In one episode of hit TV crime series Breaking Bad, one of the Albuquerque-based characters, Marie Schrader, ponders whether Asians eat Western cuisine in the same way as she orders cheap American-Chinese takeout. “Do you think that Chinese people ever just feel, like, American, you know? Go out and get little take out boxes with mashed potatoes and meatloaf, and try to figure out how to use the little knives and forks?” she asks.
While most Asian capitals have Western options, one of Phnom Penh’s newest takeout eateries has realised Marie’s premise almost to the letter. Box, a new fast casual dining restaurant in BKK1, serves a variety of pasta meals in the small “oyster pail” cardboard boxes common throughout the Western world at inexpensive Chinese restaurants. The result is much the same at Box, with dishes ranging from spaghetti bolognaise to chicken curry served with penne. And much like its Western counterparts, the food is simple, quick and cheap.
The restaurant itself is located in a small storefront on Street 63. The interior resembles a coffee shop with counter-service and a miniscule eating area. This is an eatery that aims to quickly cycle through customers without dwelling on the dining experience. It is clean and stylish, but certainly not warm or romantic.
At the counter, we were each presented with a choice of six pastas, as well as white or brown rice. We chose from 10 sauces, including carbonara and pesto and local varieties like caramelised pork and stir-fried beef and onions. A regular-sized box costs $4.50, while a large costs $6, and guests can order a cheese topping for an extra $0.75.
The food came out fast, particularly so given that it was pasta – all six dishes were served in less than 10 minutes. The creamy chicken and mushroom spaghetti had no surprises, with a familiar cheesy taste. Same went for my friend’s pesto – quite good, but nothing memorable. Another ordered sweet chilli shrimp over egg noodles, which was tasty, but they scrimped on the shrimp, offering just two.
But the restaurant’s main appeal is not its novel cuisine but its convenience. While Phnom Penh is full of sit-down Western restaurants serving plates of the same overpriced Italian-American staples in opulent settings, Box skips the flash and provides the same dishes at far more reasonable prices. What Box lacks in style it makes up for in convenience – pasta lovers can now get their fixes fast and cheap anywhere in the city. No meatloaf or mashed potatoes just yet, but the American Chinatown concept of quick foreign grub may have some legs in the Kingdom.
Box is located at #238 Street 63, corner of Street 360. Open 8am until 9:30pm. 012 314 086