O ver Chinese Lunar New Year we watched the dragon dancers parading around and
then repaired to Dragon Court, the new Chinese restaurant at the
Luxuriously appointed with thick carpets, yellow table
cloths, high backed chairs and glorious river views, Dragon Court also has four
private dining rooms. Waiters are dressed in scarlet silk Chinese jackets and
black trousers. All is presided over by Singaporean Executive Chinese Chef, Lee
Yan Hai, 33, appareled in a dazzling white, perfectly pressed and starched
uniform, with a large chef's hat. This is how chefs are supposed to look. Lee
Yan Hai is also appropriately rotund, proof, he exclaimed, that he has loved
food since he was a child. He talked about food with such enthusiasm that at
times we almost forgot to eat.
Lee arrived in Cambodia four moths ago,
and has created an eclectic Chinese menu. "There are many people here from
different countries and cultures, so I have mixed Szechuan, Cantonese,
Singaporean, Hong Kong and Taiwanese."
For the opening he prepared a
traditional New Year Salad. Raw fish is eaten with this during the two week New
Year period because fish multiply and therefore signify prosperity. This dish
was made with thinly-sliced abalone with shredded raw turnip, grated carrots,
preserves of crystallized cucumber and ginger, crushed peanuts, crushed
crackers, plum sauce, lemon sauce and onion pickle.
Traditionally. everybody puts their chopsticks into the salad to toss it,
another symbolic act. The taste was fresh, and mixed soft and crunchy texture,
enhanced by the delicate abalone.
Then we ate small pieces of chicken
covered with lightly roasted almonds, moist and crispy, which almost melted in
the mouth. These are a Taiwanese specialty, and are dusted with custard powder
and egg, then deep fried. In a steamer, we found little palm leaf envelopes
which contained two slices of pineapple with steamed chicken breast between
them. We liked the round slices of braised marrow, topped with shrimp paste and
delicious crab meat. Next we tried Kai Lin Ko turtle shell pudding. This Hong
Kong specialty is made with 12 types of Chinese pounded herbs and, we regret to
say, powdered turtle shell. We would prefer turtles to stay swimming in the sea.
But here was this magnificent black jelly, wondrous, we were assured, for health
and skin. It had a medicinal taste, perhaps induced by the color. There were
sweet lotus shaped confections, made with flour, and stuffed with lotus paste.
Finally, we tasted mango pudding, made of milk, and beautifully presented with
slivers of mango, melon and cherries. This sumptuous feast was accompanied by
herb tea. "Herb tea is good for health." explained Lee.
You should dine
here receiving your traditional New Year envelope containing money. Abalone
ranges from $28.80 - $56. Chicken with almond $5.50 small, $10.00 large. Kai Lin
jelly $3.80. It you have a craving for braised shark fin, a large dish costs
$88. Suckling pig ("the best in Cambodia" declared Lee) is $8.80. We were
intrigued by Snow Frog Jelly, $18.80, to be ordered 24 hours in
If the Year of the Pig has not, so far, proved financially
prosperous, then you can eat more cheaply by crossing the Japanese Friendship
Bridge and visiting one of the hundreds of restaurants that have sprung up along
Route 6a since the bridge opened last year. They provide a calm getaway from the
firecrackers which, according to our Chinese friend, are supposed to ward off
evil spirits, Judging from the number of people dining here they warded off most
of the city's inhabitants too. We chose a palm-thatched wooden cafe on stilts
over the water, called Steung Sang Ke, three kilometers down on the left,
diagonally opposite the more famous Hang Neak restaurant. Here we contemplated
the peaceful vista, with graceful egrets, Brahminy Kites and kingfishers
swooping over the water and fields of neatly planted vegetables.
Sang Ke is run by Keo Piseth, 40, who also works at the Ministry of Economics
and Finance. He opened three months ago, with no experience, to take advantage
of the restaurant boom here. His waitresses have even less experience, so we
trooped into the kitchen to order. There were many traditional Cambodian dishes,
including fried vegetables and chicken. We ate the local specialty, Banh Chheo,
flat yellow pancakes made with rice flour, and filled with bean shoots and
minced chicken or pork. They are dipped in a sweet sauce filled with crushed
cashews, and served with huge platters of crisp lettuce, cucumber and mint. The
bill for four, including soft drinks, was $3.