Pounded fresh shrimp, fish head sour soup, grilled fish paste, pomelo salad, neem leaf salad, frog amok, Siem Reap teuk kroeung and giant taro sour soup are very common in most households in Cambodia.
This is why Angkea Dei Restaurant was established earlier this year. It serves traditional food for those who wish to enjoy together as families, friends and co-workers.
Long Bunhor, who owns Angkea Dei Restaurant, tells The Post that “we focus on daily food that Cambodian people have at home. The approximate 20,000 riel [$5] per person is not expensive since the average dish costs only 18,000 riel”.
The menu is not completed as it can be pretty exhaustive and most homemakers know how to prepare them. However, there are some local foods that many Cambodians have not seen or tasted.
“Fish head stuffed with ingredients is a rare dish that many restaurants do not list on their menu. Its ingredients are fish head, minced pork, glass noodle, soybean and fish belly.
“Roasted pest fish on chopping board is uncommon since pest fish, pork, Java Cola, thyme are minced and roasted on a chopping board. Pickle seedy banana with beef sausage and dried beef is rarely seen,” says Bunhor.
Grilled fish paste (prahok) on chopping board was inspired by how rural people always do it. They minced fermented fish paste on a chopping board, and Bunhor had it mixed with other ingredients to arrive at a better taste that is slightly different from the traditional dish.
“People grilled fish paste wrapped in banana leaves which they take to the rice field. Then they eat on a farm dyke together,” he says.
Angkea dei/, or Sesbania grandiflora, commonly known as a vegetable hummingbird, is a plant that Bunhor loved eating when he was young and what his mother cooked as a soup to cure his flu.
“When I was 14, I had a cold. My mother made soup with angkea dei for me, saying it could cure me. Of course, it relieved the symptoms. I believe that angkea dei provides more health benefits than our regular daily food,” says Bunhor.
At the restaurant, angkea dei trees and other fresh vegetable plants not only provide ample shade for parking but also as supplies for the main kitchen.
The ground floor of the restaurant, which can accommodate up to 50 people, is decorated with oxcart wheels hanging down from the ceiling. There are three VIP rooms for family dining and lunch meetings.
The first floor can serve up to 300 people, which suits the convenience of customers who wish to hold an event and enjoy services inspired by those provided in luxury hotels.
Rida Khong, his wife, and daughter sat for lunch at the restaurant during a weekend retreat. They chose to have their usual daily food outdoors after exploring the Bakheng Temple.
“We ordered mixed vegetable soup and roasted catfish with fresh watermelon as our dessert. The food here is good. Many dishes are the same as daily food in every Cambodian household,” says Khong.
“They are not different from food in rural areas, but just look more attractive with a garnish. Angkea Dei provides a good environment and delicious food prepared in hygienic conditions,” he says.
Bunhor says despite the restaurant’s classy look that matches that of a luxury hotel, its food is served at reasonable prices that suit even average-income families.
Mixed vegetable soup (samlor kakor), angkea dei soup and roasted catfish with ripe tamarind are among the most popular dishes at Angkea Dei.
“Other restaurants have simple local food on their menu and just decorate it with flowers to make it look great. But for food like roasted catfish with ripe tamarind, Angkea Dei uses side vegetables as a garnish,” he says.
Bunhor not only digs up traditional Cambodian food which he brings back to life, but he also adds more uncommon dishes in the menu. The idea, he says, is to remind people of the difficult time when they had barely anything to feed themselves with.
“Some food that we have dug up or is rarely seen in daily life brings back memories for our customers. Some told us that after the collapse of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, the giant taro sour soup and small fish soup, were the few food items they could afford.
“If we don’t breathe new life into our traditional food, it will be forgotten and eventually disappear. Our younger generations will not know about them.
“Amok, for example, was claimed by another nation as its own, causing controversy and discontent among Cambodians until we won an international competition with the US, Canada, Switzerland and Thailand. Cambodia won a gold medal and they recognised it as ours,” he says.
From then on, he says any country that gets amok in their lucky draw at any international competition is recommended to learn from Cambodia, where it originates from.
Bunhor, who is also president of the Cambodia Chef Association (CCA), has been leading Cambodian chefs and introduced Cambodian traditional food in international competitions since 2012. They returned with many prizes and medals.
“For frog amok, I won a gold medal and a gold prize in 2014. For guava salad, I won a silver medal the same year,” says Bunhor.
Angkea Dei Restaurant reopened on June 1 after closing its doors for two months due to the pandemic. Its co-owner Chea Viravann says the restaurant adheres to safety guidelines of the Ministry of Health to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Angkea Dei Restaurant is located on Tolaka road in Chonlong village, Sala Kamroeuk commune, Siem Reap town. For more information, visit its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/siemreaprestaurantangkeadey/ or contact number 012 576 805.