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Classic Khmer food served in an intimate bistro setting

Classic Khmer food served in an intimate bistro setting

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090603_21.jpg

Phnom Penh’s Kravanh restaurant serves reasonably priced mix of popular

Khmer dishes and more unusual regional fare in comfortable surroundings

Photo by:

Sovann Philong

Phnom Penh’s Kravanh restaurant serves artfully prepared and inexpensive Khmer dishes.

When foreign friends of Toan Sophie would ask her where to find good Khmer food in Phnom Penh, she was always hesitant to make a recommendation. Which place would be comfortable, clean, reasonably priced and representative of classic Khmer dishes? It was her lack of an answer to this question that eventually led her to open Kravanh with her sister and brother-in-law.

"When my sister and her family moved back to Cambodia from Southern France, they approached me with the idea of opening a restaurant," said Toan Sophie, while simultaneously greeting the flood of hungry lunchtime patrons pouring through the door. "I told them that what is missing here is typical Khmer food in a nice setting, but at reasonable prices."

Located in the Hong Kong Centre on Sothearos Boulevard, the intimate bistro-like setting exudes good taste, with dark wooden chairs and tables, original paintings depicting Cambodian daily life and elegant reed place mats.

At first glance, the restaurant might seem to be quite high-end, with its smooth lines, crisp air-conditioning, sleek modern plates and wine glasses at each place setting; but the artfully prepared Khmer dishes are actually a steal at only US$4-$6.50 a plate.

"My plan was not just to make money, but also to promote Khmer food," said Toan Sophie. "I want more people to taste Khmer food, and so I want to offer dishes at prices that everyone can afford."

My plan was not just to make money, but also to promote khmer food.

Mixed cuisine

The fare at Kravanh is a mix of popular Khmer dishes that can be found all over Cambodia, as well as a few dishes that are not commonly served in most Khmer restaurants.

Starters include Neang Lao, a mixture of sauteed ground pork with peanuts, wrapped in steamed sweet potato leaves, and served with crispy golden sheets of fried sticky rice, or the more commonly known pork spring rolls with vegetables, although grilled rather than deep fried.

"Normally spring rolls can be quite greasy, so we decided to grill them instead to cut out all the fat and make them healthier," said Toan Sophie.  

She explained that while some Khmer food is fried, most dishes are actually very natural and healthy, as they are made with fresh herbs and vegetables.

"If you freeze or refrigerate your ingredients, you lose about half of the taste, and then you don't get the true Khmer tastes and smells," she said.

Main courses at Kravanh rely heavily on fresh ingredients, as is evident with the popular nom banchok curry, a steaming bowl of rice vermicelli noodles topped with sizable chunks of sweet potato, eggplant, crunchy green beans and bean sprouts, julienne cucumber, and tender, juicy chicken literally falling off the bone, all swimming in a mild yellow curry broth.

Toan Sophie says that the most popular dish with Khmer visitors has been the Soup of the Forest, a spicy and hearty soup with sliced beef and fresh green morning glory in a slightly sour and tangy tamarind-flavoured base.

"In the future, I hope to include more regional dishes," said Toan Sophie. "For example, in Battambang they make a dish with fried honeycomb and bananas that is very delicious, and in Siem Reap and in some parts of the west, coconut cream is used quite often in curries and soups. But for now, we're just testing out popular Khmer dishes you might find anywhere in Cambodia."

Although the menu at Kravanh is truly Khmer, evidence of the time that Toan Sophie and her family spent in France is apparent from the simple yet discerning wine list, and the aesthetically pleasing, cosy wooden bar that offers a collection of fine spirits and aperitifs, freshly brewed coffee and various sodas and juices.

As snippets of jovial French conversation audibly blend with Khmer and English in the background, Toan Sophie reiterates her love for Khmer cuisine.

"I love to cook and our family loves to eat, so I hope that people will visit us and enjoy the true Khmer tastes that we love so much," she said.

Enjoy traditional Khmer cuisine in the elegant yet reasonably priced Kravanh at 110 Sothearos Boulevard.

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