Marissa Carruthers and Lyda Long sample the flavours of the globe without stepping foot out of the Cambodian capital. Photography by Charles Fox.
From the icy chill of Russia to the extreme heat of Cambodia, Irina Godlevskaja, the owner of eponymous Irina’s restaurant, was one of the first to introduce the flavours of the sprawling country to Phnom Penh when she moved here 20 years ago. Described as comfort at its finest, food from Russia and the former Soviet Union is concocted to keep shivers at bay. “A lot of the food is made to warm you up. It’s heavy and there’s lots of meat and vegetables,” she says. “It’s made in the cold with warm hearts.” Signature dishes include the beetroot-based soup borsch, meat-filled pelmini dumplings with vinegar and sour cream, and Georgian cheese pies washed down with a shot of vodka.
Try: Irina’s at 22 Street 29. Tel: 012 833 524.
Pakistani food is renowned for well-blended tastes and rich flavours. Despite displaying similarities to Indian food, the cuisine varies in that the majority of the dishes contain meat, as opposed to the frequently vegetarian dishes of India. As a predominantly Muslim country, traditional dishes do not include pork, but are heavy in other meats, vegetables and spices. Majid Wazir, owner of Phnom Penh’s Saffron restaurant, says, “Pakistani people take hospitality very seriously and that can be seen in the food. There are often many courses and many tastes.” Staple ingredients include chilli, black pepper, turmeric and salt. Great Pakistani dishes include aloo keema, chicken masala and dal, a soupy lentil sauce.
Try: Saffron at 11 Street 278. Tel: 012 247 832.
Nepalese cuisine is often confused with Indian but, despite sharing some similarities, it has fewer spices and herbs. Drawing influences from nearby Tibet, momo dumplings filled with spiced buffalo meat are an authentic example of the fare. “Fried momos are the perfect example of a fusion between the Tibetan and Indian influences that distinguish Nepali food from Indian food,” explains Umadevi Durung, owner of Mount Manaslu restaurant. “A typical Nepalese will eat everyday dal, bhat, and tarkari, which translates to lentil soup, rice and curried vegetables, all served together on a brass or stainless steel plate,” he adds.
Try: Mount Manaslu at 1A Street 282. Tel: 023 996 514.
The foreign powers that controlled Lebanon for periods of its history have undoubtedly influenced its food. The Ottoman Turks that ruled the country between 1516 and 1918 introduced cooking with lamb, the French took over power until 1943 and left pastries and croissants, while ancient tribes travelling through the country left rice and dates. Lashings of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and herbs are also commonly found in the unique cuisine. Hem Saron, head chef at Lebanese eatery The Village, explains, “Fresh ingredients are very important and the dishes contain a lot of herbs and spices. There’s a lot of lamb too rather than red meats.” Popular dishes include hummus, falafal, kafta kebab and the mezze platter.
Try: The Village at 1 Street 360. Tel: 016 865 597.
As the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia has many influences and its cuisine uses cooking techniques such as broiling, deep-frying and blanching. Firdaus Firdaus’ Phnom Penh restaurant, Warung Bali, serves up authentic dishes such as gado-gado (boiled vegetables with peanut sauce dressing), ayam goring (fried chicken), and chicken satay with Balinese sauce. Key ingredients used are peanuts and peanut oil. “The sauces are always delicious, especially the Balinese sauce which is made with garlic, peanuts, sweet soya sauce, salt and oil,” Firdaus says.
Try: Warung Bali at 25E Street 178. Tel: 012 967 480.
Olive oil and sherry vinegar are two items that can be found in every Spanish kitchen, though spices and butter are often banished to the bin, with very few local dishes using either. “The dishes in Spain tend to reflect the need for fresh quality products, with people enjoying a lot of small dishes,” says Joaquin Campus, co-owner and chef at Quitapenas. With the majority of the country surrounded by sea, the Spanish diet relies heavily on seafood, with the famed rice dish paella being a firm favourite. Other traditional offerings include gazpacho (a cold tomato-based soup), cooked and cured hams, and an array of cheeses.
Try: Quitapenas at 14B Street 264. Tel: 0884 429 320.
Morocco’s geographical location as a gateway to Africa means that its cuisine is a melting pot of Berber, Moorish, Arab and Mediterranean influences. Spices are an essential ingredient to Moroccan food, with cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, ginger, saffron, mint and parsley being common. The country’s signature dish, tagine — a slow-cooked stew of meat and vegetables made in a clay pot — has people licking their lips across the globe. “Tagine is very traditional Moroccan food,” says Annette Vann, owner of Tamarind restaurant. “We have it with lamb, chicken, or vegetables.” Other specialities include couscous and chickpea soup.
Try: Tamarind at 31 Street 240. Tel: 012 830 139.
Meat, meat and more meat — this is what Brazilian’s love and exactly what is served up by the bucket load at all-you-can-eat Samba Steakhouse. The restaurant’s Daniel Lira says that authenticity is key and, because of the emphasis placed on good meats in Brazil, Samba throws them on the churrasco, a traditional barbecue. “Meat is very important to Brazilians and we use grills imported from there,” he says. “In true style, all 15 types of meat are cooked on charcoal.” Peas, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, butter beans and soy beans are also popular ingredients in the cuisine.
Try: Samba at 64 Sihanouk Boulevard. Tel: 023 222 599.