Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - At Café Dei, meats are served steamed, grilled and deep-fried, bringing an experimental twist



At Café Dei, meats are served steamed, grilled and deep-fried, bringing an experimental twist

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A chef prepares glazed stuffed chicken in a clay-pot oven. Eliah Lillis

At Café Dei, meats are served steamed, grilled and deep-fried, bringing an experimental twist

Sarath Sokchan, the chef of Tuol Kork’s Café Dei, takes a mentality of constant experimentation and innovation into the kitchen.

His research and years of culinary experience have resulted in a repertoire of well-known specialties, which typically involve unusual cooking methods, such as the use of bamboo tubes and clay-pot ovens.

Sokchan started his career working as an assistant in a kitchen in a small restaurant in Phnom Penh when he was just 12 years old. Within three years, he was promoted to chef. Longing to learn more about cooking, he moved to work in a restaurant in Thailand, where his knowledge of regional cuisines expanded.

“I learned that Southeast Asian cuisines, especially Cambodian and Thailand, have many unique ways of cooking,” Sokchan says. “[These methods] provide a unique flavour, but are mostly only practiced by some households in the countryside and in the mountains [in Cambodia and Thailand].”

When Café Dei was opened in December last year, Sokchan introduced his uncommon cooking styles to the restaurant. His processes mainly focus on putting seasoned meats, including fish, beef, and chicken, in a bamboo tube instead of aluminum foil, and then grilling it.

“I find that bamboo could not only give a special sweetness and aroma to the food but also be an attractive way to decorate the dishes,” he says. “I have been testing this method with different meats and ingredients, which result in surprisingly pleasant tastes.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The snakehead fish cooked inside bamboo. Eliah Lillis

Sokchan also smokes seasoned meats inside a clay jar, which, according to Sokchan, can cook the meat “from the inside”, adding tenderness and preserving the flavour.

The most popular dishes at Café Dei are the Grilled Fish in Bamboo Tube ($7.5), which consists of a snakehead fish grilled for 20 minutes in the tube and served with tangerine sauce, num banh chok (Khmer noodles) and spinach, tomato, bean sprout, and cucumber. The proper way to handle it is by putting a bit of everything on one of the spinach leaves, then dipping it in the tangerine sauce.

Customers also turn to the popular Chicken Smoked in a Clay Jar ($15), seasoned with a special-made gravy and served with steamed rice, and Moan Lak Kloun ($20), a deep-fried whole chicken wrapped in sticky rice, both of which are enough for three people.

Besides the food, Café Dei provides a spacious and art-filled environment. Its three storeys are covered with modern and contemporary paintings and photographs. The idea for the decoration comes from Ean Dollar, one of the four owners of Café Dei, and an enthusiastic art collector.

“Sokchan’s skill and talent are extraordinary, but we do not want our restaurant to be well-known only for its food,” Dollar says. “We want the customers to feel that they are eating in an art exhibition hall, where they could enjoy the delicious tastes and the beauty of art.”

Café Dei Restaurant is located in Tuol Kork on #20 Street 590, Phnom Penh. It is open every day from 6am-11pm. Tel: 015 859 959.

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants