As a venture started by two friends with the aim of bringing a variety of Thai food at reasonable prices to Phnom Penh, De Map welcomes Miguel Jerónimo and photographer Enric Catala for a friendly lunch in its cosy environment.
As we enter the intimate and cosy room of De Map restaurant, we are met with marine-blue walls, hip wooden furniture, and wide smiles and friendliness from the staff.
The founders – young Cambodian friends, Heng Chamraeun and Keo Lykoun – were college classmates, who shared a common passion for Thai food. Determined to launch their own restaurant, they quit their jobs to start their first entrepreneurial adventure.
Chamraeun grew up in Koh Kong, near the Thai border, with cuisine from the country playing a prominent part of his childhood, as he delved into the variety of dishes available from across the border.
He cites the world-famous dishes everyone knows and loves – pad Thai, tom yum soup, green curry and spicy papaya salad, som tam – which are included on the extensive menu that takes in 43 dishes. As a bonus, they all come with a reasonable price, with the average meal being $2 to $3.
Our attention was grabbed by the lanh nah with pork or seafood, a form of crispy noodles, which Chamraeun says is quite uncommon to find in Cambodia, the chi chhay seaweed soup, the century eggs, the chicken soup with coconut milk or the lab, spicy minced pork from Isaan province.
One of the stars is the fried octopus with egg salad (15,000 riel), but the salad that made our taste buds fall in love was the glass noodles with shrimp, pork, octopus and vegetables – spicy and fresh at the same time due to the generous portion of parsley.
For some hot goodness, the spicy pork rib bone soup is a nourishing option, and for those looking to fill their belly, the kopi fried rice (10,000 riel) fills the requirements. It combines sweet pork, green mango, pineapple, onions, dried shrimp and slices of omelette, all cooked with a twist using kopi, a fermented shrimp paste that is Thailand’s equivalent to the Cambodian fish-based prahok.
As snacks, we recommend the fried shrimp or fish balls with red paste, both making you feel you’re on a street-food stall on a Bangkok street. Other options are kopi with vegetables to dip or the fried chicken wings which are marinated in a delicious home-made sauce (12,000 riel).
As a side dish, we had a corn salad, which was simple but filling with vegetables, dried shrimp and fresh chili (6,000 riel).
Enjoy it while drinking a delicious red lemon tea (3,500 riel) – it’s as Thai as you can possibly get – or one of the mojito mocktails if you have a sweet tooth (blueberry, orange, kiwi, peach or strawberry are the main flavours).
The duo often go to Bangkok in search of more recipes and this month 20 more dishes will be added to the menu, including fried frog with spicy red paste.
“Some people say if you have a restaurant with tastes people are not used to the business will fail, but we don’t believe in that, we want to focus in new experiences,” says Chamraeun.