The Korean-owned eatery serves up an unusual array of Chinese and Korean cuisine including the house specialty - black noodles, the quintessential Korean comfort food.
Phnom Penh's Bi-Ryong restaurant has a varied menu of Chinese and Korean dishes, but the Korean black noodles, pictured at left, is by far the house favourite.
Located deep in Korea Town just off Monivong Boulevard on Street 334, Bi-Ryong restaurant serves up an unusual array of traditional Korean and Chinese treats. Though the restaurant brandishes itself as Chinese, it is Korean-run and the menu features popular dishes from both countries catering to a variety of tastes.
However, it is the noodles with black bean sauce that Bi-Ryong is famous for. Appearing on the menu under its Chinese name zhajiang mien, this big bowl of food is called jajangmyeon in Korean, and Bi-Ryong restaurant chefs prepare the dish according to the traditional Korean recipe.
The dish, featuring thick noodles made from wheat flour, as well as onion, zucchini and meat or seafood in a black sauce made from roasted soybeans, is in fact considered by many to be Korea's answer to pizza.
As the sauce is difficult to prepare at home, a delivery industry similar to that of pizza in Western countries has developed around the dish in Korea, Yoonjung Garu Kim, a Korean NGO worker in Phnom Penh, told The Post last week.
The jajangmyeon is served in two bowls: a larger one with the noodles, and a smaller one with the sauce. While the sauce does not look particularly appetising, with its black colour and somewhat gelatinous consistency, once mixed in with the green-tinged noodles the whole appears more enticing.
As the sauce is difficult to prepare ... a delivery industry has developed around the dish in Korea.
It is once you tuck in, however, that you realise what the Koreans are going nuts for. Zhajiang mien, or jajangmyeon, whichever you think it is, is incredibly tasty. The sauce is sweet but not overpoweringly so, while the noodles are reminiscent of spaghetti.
The few bits of seafood or meat in the bowl can be difficult to find among the vast amounts of fried onion, but ultimately that matters little, as the sauce and noodles make for an unexpectedly yummy treat.
Similarly to its Western counterpart, pizza, the nutritional value of the dish is low, but it is filling and satisfying in exactly the same way.
At US$4 to $6, jajangmyeon is easily the most affordable item on the menu.
The rest of the Bi-Ryong menu is extensive and expensive. It features various dishes of sea cucumber in the $35 to $50 range, as well as unappetisingly sounding cold jellyfish for $20.
As is traditional in Korean restaurants, side dishes, or banchan, are served with every meal. However, merely a few of these were served at Bi-Ryong. Accompanying the meal were only small portions of kimchi, pickled radish, black bean paste and sweet onion.
In true modern Asian style, Bi-Ryong restaurant is lit by fluorescent lights and the air-conditioning is on full blast.
In the main room, the TV shows a Korean soap with English subtitles, suggesting the place is more of an eatery than a restaurant. However, the restaurant also offers a number of private rooms for those in search of an escape from the communal atmosphere.
The global recession has driven many Koreans to leave Cambodia for their homeland, or alternatively, to eat at more affordable restaurants than those run by their compatriots.
Bi-Ryong restaurant, and others like it, are thus significantly quieter these days, which is unfortunate as this subtracts from the atmosphere and allows the TV to take over.
That said, the owner at Bi-Ryong was so pleased to see a foreign customer that he wished to welcome me in person, while several of the Korean patrons complimented me on my choice of the Korean dish jajangmyeon.
Bi-Ryong (or Chinese Restaurant, as stated on its sign board) is open daily from 11:30am to 9:30pm.