Writer Ellie Dyer and photographer Charles Fox find traditional Malaysian broths and authentic cuisine in the heart of the Cambodian capital.
It’s a hot and sticky Friday lunchtime in Phnom Penh yet, despite the sweltering conditions, Hometown Bak Kut Teh restaurant is doing a roaring trade in hearty Malaysian fare.
Specialising in its namesakebak kut tehor “meat bone tea”, the eatery – set in an unassuming mezzanine floor beneath Bolina Palace Hotel, opposite Golden Sorya mall – is crammed with diners.
As ceiling fans whir and a solitary fish swims up and down the in-house aquarium, beneath a dramatic painting of Angkor Wat, a procession of steaming pots emerge helter-skelter out of the kitchen.
For those unfamiliar with Malaysian cuisine, the photograph-laden menu may at first glance seem dizzying, but a must-try is the bubbling bak kut teh ($6) – a dish of Chinese origin common to both Singapore and Malaysia.
In the Hometown version of this fragrant stew, cuts of pork – from fatty belly to meat on the bone – swim in a dark, almost black, broth, topped with tofu.
The dish packs a serious punch, with the fatty meat cut through by the aromatic liquid. The powerful broth, rich and almost medicinal, is packed with Chinese herbs and spices and proves a master class of deep flavour. Though it may be more expensive than the restaurant’s alternate offerings, it’s worth splashing out on its heart-warming taste of home.
Keen to try Hometown’s other soupy offerings, we plumped for the clay-pot noodles with ramen, barbequed pork and egg ($3.50) and a curry laksa ($3.50). The ramen dish was good value, with soft noodles, mushroom, eggs, garlic and pork in a mild, yet more-ish, broth.
The coconut-based laksa noodles were less successful, and proved the meal’s low point. Undertones of chilli were there, but they disappeared quickly on the front palate and overall it lacked a certain punch. But the meal veered back on course with Hometown Keow Teow ($3.50), a generous pile of sticky flat noodles and bean-sprouts forming an indulgent fried dish.
For a sweet end to our lunch, we requested the toast with kaya coconut jam ($1.20) from the breakfast menu and washed it down with a frothy mug of teh tarik – a comforting milky tea. The thick green kaya spread had the consistency of peanut butter and was delightfully sugary, though it would be even nicer on thicker bread. Luckily, if you can’t get enough of this addictive spread, Hometown is selling the condiment in $2 pots.
Though I’m no expert in Malaysian cuisine, the food at Hometown was memorable. Homely, heart-warming
and rich, the bak kut teh alone is a reason to try it out.
So go for the food, rather than the surroundings, and get a snap-shot of Malaysia in Phnom Penh.
B8-10 Street 154, opposite Golden Sorya Mall, Phnom Penh.