An eccentric restauranteur offers a taste of the simple life with gnocchi and wood-fired pizza
Sitting on a rudimentary wooden bench, under a giant tarpaulin, on a dimly lit street in Kampot wasn’t where I expected to have my next great bowl of gnocchi.
But, thanks to Diego Sanelli, an eccentric and humble Italian chef who runs the small street eatery Ciao on Street 722 behind the Old Market, it was my pleasure to be surprised.
For Sanelli, who hails from Pescara on the Adriatic Coast, location makes no difference: “Do you want to have the simple life, or do you want to pay a lot for rent?”
Sanelli is a traditionalist in the best sense of the word. He uses only fresh ingredients and simple recipes. To make his own pasta, he uses a machine, found in a market in the Philippines, which dates back to the First World War.
He learned to cook from his mother and grandmother in his hometown, and spent some time in friends’ kitchens before moving to Cambodia eight years ago, settling in Kampot in 2012.
On his menu are all the classics – ravioli, gnocchi and tagliatelle – made in his tiny kitchen, plus pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven. Sanelli adds an off-the-menu special each night to keep customers coming back.
The recipe has proved popular – by 9pm on a recent evening, the chef was already running out of pasta, which he usually makes at home before taking to the street to cook.
But the two servings of pesto gnocchi that remained did not disappoint. The bowl was small but filling, the gnocchi so soft it melted in the mouth and doused in a simple, rich sauce. The pizzas came slowly but were large, and well-balanced in flavour.
And the bill was another pleasant surprise – no item exceeds $4, and the pizzas are just $3.50 each. Every meal comes with complimentary bruschetta and plenty of charm from the easy-to-laugh Sanelli.
As I said ciao to Ciao, and to Sanelli, I couldn’t help thinking I had stumbled on a rare thing – food genuinely made with love.
Ciao is located on Street 722 between Old Market Street and the old bridge. The eatery is open each night from between 5:30pm and 6pm until about 10pm.