Ellie Dyer, Monyneath Reth and photographer Rudi Towiro try out some Indian dishes at one of the capital’s vegetarian restaurants Coriander
Going vegetarian in Cambodia can be tricky, with meaty broths, fish-based sauces and snippets of dried shrimp sometimes sneaking into the most-innocent sounding veggie dishes.
But despite the enduring dominance of the Kingdom’s meat and fish lovers, there are a growing number of restaurants in the capital offering up purely vegetarian fare. One such eatery is Coriander Vegetarian Restaurant, set on a quiet, leafy street in BKK1, just one road away from bustling Monivong Boulevard.
Coriander’s simple yet welcoming interior features wooden tables, a green tiled floor and pink-tinged walls. Outside, a small garden area contains a couple of extra tables, thankfully sheltered by a canopy that kept out a fierce tropical downpour on our lunchtime visit.
Faced with the restaurant’s large selection of offerings – vegetarian pizzas and burgers sit alongside Asian-oriented options, all of which are proudly MSG free – we plumped for the appealing Indian choices. Given that country’s rich history of vegetarianism, with between 20 to 40 percent of its resident’s non meat-eaters, it turned out to be a canny choice.
First came two large cannon ball shaped samosas ($2.50), packed with peas and potato, accompanied by two dipping sauces – one with a sour piquant flavour, the other milder. Despite cumin seeds being clearly evident inside, the generously proportioned parcels were relatively plain in spice terms, but proved a satisfying snack.
Next arrived a selection of curries, recommended to us by the friendly waiting staff. Each dish was served in a silver bowl, with many sprinkled with the restaurant’s namesake herb. The eggplant masala ($4) was a creamy triumph, with generous chunks of roasted aubergine adding a new dimension to the well-spiced sauce.
We were told that the kadai paneer ($4) would be spicy, but to my taste buds it had more of a sweet and sour feel. Finely sliced onions and capsicum peppers formed the curry’s base, with lashings of paneer (Indian cheese curd) sprinkled throughout. The pleasingly tangy curry was especially good when eaten with Coriander’s warm, rounded chapati breads ($0.50 for one), but the restaurant also offers a diverse range of paratha breads, including a tomato and pickle version.
The palak paneer ($4), made with puréed spinach and cheese curd, was the blandest dish. Though perhaps a tad watery for my taste, it still came packed with paneer and was a nice contrast to the richer dishes on the table.
What set Coriander’s curries apart was their lightness – as opposed to many restaurants they were not swimming in ghee. The dishes packed a punch, but without the post-curry food coma. In short, I’ll be back.
21E Street 71, Phnom Penh
Tel: 088 996 9651
Open from 10am to 10pm