Khmers have a noodle fixation and it’s one that has defined the country’s diet for thousands of years. Most people eat them everyday in many varieties.
The staple food of hardworking Cambodians is a toss between rice and noodles. For a quick meal, it’s not uncommon to see people slurping a small bowl of nom banh chok.
“It’s like fast food for Cambodians,” says local university student Sothea Ines. “There are so many street carts that sell ‘mobile food’ such as noodles. It’s affordable and convenient to get.”
Here are four of Phnom Penh’s secret noodle haunts:
Many tuk tuk and moto drivers head to Café Ariya on weekends for two things: to watch kickboxing on TV and enjoy a hearty breakfast of Soup Mee Prahat (US$1.10), accompanied by a glass of iced coffee.
The delicious broth is served piping hot and chock-full of fresh bean sprouts, coriander, beef balls and egg noodles cooked to al dente perfection. For an extra bite, include small green chilies with every mouthful.
This noodle stall caters to ravenous early-risers. Business is especially brisk between Saturdays and Monday mornings. At least you’ll have no problems getting a ride back afterwards.
Café Ariya, corner of Street 2. Opens from 6.30am – 11.00am.
Some of the city’s best meals can be found in the heart of the Russian Market, but save room for the fried noodles.
Lok cha is a tasty concoction of short rice noodles, vegetables, strips of beef, coated with sweet, black soya sauce and stir-fried in a sizzling wok. The bare minimum – noodles and veggie only – costs US$0.75. Adding beef slices and an egg will set you back by US$1.25. What a steal at that price!
Simply put, “business is good,” says one shop owner, Koth Sawath, who sells up to 20 kilos of noodles everyday - an amazing amount.
Russian Market in the Toul Tom Poung district. Opens from 7am – 5pm
An establishment that’s almost as famous as Wat Botum is the adjacent noodle house specialising in nom banh chok.
The decade-old family business sells between 50 to 60kg of noodles each day. Piecing together my local guide’s broken translation, I gather that the shop is renowned for its fish-based (Prahok) yellow curry gravy made from lemongrass, turmeric root and kaffir lime.
Before tucking in, stir in the combination of banana flowers, mint leaves and cucumbers beneath the tangle of noodles.
Customers may opt for the unadorned version or request for Kari Nom Yah, which comes with pig’s blood jelly, liver and chunks of chicken meat (approx. US$1.40). Order a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice for a sweet finish.
The shop is known as ‘The Khmer noodle shop beside Wat Botum’, corner of Street 7 and Street 240. Opens from 2pm – 8pm
In an area well known for street-side snacks and fresh fruits, the amiable Madam Chor Wee has a loyal following. Afterall, she is the only vendor selling the popular Kari Nom Yah (US$1.25), and it’s halal certified.
Her homegrown recipe boasts the sweet distinction of chicken stock and curry paste that have been simmering for hours. It is the result of “practice makes perfect,” she says.
On a really good day, she earns up to one million riels (US$250) selling noodles, chicken porridge and homemade sweet desserts to polish off the meal.
My local guide tells me that on the same street, one can choose from bai sach chrouk (pork with rice), fried Chinese noodles and pong tia koon (fertilised duck embryo). However, the place for “best service” is still at Madam Chor Wee’s.
Street 182 and corner of Street 125, Orussey Market. Opens from 5pm – 12am
To contact the reporter on this story: Lareina Choong at [email protected]