Malis is a top-end restaurant serving Cambodian cuisine that is beyond the budget of interns and all but a handful of Cambodia’s population, but it also offers a boutique breakfast that even backpackers can afford: it starts at US$1.80.
Sitting on one of the busiest streets in town, Malis’ palmed garden didn’t seem noisy at all. The emerald pond calmed the ambience, and the colonial-style copper ceiling fans slowed down time, creating a sense of serenity just a stone’s throw away from Norodom Boulevard.
We sat down beside the pond. Contrary to the packed dinnertime, only four parties of guests were enjoying the morning in the garden. Two of them were alone, sipping green tea served in antique Japanese-style black ceramic cups.
The tea tasted mild to my Chinese tongue, but was still a fragrant morning refreshment.
My Singaporean colleague was obviously more interested in the square-shaped teacups, and the plates made of stones or sugar palms piled up on window cupboards. They are both for decoration and for sale, our friendly waitress Sun Nyla told us.
Nyla dispensed cutlery from two wooden boxes: soup spoons, chopsticks and a fork for my colleague’s Malis noodle soup combo ($3.80), and a fork and spoon for my Lort Char combo ($3.80).
Drizzled with green onion and carrots, the eponymous noodle soup did not disappoint. Its prawns and minced pork relish, but the noodles are the true delight: delicate and smooth, but never over-soaked or easily broken. I’ve had it three times and its consistently first rate.
My new discovery on this week was the Lort Char – short noodles and fried beef in a fresh omelet, with bean sprouts on the side.
“You foreigners always call this ‘noodle’, but noodles are long,” Nyla corrected me. She encouraged me to add the “special sweet and sour salty sauce”, which is translucent and as perfect as its alliteration when translated into English. Nylya also insisted I add a dash of chili.
Following her instructions on the proper way to dine, I sliced the omelet and blended the dish into a salad style. The beef chunks were a bit overdone, but I have to admit I’ve made a possibly permanent switch from the house noodles to Lort Char – perhaps it this was the result of my fondness for alliteration and piquant chili.
Then came the dessert of the day – sweet red bean and tapioca soup. It was a bit more than sweet for a South China-raised girl craving her hometown dessert. To my surprise, the soup was not watery at all like many foreign varieties, but quite thick with slightly frozen red beans and smooth tapioca.
Both of my colleague’s ice coffee and my lemon juice were decent, but I felt more like green tea after the dessert. Nyla said she saw the most packed dinners on weekdays, but the busiest breakfasts are always on weekends.
“The breakfast and dinner have different feelings,” she explained. People just sit here in the mornings, gazing out at the pond, feeling the surprising tranquility in a chaotic district, and killing the time in the semi-open Bali-style resort building.
While tourists usually go for Malis Noodle Soup Combo with the soup, drinks, baguette and dessert, Nyla said locals prefer fish congee ($2.80): fresh fish, slowly boiled in watery rice.
At the end of the delicate but inexpensive morning treat, I got an insider tip from Nyla: some real specialties are actually off the menu! Local Khmer who know the secrets order items such as frog-leg congee – which sounded juicy and tasty.
Prices of the breakfast items start at $1.80 before tax, and most combos (main course with various drinks and dessert of the day) are $3.80. Single items, including the off-the-menu frog leg congee, costs $2.80.
Malis is at 136 Norodom Blvd, and breakfast is served every day from 6:00am to 10:00am.
To contact the reporter on this story: Xiaoqing Pi at [email protected]