On Street 51 in Phnom Penh’s BKK 1 commune, a restaurant serving Malaysian food has become a popular place for locals and expatriates alike to have a bowl of its signature cendol, a mouth-watering Southeast Asian favourite dessert.
Eatery Chendul House has a bright yellow interior decorated with contemporary paintings, as well as photos of smiling patrons inside a green heart-shaped neon light.
Among the photos hung on the wall is that of a young woman serving cendol to children. Depicted is the founder of Chendul House, Sok Sokun Bopha.
Bopha, who is also a news presenter for Pnn-TV and an adventurous traveller with a passion for food, has visited Malaysia several times. Her craving for Malaysian food was the inspiration behind the food venture.
“At the beginning, I was thinking of opening a restaurant serving Thai food because it’s part of my heritage as my father is Thai. But having been to Malaysia several times, I realised that I like really this country, especially its environment and the business culture.
“Adding to that was the encouragement I got from my Malaysian friends, which gave me even more confidence to open this restaurant,” said the 23-year-old, who opened the restaurant six months ago.
All the dishes served at Chendul House are are halal, with all the ingredients and meat strictly sourced from the Muslim community.
She combines her cooking skills picked up from Malaysian friends and hours of practice on Youtube tutorial videos.
“I am grateful to have favourable working conditions [as a TV presenter] that help me to easily manage both my career and business. As my working hours start from the afternoon until night time, in the morning I’m able to commit to kitchen work in my restaurant.
“I cook most of the soups and sauce in the kitchen to ensure an authentic Malaysian taste is delivered to my customers,” said Bopha.
When she travels away from home, Bopha has her elder brother take charge of the kitchen and manage the restaurant, and has trained her employees in the art of Malaysian cuisine.
“My employees are trained in how to measure and put the pre-prepared ingredients for each order. Then, I help them to set up the tables for for the day before I leave for work at the TV station.”
Chendul House has a simple but traditional Malaysian menu: prawn mee ($3.50), assam laksa ($3.50), curry mee ($3.50) and Kuey Teow soup (available on Friday and Saturday only – $3). Diners who have a big appetite can opt for side dishes such as rojak ($2.50) and chicken satay ($3.50), with both only available on Sunday and Monday.
For drinks, Chendul House serves coffee, milk tea and fresh juice, with everything reasonably priced between $1 to $1.70.
The restaurant’s most popular dish, cendol, comes in three variations: original cendol ($2.50), cendol ice cream ($3) and cendol white coffee ($3).
Cendol is the Malaysian variation of the popular dessert found in many Southeast Asian countries. Most desserts in the region use rice flour jelly noodles, palm sugar and coconut milk as the main ingredients.
“To Cambodians, cendol is a new dessert which has a rich taste. It is the most popular dessert in my shop and Khmer people do enjoy it,” Bopha said.
Unlike Khmer Lot, which is usually served with only green rice flour jelly noodles, sugar syrup and coconut milk, cendol is topped with shaved ice, sweetened red beans, green rice flour jelly noodles and peanuts.
Green jelly noodles have a silky and chewy texture, with the red beans sweet and soft. However, the ingredient that gives cendol its distinctive scent is gula melaka (palm sugar) imported from Malaysia.
“When locals see cendol for the first time, they say ‘Ah, it’s the Cambodian dessert called Lot!’. After their first bite, they then say it’s different from Khmer Lot. They say cendol is exceptionally delicious,” Bopha said.
Even though she is having a tough time balancing building her career as a TV presenter and running her business, Bopha takes satisfaction and solace when customers enjoy her food.
“Expatriates and locals who crave for Malaysian food don’t need to fly [to Malaysia] just to enjoy the dishes. The food we serve here has the same Malaysian taste. As for the pricing, I can say it’s affordable with the lowest priced dish starting from $2.
“I have also received a lot of positive feedback from our customers as Chendul House has a cosy setting and good atmosphere. We are also Muslim friendly as our food ingredients are halal.”
Chendul House is located at 219, Pasteur Street 51, Boeng Keng Kang 1, Chamkar Morn District, Phnom Penh. It is open from 11am to 9pm.