cambodian breakfast food typically includes noodle soup and one that stands out is kyteow, which is a thin, white noodle in a pork broth with viscera and seafood. The accompaniments are usually bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime, though the table will also have a range of condiments such as black pepper, sugar, black (soy) sauce, pickled and dry chilli, pickled garlic and preserved white cabbage.

A variation on the above is "kyteow kowk", which means your broth will come in a separate bowl from the noodles and you can spoon it into the noodles as you go. In better places the broth will have a piece of pork bone. The soft, slow-boiled meat on this bone is perhaps the most exquisite tasting pork you will ever eat, as all Asian gourmands know the sweetest meat is closest to the bone.

Breakfast delicacies

A good breakfast restaurant also has other dishes to get your day started on the right foot.

"Bobor" is known throughout this region as the food of babies, invalids and the elderly. It is rice porridge and the Cambodian breakfast version is particularly delicious.

Order your "bobor" with either fish or chicken. They will be shredded into the bowl before the porridge is added. Normally you should get a couple of cubes of congealed pork blood in the porridge as well as thin-sliced root ginger, bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime.

Again, the table condiments are there, try adding fermented cabbage to the porridge, and of course lashings of ground black pepper.

The things that look like long, straight dough left on the table are for this dish. They are called chakquai and are a light, airy batter that has been deep-fried. Dropped into the porridge, they become soft and tasty.

There are a number of other breakfast options, including rice with sliced roast pork bai sait j'ruuk, or rice with a chicken leg - bai sait moan.

You can also order rice with fried pork and fried duck egg, bai sait j'ruuk nang pohng tia jien, as well as fried rice (bai chaa) and fried noodles (mee chaa).

If you order fried noodles, there are two kinds:  one is the inferior instant kind named after a brand called mee Mama, but the better kind is mee dom, which is a long, fresh, yellow noodle.

Enjoying breakfast ... is a great way of getting into the mood of the city.

If noodles and rice are not your favourite way to start the day, you should try nohm paang kor koh, which has got to be the tastiest way to eat French bread. You will be served a couple of pieces of baguette with a bowl of the richest, red, beef stew you have ever eaten. It is made with ligaments and strips of shin, so do not expect hunks of meat here. Dunk your bread into the rich, aromatic sauce that has a certain spiciness and oiliness to lube your start to the day. Again, you will be served bean sprouts and limes to bring out the flavours.
Tea is served free at all the breakfast stands, but you have to order coffee. Expect a strong, heavy blend and unless you order a big glass you will just be served a small cup.

On the side

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of the Khmer language is the word milk - teuk dawh koo - which can easily be confused with ice - teuk koh. Part of the problem is that a lot of people want both ice and milk in their coffee but a word of warning: The ice in a breakfast restaurant will almost certainly be dirty ice from a block, not clean "tube ice".

While breakfasting you will usually be offered a newspaper - sometimes even in English - and you will certainly be offered a shoe-shine.

Expect a small supplement on the price of the paper and to pay 1,000 riels to get your shoes polished.

Cambodians have a firm belief in the importance of eating three good meals a day, and to omit breakfast from this is considered foolish if you have the money to pay for it. For a foreigner, enjoying breakfast in Phnom Penh is a great way of getting into the mood of the city.

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