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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Tunisian, Italian cuisines collide at new bistro

The restaurant’s Tunisian-style tuna steak.
The restaurant’s Tunisian-style tuna steak. Athena Zelandonii

Tunisian, Italian cuisines collide at new bistro

“Everything is a mix,” says 29-year-old Tunisian-American Aymen Ghali who, along with a trio of Italians, opened new bistro Mestizo last week in the capital’s Boeung Trabek neighbourhood.

The concept of the mestizo, a sometimes pejorative Spanish word to describe a man of mixed race, defines the menu that integrates food traditions from the Middle East to Latin America.

“These cultures, they’re connected with each other through food. You see mixing from the Mediterranean to the Middle East to Latin America,” says Ghali.

Open in the evenings with plans to expand to lunchtime hours in the coming months, the open-air locale is set in a garden with arching trees and framed by palm bushes.

A tall wooden bar is surrounded by couch and table-seating options and a small stage is built into a corner. The crowd is a mix of dreadlocks and suits, expats and locals.

“We’re going to do lots of events,” says Ghali, whose contributions to the menu last week were homemade hummus ($4), Tunisian-style tuna steak ($6) and Meshuia served with an egg and toasted flatbread chips ($4).

Appropriately, Mestizo’s dining is al fresco.
Appropriately, Mestizo’s dining is al fresco. Athena Zelandonii

“In Tunisia we call [Meshuia] a salad but it’s a dip of roasted garlic, eggplant, tomato and olive oil,” Ghali explains. “You don’t see that much of it in Cambodia,” he says with a laugh.

Siblings Martina and Roberto Traina from Palermo, Italy, conceived Mestizo with family friend and fellow Italian Giampaolo Chiarion, 56, and Ghali a year ago. Martina, 29, is in charge of the kitchen, Roberto, 36, takes orders at the bar.

“There will be fixtures on the menu, but we will have things that continuously change, next week I will be adding pastas and desserts, for example,” she said.

On the menu last week was the Sicilian meat-and-cheese filled fried rice ball specialty Arancine ($2). Being in Cambodia, however, adds to the hybrid theme. “We had to do it with a local rice variety,” Traina said.

“The idea is not to be a tapas bar, but something more recherché [exotic],” she added.

Mestizo is located at #114 Street 95. The restaurant is open Monday to Sunday from 6pm until 12am. Tel: 085 502 779.

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