Phnom Penh's 'Bites Restaurant' draws hungry regulars with its varied
and reasonably priced assortment of traditional Malaysian halal dishes
Bites Restaurant opened after owner Tina’s packed lunches for husband Raaj drew attention and acclaim.
Nestled amongst a plethora of bicycle shops and guesthouses on bustling Street 107 is a small restaurant that draws customers with its reasonably priced, traditional Malaysian cuisine, prepared according to strict halal standards.
All meat products used at Bites Restaurant - excluding pork or pork products, which the restaurant does not offer - come from Phnom Penh's Russey Keo district, where they are prepared by local Cham Muslims.
Meat used at the restaurant is authenticated as a genuine halal product with a certificate from the local mosque, stamped by the mosque's imam.
Halal is an Arabic word meaning "lawful or permissible" according to Islamic law, and when it comes to food, there are strict rules as to what can and should be consumed.
Basically, this means that all animals must be slaughtered humanely in an outdoor area and then meticulously cleaned. Pork or pork by-products are strictly forbidden.
Seafood is considered halal, or not haram, which is the opposite of halal.
Bites Restaurant began as the brainchild of husband-and-wife team Raaj and Tina Singh, and a 10-year veteran halal chef, Ada.
"In the beginning Tina, who has been cooking halal food for about 10 years, would often cook lunch at home and bring some to me at work," said Raaj, who also teaches at a private English school.
"People at work began noticing the quality and variety of the food she brought and started placing orders. Pretty soon, Tina was selling up to ten tiffins [four-tiered tin lunch boxes] a day."
At that time, Ada was also catering from home, mainly to casinos and local businesses in and around Phnom Penh.
As Tina and Ada had worked together previously in a Malaysian halal restaurant, and both were becoming busier as demand for their food skyrocketed, it seemed natural to join forces and open a full-service restaurant and catering operation.
"At first our target customers were travellers, as many people who travel like to try different types of food, and we thought they would enjoy our diverse menu," said Raaj. "However, after almost two years in business, our clientele is now mainly local expats from all over the world, vacationing and resident Malaysians and Singaporeans looking for a taste of home, and local Chams and Khmers."
On the menu
The name Bites refers to the idea of having a bit of everything.
While the restaurant serves food and drinks from many different countries, it is the vibrant Malaysian and Singaporean hawker food as well as traditional Khmer dishes in which chefs Tina and Ada excel.
Typical offerings on the menu include rendang, which consists of either beef or chicken slowly cooked in coconut milk and spices until it is tender enough to fall off the bone, fluffy roti bread known as roti chennai served with a homemade red curry sauce, and a rich and savory fish-head curry.
When asked what the most popular dish at Bites is, Tina answered without hesitation, "Definitely nasi lemak".
Often referred to as Malaysia's national dish, nasi lemak is a combination of coconut rice, roasted peanuts mixed with small, salty, dried fish, cucumber slices, boiled egg and a mildly spicy shrimp paste sauce. Included is a side of fried fish, chicken, or beef, or a choice of rendang.
Topping off the drink menu is the renowned teh tarik, known as "long tea", a mixture of strong black tea and sweetened condensed milk, poured back and forth between two containers before being served to obtain a thick, foamy head and a perfectly balanced flavour.
Bites is located at 240B on Street 107 and is open from 7:30am to 10pm daily.