Two new noodle shops in Siem Reap are luring local eaters with novelty, affordability and respectable noodles
Siem Reap has long lacked good noodle shops of the sort that are ubiquitous in cities across Thailand and Vietnam. While there are plenty of market stands, street corner stalls and rustic eateries offering Cambodia’s quintessential breakfast rice noodles, kuy teav and num banh chok, they’re not the sort of spots that hold diners for much longer than it takes to finish the bowl.
What the city has been missing is the kind of noodle shop you can smell on approach, where fragrant aromas from pots of simmering stock, made overnight, waft into the street, where aromatic soups are continually being ladled and woks are constantly on fire. They’re the type of places you want to linger with an iced coffee or cold beer to watch the cooks at work.
I think that’s the kind of place that Or Sereymony (“Mony” for short), owner of the 10-day old Mony and Noodles, behind Angkor Trade Centre, would like to have, too.
A recent returnee from Phuket, where he worked at Thanyapura resort for three years, the friendly Mony began his 16-year old hospitality career as a waiter at Raffles working his way up to food and beverage director, with stints at Hotel de la Paix and Sofitel.
Mony and a relative are on the stoves in the small open kitchen at the rear of his noodle shop; however, his background is in service, so he brought an executive chef friend from Thailand to give the nine noodle dishes on his menu the finesse they needed, with tricks such as adding winter melon to the stock to make it sweeter.
Mony’s kuy teav is easily one of the best in Siem Reap. Waking up in the wee hours to start the stock each day, Mon is making a good, clean, peppery broth that’s perfectly seasoned.
Topped with moist pork slices, pork mince, crunchy pork skin, and sprouts, it would be very moreish if servings weren’t so large.
Unfortunately, the woks weren’t on fire, so while the pad Thai was terrific – the prawns tasted market-fresh, rather than frozen – and was prettily presented with lime, peanuts, chilli flakes and Chinese chives on the side, the dish lacked the smokiness of a great pad Thai that’s been rapidly fried over super-high heat.
Other dishes on the refreshingly short, affordable menu (prices range from $1.50-$4 for ample servings) include Khmer curry noodles, Vietnamese pho, Korean bibimguksu, and Thai tom yum soup and boat noodles.
Tiny bowls of Thai boat noodles (kuai tiao ruea) are the only dish offered at the compact, no-menu Nine Bowls noodle shop near hip Hup Guan Street. Owned by a Thai entrepreneur, the busy little eatery is run by the welcoming Phnom Penh-born Van Ada, who moved to Siem Reap to open what’s quickly become a must-try spot.
Where Mony and Noodles has a clean, functional all-white interior, Nine Bowls boasts the minimalist style of Malaysia’s Nine Bowls chain, with its pendant lamps, wooden furniture, and striking graphic on the walls.
Those familiar with Phnom Penh’s Eight Boat Noodle chain, soon to open in Siem Reap, will know exactly what to expect.
Ada also gets up early to make the spicy, vegetable and pork blood stock that gives Thai boat noodles their rich, complex flavour – all three 50-litre pots of the stuff. Since Nine Bowls opened four weeks ago, it’s sold hundreds of the mini bowls a day – some 1,000 bowls on the busiest day – mostly to Cambodians.
While boat noodles have traditionally been served in little bowls, primarily for safety and ease – because they were originally sold from small narrow boats on Bangkok’s waterways – customers appear to be coming for the novelty more than anything, competing to see who can consume the most bowls.
Both eateries are welcome additions to Siem Reap’s casual dining scene, however, the city is still lacking the sort of noodle shop that has you coughing from the chillies frying and salivating as you watch the noodles being plated – even after you’ve just polished off a bowl.