Special Soup by the Quai is especially Good
xx Lenin Blvd. (next to Rock Hard Café)
Table for two: $5 to $10
Many people don't take full advantage of one of the most charming aspects of Phnom
Penh, the rivers which flow alongside the city, merging in front of the Royal Palace.
One rarely sees strolling couples along the rivers' banks and most of the city's
public parks are located well away from the water. Even the Hotel Cambodiana, despite
the great sunrise views from its eastward-facing rooms, keeps diners at its restaurants
facing inward rather than orienting them towards the natural beauty all around the
That's why it's wonderful when a restaurant takes full advantage of a riverine location.
When it has good food as well, you've got yourself a fine place to eat.
The Ponlok Special Soup restaurant has some of the most special, special soup around,
albeit a bit pricey at 10,000 riels for two. One should not fall into that terrible
trap of having to pay the foreigner/UNTAC price, but I must admit, I haven't protested.
I suspect they charge the up-and-coming Cambodian socialites who dine here regularly
Fortunately, it's a good meal, even at twice the price.
If you're into music videos, this is one place in town that keeps them running to
distraction. They're mostly Thai karaoke songs, but every once in a while they'll
toss in Michael Jackson or other generic rockstars that one tends to lose touch with
after being in Cambodia for too long.
To order one of the specialties of the house-a fire pot soup-one must be able to
either flag the attention of the waiters who understand English, or say these magic
words: yao han.
If you pronounce this successfully, you will be brought a steaming pot of simmering
broth with a fire glowing underneath, into which you dump a mixture of raw beef,
squid, shrimp and beaten egg. (If you don't want to eat any of these things, just
leave them out: it's kind of cook-you-own soup, campfire style). Let the whole thing
stew around for a couple of minutes before adding your assorted veggies: cabbage,
bean sprouts, pineapple, lettuce, and mint.
You can let it cook away for as little or as long as you want before you start fishing
things out of it. Skill with chopsticks comes in handy, but a spoon will do.
I know what you're thinking: isn't that the same stuff I can get at any old streetcorner
hot pot stand? Well, no, Ponlok's broth has chopped peanuts and coconut milk in it,
giving it a smooth, nutty flavor. It's subtle, but peanut-butter crazed Americans
might want to check it out.
I know that after a hot, sweaty day in Phnom Penh, the last thing anybody wants is
a hot bowl of soup for dinner. But soon it will be getting cooler, and in a few short
weeks I'm sure some of you will be wearing long-sleeved shirts to dinner and complaining
about how it's too cold to go swimming. Soup season will be here.
If you tire of the hot pot, crab soup is another option at the Ponlok. This takes
patience and crab cracking skills, but it's tasty. Khmer crabs tend to be soft-shelled,
so tapping the crab with the heel of your spoon or giving it a gentle gnaw with your
teeth often does the trick.
If you're in a rush, Ponlok's Beef Luc Lac(cubes of marinated beef with garlic) is
easy to pronounce in Khmer and is among the best in town.
Be aware that the Khmer-language side of the menu doesn't always correspond with
the corresponding numbers on the English side.
One thing that does correspond is the Chinese noodles with beef, a hearty and filling
plateful that's great for post-swim hunger pangs.