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USA Donut: Phnom Penh’s original doughnut shop. Kimberley McCosker

Where to get a doughnut fix

A Street 310 restaurant’s new midday meal deal offers something a little different for budget-conscious diners

Since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodians have opened doughnut shops by the thousands. Sadly for residents of the Kingdom, most are in California, where the Cambodian-owned doughnut shop has joined the ranks of the Chinese laundry and the Vietnamese nail salon as stereotypical symbols of Asian-American entrepreneurialism.
   
Fortunately, doughnut lovers back in the homeland can find three solid options for one of the tastiest treats ever to emerge from the land of the free (and overweight).

Any doughnut lover who hasn’t yet visited USA Donut ought to be ashamed – the current incarnation of the capital’s first doughnut shop to open in 1994, Phnom Penh’s stalwart option hasn’t lost its game.

Located in the heart of BKK1 near the corner of Streets 51 and 302, this minimart feels like a Los Angeles bodega catering to the local immigrant community, except catering to Westerners instead of Mexicans or Haitians.

USA Donuts’ centerpiece, of course, is its doughnuts. With the usual selection of glazed doughnuts ($0.75), doughnut holes ($1.25 a dozen) and bear claws ($1.25), USA Donuts doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel – don’t expect anything that could possibly be described as “boutique”, “experimental” or “artisanal” – but customers craving a traditional bite of that all-American glump of fried dough ought to be satisfied.

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Frosted treats from Big Apple Coffee and Donuts. Kimberley McCosker

And thanks to a recent revamp, customers can wash down their doughnuts with their preferred drink at the shop’s recently opened bar.

Aficionados looking for something more innovative must only walk up Street 302 to Big Apple Donuts and Coffee. Opened earlier this year with minimalist decor and assembly line-style customer service, this Malaysian chain has none of the simplistic charm of its neighbour and instead bombards customers with around 20 varieties of round pastries, some of which may only loosely be described as “doughnuts”.

With creative names like “The Boston Boy” (creamy custard with chocolate), and the spidery-looking “Alien” stuffed with chocolate chip dip, Big Apple Donuts and Coffee borrows the renowned creativity of its namesake for rather unusual – but delightful – inventions.

The franchise also includes the cutely named “Say Cheese” – stuffed with imported New Zealand cheese and white chocolate – and the “Tea Off” – flavoured with green tea chocolate and vanilla fresh cream. Six doughnuts go for $4.

Finally, Paul’s Brewhouse on Sothearos Boulevard (just south of the Royal Palace barricades) also entered the scene in 2013. Paul’s is the most Starbucks of the bunch with its wood paneling and decorative fountains, as well as a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the centre.

The flavour of the doughnuts ($1) is subtler than the other two, with less sugar, more butter and overall less fat. Like USA Donuts, there’s nothing particularly unusual on the menu, but eclair lovers beware: the eclair-shaped “chocolate twist” is nothing more than a horizontal doughnut ($1.25) – perfectly tasty, but with no cream filling.

Local bakeries across the capital often sell similarly shaped pastries marketed as doughnuts. But while not altogether false imitations, the Cambodian take on the doughnut tastes more of sweetened bread with a buttery aroma than the deep-fried glory of a proper US doughnut.

Tea Channy, founder of USA Donuts and former California doughnut proprietor during his days in the US, said true American doughnuts have yet to make their mark on Cambodian taste buds.

The Stateside ubiquity of Cambodian-owned shops, he said, was an economic accident – the low financial and high labour investment involved, he said, lent itself well to families accustomed to hard work.
He has hopes, however, that Cambodians, too, will fall prey to the doughnut’s sugary appeal.

“In Cambodia, I want people to see what is a doughnut,” he said.

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