Been there, done that; is the local dining scene getting stale? If
you're tired of seeing the same menus, and faces, try the nearest beer
garden for a change
Photo by: Heng chivoan
A worker at the Sovan beer garden grills beef Sunday in preparation for the night's customers.
The beer garden is a stable Khmer dining experience, but doesn't have to be the booze-soaked lech-fest that many people perceive it to be. A night out at the local joint is a great way to get to know the neighbourhood and some of the people living in it.
HAVE you ever been to Red Cow? How about XMen? (Both on the corner of Street 51 and Sihanouk Boulevard) How about Reatrey Soksan on Street 360?
For the foreigner in Phnom Penh the beer-garden scene is a whole new dimension to getting out and about.
There are clusters of beer gardens in both streets 484 and 360 west of Monivong Boulevard. For the upmarket experience (or for those who get jumpy out of BKK1) there's a new place in the garden of a villa on Street 51 at the corner of Street 352.
Another Street 51 favourite is Independence Monument (but the sign's only in Khmer) on the corner of 51 and 282. This one opens early as it''s also a carwash so you can have two authentic Phnom Penh experiences at the same time!
Beer gardens are cheap, a jug of beer is usually 12,000 riels (US$3), and a large bottle of beer is about the same. Don't drink beer? There's usually a selection of softies, some rather bizarre ones can be found out there. You're a wine drinker? Well look at where you are ... is it called a wine garden?
No, these places are male-friendly, noisy and often pretty dirty ... but they're a lot of fun. They're also a great place to improve your Khmer and get a taste of how Cambodians enjoy themselves.
The food is generally pretty simple, grilled and fried things mostly. My favourite is the ‘phnom pleung' - a gas ring with a dome-shaped hotplate sitting on top. You get either a plate of beef (with a raw egg) or seafood as well as lots of veggies and a bowl of what is called butter
- but is actually margarine. Then you proceed to fry everything yourself.
...THE BEER-GARDEN SCENE IS A WHOLE NEW DIMENSION TO GETTING OUT AND ABOUT.
However there's always a trail of hawkers coming through though, so if you fancy a toasted snake, a bag of crickets in fish sauce or some steamed peanuts in the shell with your beer you're in luck.
A lot of foreigners have problems with the "ice in beer" issue. As all the bottled beer is served warm you have to ask for an ice-bucket, so do you drink the first bottles warm or do you take ice?
Some believe that any ice is too much ice. I'm of the opinion that if you're planning a long session then ice in the beer is fine as it stops you getting wasted fast.
On the other hand, you can order jugs - or even towers. If you know you're going to do some serious drinking, particularly in a group then a tower is best - it stays cool and there's ice inside it.
Upmarket beer gardens have music, usually an electric pianist and singers. Some offer you the chance to sing too, but the English song-menu is pretty limited. You can request Khmer songs but you're expected to tip, and generally the standard of singing is pretty high.
It's not like private karaoke where anything goes, this is performance karaoke where a good voice counts for more than raw enthusiasm.
All beer gardens have beer girls who, well, they sell beer. The good saleswomen sits at tables and eggs on her customers to drink more and subsequently buy more from her.
As their monthly salary is around $35 they really need to push up sales as they earn a tiny commission on each bottle.
There's an unwritten understanding that you're not going to chop and change your brands during the evening - that's why there's a flurry of beer girls when you arrive, each showing you the laminated card of her brand and each basically wanting you to be her customer for the evening. She'll top up your glass and make sure that your orders are taken and dealt with.
Meanwhile there are also captains or floor managers around who are also willing to sit at your table for a chat, and the owner is also usually somewhere around.
None of this means you're obliged to entertain anyone, they just want to get to know their customers better to provide a better service, and practise their English at the same time.
Like anywhere, if you go back more than a couple of times you'll be treated better and better, though you may still be expected to buy beer from the same girl you bought from on your first visit.
So, despite the litter of tissues everywhere, the often unspeakable restrooms and the ubiquitous plastic chairs and wobbly folding tables, beer gardens are a great way to spend an authentic Cambodian evening in Phnom Penh.