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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - High-class chef serves MSG-free Khmer food

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Kouch Layhok, the young managing director at SeaStone Junction. Eliah Lillis

High-class chef serves MSG-free Khmer food

Opened last month, Tuol Kork Khmer-Chinese restaurant SeaStone Junction is targeting a specific niche of the local food scene – young residents concerned with their health.

The three-storey restaurant on street 257 is hoping to establish itself as a role model for other restaurants serving local food by employing a former chef from a five-star hotel and forgoing monosodium glutamate (MSG) as a flavour enhancer.

Kouch Layhok, the 21-year-old managing director of the restaurant, says MSG has been commonly used to season food in Cambodia, but, from his own observations, more and more people have been trying to avoid the chemical substance because they believe it is harmful to their health.

“It is believed that consuming MSG could lead to osteoporosis and many other diseases, and people try to cook without it, but many restaurants still add it to their dishes to make them tastier. We want to distinguish ourselves from them by not putting our customers’ health at risk,” he says.

While MSG allergies do exist, research has not proven harmful effects and it is still deemed safe for consumption by the United States Food and Drug Administration.

Klom Sokun, the chef of SeaStone Junction, who used to work in Sokha Hotel in Sihanoukville, says the “real deliciousness” of his food is produced by his special recipes and the high-quality ingredients, not by any chemical additives.

“The deliciousness is not the only quality that a good dish possesses. A good chef must take great care of the customers’ health, using only fresh ingredients and paying great attention to the hygiene,” he says.

Open all day, the restaurant’s breakfast options include varieties of noodle soups, rice dishes, and porridges, but its specialty is the SeaStone Chinese Noodle ($3.9), served with bean sprouts and fresh spinach, with meat options including beef, pork, roasted duck, meatballs, fish balls, seafood, innards and dumplings. The restaurant also offers imported coffee with fresh, not the typical condensed, milk.

The menu for lunch and dinner includes a line-up of Khmer and Chinese dishes, from fish amok ($3.7) to shark fin soup ($25). It also has Chinese herbal dishes such as the silkie chicken soup ($5.5), a blackened chicken soup prized for its medicinal value since the seventh century. The tender chicken is cooked for almost an hour with heshouwu (Chinese knotweed), red dates, ginger and garlic.

For vegetarians or Western-inclined customers, Seastone does have options, most of which are under $6.

With the interior mostly built from wood, and decorated with tropical plants and flowers, SeaStone Junction provides a comfortable oasis away from the bustle of the neighbourhood.

“While such decoration creates intimacy between the customers and the nature, plants and flowers are the natural air purifiers, the crucial factors of a healthy life,” Layhok says.

SeaStone Junction-Restaurant & Café is located on Street 257 at the corner of Street 218 in Tuol Kork district. It is open every day from 6am-10pm.

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