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MY PHNOM PENH: MICHAEL ‘BIG MIKE’ HSU

Mike Hsu
Mike Hsu has worked as a chef, restaurateur, talent scout and investment banker over the course of his globe-hopping career.

MY PHNOM PENH: MICHAEL ‘BIG MIKE’ HSU

A Phnom Penh resident for the past 18 years, Mike Hsu has worked as a chef, restaurateur, talent scout and investment banker over the course of his globe-hopping career. This week, he shared his itinerary for first-time visitors to the city.

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Phnom Tamao
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is a wildlife resort run by Wildlife Alliance. Their mission is to protect and take care of the existing wildlife in the shrinking Cambodian jungles: they’ve got a rescue team to find poachers who are coming across the border. They also have an elephant called Lucky who developed a skill at Phnom Tamao: if you give her a bunch of bananas, she’s so happy, she takes her trunk and puts it into all the different coloured watercolours and paints with it. I have one of her pictures at the top of Sharky Bar. There aren’t really any cages, except a kind of cage for the tiger – which is probably a good idea. I don’t believe in cages after living in Nairobi. Phnom Tamao is only an hour or so south of Phnom Penh, but not many
people make it out there.
Phnom Tamao is located about 40km southwest of Phnom Penh. Web: wildlifealliance.org

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Black Bambu
I love Black Bambu restaurant partly for its aesthetic: it’s got this pure white colour, and the finest marble imported from Italy. But equally, I love what they’re doing for the Khmer people – it’s a vocational training school for young talented Khmers who are interested in cooking to become international chefs. That part’s not in your face, which is what I love about it. My friend Al Schaff – I don’t mind full disclosure, he’s also my business partner in Sharky Bar and Fatboy Subs – he takes incredible pride in his cooking. It’s Asian fusion, so the local taste with a French and Italian accent to it. It really works, and they serve great craft beer by Cerevisia. The place is undiscovered, which makes it even better.
Black Bambu is located at #29 Street 228. Web: black-bambu.com

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The Protein Shop
I’m seeing the demographic tide in Cambodia changing quickly with the trend towards increased self-care and fitness. There’s a place now called The Protein Shop, it opened a few months ago near the corner of Street 278 and Street 51, and it sells supplements: pre-workout, post-workout, as well as clothing and accessories. It’s the first of its kind in Cambodia, and something I’ve been looking for for a very long time because I normally bring my own supplements with me from the States. I guess you can get them in pharmacies here, but they’re not very nutritious, so The Protein Shop has really hit the nail on the head. If I were to start doing business over here, that’s what I’d do business in.

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Little Tokyo
Little Tokyo [‘Kizuna Street’ on Street 63] is a very interesting collection of Japanese restaurants. Himonoya is one of my favourites – it’s an excellent Hokkaido [northern Japanese] style restaurant specialising in salted fish, chicken, and interesting Japanese salads, with an excellent list of reasonable sakes and shochus. It’s a bit pricey, but high quality and good value. You get really specialised types of food in that area, but it’s not a place that many people are exposed to: when they talk about Japanese food, they talk about sushi bars, which are good but very ordinary. There’s one nightclub in Little Tokyo as well, hidden away, but they don’t allow non-Japanese to be there from what I understand, because their English is so limited. I’m going to ask my Japanese manager to take me there.

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Old Market
If I had a visitor, I would take them to Chas [Old] Market – the oldest market in the northern part of town. It’s a wet market all day, but the best time to go for anything live is before noon. Actually, you should go before 8am when the sun is just coming up, and it’s extremely lively, because all the good restaurateurs will send their buyers there for local ingredients very early. It’s just like old Bangkok used to be in the 1970s and ’80s: fish still moving about, the crabs yakking away and the mussels still opening their jaws. If you get there after noon, they’ll all be dead. A lot of the market burned down in a fire back in November. They’ve rebuilt it, but it’s the old bit I like – it’s got a very different feel to it. I used to be a fishmonger in New York, and I had to get to the fish market at 3am every morning to queue before it opened. I was just a small little nobody back then but I used to know all the fishermen – it was nice.
Chas Market is located between streets 108 and 110 near Riverside.

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