As far as I know Phnom Penh isn’t widely regarded as a foodie’s paradise. And since it had been eight long years since my last trip to Cambodia, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the city’s food scene. Because I’m a vegetarian I was slightly nervous that Phnom Penh wouldn’t have much to offer other than rice and noodles. But after spending five days in the city, I’m happy to report that there is no shortage of fantastic restaurants and unique dining options in Phnom Penh.
From Lebanese dishes to street food to Khmer cuisine, I ate very well during my trip. Not to mention, being a vegetarian in Phnom Penh was an absolute cinch. So, for all of those travelers out there who love to eat as much as I do, here’s a smattering of what Phnom Penh has to offer when it comes to food:
I understand that gong to a Lebanese restaurant in Cambodia might be perceived as a bit odd, but that’s okay with me. This place was superb and quickly became my favorite eatery in the city. The baba ghanoush was some of the best I have ever tasted. It was so good I made a point to return there during my last day in town just to savor that creamy baba ghanoush one last time. The falafel wrap – which also happens to be slathered in hummus (extra points!) – was also delicious. It’s really hard to find falafel that’s actually prepared well, so I was impressed. Plus, it was a great deal – for the price of $3.50, the wrap was enormous and big enough to split.
The Kathmandu Kitchen
By some stroke of luck this Nepalese-Indian restaurant was located directly across the street from my hotel. This place is pretty unassuming but the food was great (and inexpensive)! I’m a huge fan of Indian food so I just kind of pointed to a random dish on the vegetarian section of the menu and was not disappointed. The deep-fried veggie momos (dumplings) were addictive and the sweet and creamy iced coffee was ridiculously good.
I ate here during my first night in town. I was starving and the menu had an extensive vegetarian section, so that pretty much sealed the deal for me. Anyone who has traveled to Cambodia has inevitably tried amok, one of the country’s national dishes. Amok is a coconut milk-based curry that’s steam-cooked in a banana leaf. It is typically prepared with fish or meat but since I’m a vegetarian I missed out on amok last time I was in Cambodia. As soon as I saw that there was a veggie (i.e. egg) version of it on offer at Bojangles, I was sold. I wouldn’t say this is the best restaurant in town, but it has a wide selection of local and western fare. It’s budget-friendly and it also happens to be a great spot to enjoy some happy hour beers on the river.
New Season Indian Restaurant
It’s no secret that I’m crazy about Indian food. Day in and day out I would walk past the handful of Indian restaurants that are sprinkled along the riverfront. It was inevitable that I would indulge at some point…and indulge I did. The thing that I love about Indian food is that there’s almost always a designated vegetarian section. I have the freedom to point to whatever I want and not stress about whether or not I’m going to find chunks of meat in my meal. The dipping sauces – mint chutney, sweet tamarind sauce and some mystery sauce that was seriously spicy – were something special. And the kadai curry at this place was particularly awesome.
Random street pizza
I have no idea what this pizza place was called but it was basically a couple of guys who had set up a portable wood fired pizza oven outside of a convenience store. It was a little pricey for my taste (think $6 for a plain cheese pizza) but it was damn good. Coupled with a beer, it was pretty much the perfect late-night snack. And, no, it was not a ‘happy’ pizza place. I successfully avoided all things happy this time around.
During the weekends there is a great little night market set up near the riverfront. It’s a nice mix of tourists and locals and it’s a great spot to do some people watching, shopping and eating. When it comes to cheap eats there are tons of options at the Night Market, especially if you’re into grilled meat and fish. As for this vegetarian? I found a cheap stall that served up heaping platefuls of veggie rice and noodles for $1.50, bought a beer for $.75 and took a seat on one of the straw mats laid out on the ground. It’s not fine dining but if you’re on a budget the Night Market is a great place to fill up. If you happen to be in Phnom Penh on a weekend, I highly recommend coming here.
The Central Market is the perfect place to buy some cheap street food and snacks. I’ll go into more detail about Phnom Penh’s markets in a future post, but this market really does have it all, from fruit to seafood to things I couldn’t even attempt to identify. It’s a great place to sample some unique foods or pick up cheap snacks for one of those long Cambodian bus rides.
And the things I didn’t eat…
What do you think? Does Phnom Penh look like it’s a good city for eating?