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Ambrosia's appetite

Ambrosia's appetite

Ponlok Special Soup Restaurant 323 Lenin Blvd. (next to Rock Hard Café)

Table for two: $5- $10

One of the most charming aspects of Phnom Penh are the rivers that flow alongside

the city, merging in front of the Royal Palace.

That's why it's great when a restaurant takes full advantage of a riverside location.

When it has good food as well, you've got yourself a fine place to eat.

The Ponlok Special Soup restaurant has some of the most special, special soup around,

albeit a bit pricey at 10,000 riels for two- but I must admit, I haven't protested.

I suspect they charge the up-and-coming Cambodian socialites who dine here, regularly

much less.

Fortunately, it's a good meal, even at twice the price.

If you're into music videos, this is one place in town that keeps them running to

distraction. They're mostly Thai karaoke songs, but every once in a while they'll

toss in Michael Jackson or other generic rockstars that one tends to lose touch with

after being in Cambodia for too long.

To order one of the specialties of the house-a fire pot soup-one must be able to

either flag the attention of the waiters who understand English, or say these magic

words: yao han.

If you pronounce this successfully, you will be brought a steaming pot of simmering

broth with a fire glowing underneath, into which you dump a mixture of raw beef,

squid, shrimp and beaten egg. (If you don't want to eat any of these things, just

leave them out: it's kind of cook-your-own soup, campfire style). Let the whole thing

stew around for a couple of minutes before adding your assorted veggies: cabbage,

bean sprouts, pineapple, lettuce, and mint.

You can let it cook away for as little or as long as you want before you start fishing

things out of it. Skill with chopsticks comes in handy, but a spoon will do.

I know what you're thinking: isn't that the same stuff I can get at any old streetcorner

hot pot stand? Well, no, Ponlok's broth has chopped peanuts and coconut milk in it,

giving it a smooth, nutty flavor. It's subtle, but peanut-butter crazed Americans

might want to check it out.

I know that after a hot, sweaty day in Phnom Penh, the last thing anybody wants is

a hot bowl of soup for dinner. But soon it will be getting cooler, and in a few short

weeks I'm sure some of you will be wearing long-sleeved shirts to dinner and complaining

about how it's too cold to go swimming. Soup season will be here.

If you tire of the hot pot, crab soup is another option at the Ponlok. This takes

patience and crab cracking skills, but it's tasty. Khmer crabs tend to be soft-shelled,

so tapping the crab with the heel of your spoon or giving it a gentle gnaw with your

teeth often does the trick.

If you're in a rush, Ponlok's Beef Luc Lac (cubes of marinated beef with garlic)

is easy to pronounce in Khmer and is among the best in town.

Be aware that the Khmer-language side of the menu doesn't always correspond with

the English side.

One thing that does correspond is the Chinese noodles with beef, a hearty and filling

plateful that's great for post-swim hunger pangs.

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