Downtown dwellers in Siem Reap wanting to enjoy a relaxed country experience have been going to Bamboo Thicket restaurant since it first opened in 1979, attracted by its tranquil garden surrounds and delicious grilled chicken recipes which are famous among Khmer diners throughout the province.
Like its name suggests, Bamboo Thicket is tucked away inside a grove of 1,000 bamboo plants in Chhrey village near Baray Resort, a pleasant half-hour drive from Siem Reap town.
Tales of the magical food make locals curious and the scenic drive to the restaurant, which is made up of 20 dining bungalows spread out across a plantation of bamboo trees and rice paddies, serves to whet the appetite.
The raised bungalows offer a fine vantage point to observe the fish found in the paddies as they dart around, making it easy to lose 20 minutes gawping through the planks of wood which make up the floor of the dining area.
Bamboo Thicket’s menu is famous for its $12 whole grilled chicken, cooked with prahok, the pungent Cambodian fish paste, and fresh salad greens.
The owner Hern Heutt told 7Days that most local customers informally call his business “grilled chicken bamboo thicket”.
Hern Heutt opened the restaurant in 1979 after moving to Chhrey village at the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, and said Bamboo Thicket has grown in fame ever since, with more than 30 whole chickens sold to customers every day.
If Khmer chickens aren’t available in sufficient quantities, Hern Heutt says he prefers to close the restaurant rather than serve imported fowl.
“If there are no chickens at the market I will close my restaurant for a day. We need to use Khmer chickens that feed in a natural way, not those that are pumped full of chemicals or imported from Thailand,” he said.
When we walked into the kitchen, Hern Heutt’s cook was busy cutting and cleaning the chickens before marinating them in oyster sauce and seasoning each one with palm sugar.
After the chicken is properly spiced, the birds are placed five at a time inside a heated stove surrounded by firewood and charcoal and grilled gently before being plucked out of the oven and served to customers.
One Khmer customer was so eager to have his chicken that he barged into the kitchen to urge the cook to grill faster. While waiting to be served, he told 7Days that he had come from Phnom Penh to see Siem Reap’s temples before visiting Bamboo Thicket to unwind.
He said: “I have tried to come here many times but I’d get lost. I also got lost this time, but after asking people I finally reached my goal.”
It is a sentiment that many before him would readily agree with.