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Hopes for culinary longevity ride on monster subs, monastic stew

Hopes for culinary longevity ride on monster subs, monastic stew

Two new restaurants are using different approaches to meet the city’s craving for hearty wholesome food, but both look likely to become permanent fixtures on the Phnom Penh scene

Photo by:

SOVANN PHILONG

Fatboy’s sub and sandwich ordering system avoids cross-cultural communications complexities.

This is the most wholesome home-cooked food I've eaten

in Phnom Penh.

Amidst the swirl of hype, confusion and drama surrounding the Phnom Penh restaurant world, with rumours flying about which gourmet eatery will be forced to bite the dust first in this brave new world of economic miasma, two new establishments have recently opened that will warm the hearts of those who enjoy simple yet wholesome cuisine.

More than a handful of the capital's residents have been waiting for the Fatboy Sub and Sandwich Shop to open since the days of UNTAC.

Why it took so long remains a mystery, but the fact that this American-style sub shop is now up and running has been a cause for celebration in several quarters already.

With the motto "build it your way", Fatboy is the brainchild of Al Schaff.  Drawing on the genius and efficiency of a General Motors assembly line (before GM lost the plot), Schaff has set up a sub and sandwich ordering system that avoids cross-cultural communications complexities.  

There's no need for any menus with photos or cryptic entrée descriptions bearing seven unpronounceable adjectives in Esperanto.  

Just stand at the counter and point. Which sub: basic, combo or hot? Which bread: Italian or multigrain? How big: 6-inch or footlong? Which cheese: four choices? Which veggies: eight choices? Which sauce: 12 choices?

Schaff, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, said that, so far, his roast beef sub was one of the top sellers and the Cajun chicken and meatball subs were moving nicely as well.

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON

Rumiana Ivanova offers a variety of heavenly Bulgarian dishes at the Victoria Pub and Restaurant on Street 172.

"We try to use the best ingredients we can find," he said, noting that Lanzi at Danmeats was the source of his imported turkey cold cuts and smoked ham.

The fact that Fatboy was only open from 11am to 6pm was a source of frustration for several sub junkies, but since June 10 that hurdle has been removed and closing time is now 11pm, Monday to Saturday.

There have been a few grumbles from customers, with one saying that Fatboy's potato salad has too much mayonnaise and another noting that the Malaysian chips were subpar.

But these are small trifles for what this totally biased reviewer hopes will be a permanent fixture in the capital from now on. Find it at 124 Street 130, near Sharky Bar.

Rumiana Ivanova, and her then three-year-old son Mitko, moved to Phnom Penh in 1981 when her husband was posted to the Bulgarian Embassy here.

Mitko has been here most of the time since and, having met and married Tong Samphos, looks set to be around for the long haul.

Together, the three of them have opened the Victoria Pub and Restaurant at 8 Street 172, between Street 51 and Norodom Boulevard.

It offers a variety of traditional Bulgarian dishes, some of which are heavenly.

"They have the best bean soup in the world," said Tom O'Connor, a restaurant aficionado who helped bring fame to the FCC and Metro cafe, and who is now working on another hush-hush eatery plan, the details of which he is reluctant to reveal.

Ivanova says she uses a variety of spices including dill and two "secret ingredients" she imports from Bulgaria.

Whatever they are, the taste of the pork stew monastery style, a special dish Christian monks eat after fasting during Lent, is superb.

Anybody who has ever tried Greek food will recognize the shopska salad, only you won't find cubes of feta cheese.  Instead the cheese is shredded on top of the vegetables.  "That makes all the difference," Mitko said.  "It just tastes better."

The moussaka Bulgarian style is worth a go and the baklava will test anyone's resolve to try and count calories.

Overall, Tom O'Connor summed up what this reviewer felt as well when he said: "This is the most wholesome home-cooked food I've eaten in Phnom Penh."

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