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A pauper's guide to dining out

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Despite it’s Third World status, Phnom Penh is not exactly cheap when it comes to going out to eat, but with a little inside knowledge its easy to fill your belly without emptying your wallet

Photo by: MARTINA CLEARY

Regulars will travel across town for BKM’s signature fish amok.

Even a pauper can dine like a king in Phnom Penh

Tightening your purse strings while dining out in Phnom Penh doesn't mean searching high and low for non-descript cuisine detailed with flavourless tidbits.

There are enough cheap, good eats in the city to keep even the most fiscally conservative diner satisfied, and finding the capital's top wallet-friendly deals isn't too difficult if you know where to look.  

Making your money go further at Mama's restaurant isn't challenging by any means. One of the cheapest international eateries in the capital, its French-Khmer menu ranges from shepherd's pie to spicy curry with prices lingering around the US$2 mark. The homemade fruit shakes have attracted a small group of followers who wax lyrical about the delicious combinations at an affordable price.

Indistinguishable in decor from other Khmer-style eateries, Mama's is popular among expats, but you'd be forgiven for passing it by if you miss the discreet waist-level sign at 10C Street 111, just a few minutes walk from O'Russei Market.

On a similar note, but in a different part of town, Sinan Restaurant, just off the riverside, offers a range of international and local dishes for around $2. Whether you wish to whet your appetite on beef lok lak or stuffed aubergines, Sinan caters for your every need.

While the cafe may lack atmosphere, its formula is simple - cheap food, fast service, happy wallets. Equally as popular at lunchtime as it is in early evening, you are more than likely to bump into someone you know at this well-frequented budget haunt at 166 Street 13.

Just around the corner, and just as popular, Warung Bali offers a taste of Indonesia in one of city's busiest areas. This family-owned restaurant at 25E0 Street 178 is famed for its extensive, yet well-priced, menu; delicious, well-portioned Indonesian dishes range from $1.50 to $2.50. Its signature dish is the ayam bakar kecap Bali, chunks of chicken marinated in a homemade sauce.

Closer to the river is Famous Beef and Noodle Soup, serving Pho noodles for $2.50 and other Asian dishes for $3. Small and minimalist, this restaurant is extremely popular at both lunch and dinner time and customers often find themselves spilling onto the pavement for a spot of al fresco dining. It's located at 11 Street 178.

Taking a stroll away from the river and towards the lake, you will stumble across a fine selection of cheap eats on Street 93, otherwise known as Lakeside. BKM Cafe is a cosy, family-run restaurant offering the expected selection of Asian and Western dishes. While the humble owners do not boast about their menu, their customers certainly do. Regulars will travel across town for the in-house speciality, fish amok, and at $2.50 their efforts are worth it.

Customers are invited to choose their own music while browsing an extensive drinks menu, which includes a Long Island Iced Tea for $1.50 and a glass of house wine for $2.25.

Further down the strip, you will come across La Dolce Vita, but here the good life doesn't come with a hefty price tag. The menu offers standard Khmer cuisine, though it is the extensive range of pizzas and pastas that have customers coming back for more. American size portions of spaghetti Bolognese cost $3.50 and a Greek salad $2. A favourite among regulars is the steak, which comes with sautéed potatoes and vegetables and only a $4 bill.

Its neighbouring Tex-Mex cousin, Zorro, serves delicious all day breakfast burritos for $1.75 and a full breakfast for $3. Be warned - they close at 5pm, so get your order in early.

Of course a review of Cambodian bites on a shoe-string would not be complete without mentioning Restaurant Khmer BBQ, easily the best all-you-can-eat deal in town on the corner of Street 86 and Monivong Boulevard. For $6 if you are a foreigner or $5 if Khmer, you are invited to feast on crab, squid, prawn, chicken, beef and tofu in an indulgence session that can last for hours..

While the list goes on, hopefully this brief taster shows that those with a lighter wallet and a little know-how will find even a pauper can dine like a king in Phnom Penh.

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