From one of two sushi joints to today’s plethora of options, Japanese dining has exploded in Cambodia over the last two years. Marissa Carruthers and Ellie Dyer take an intrepid Japanese-inspired food tour of the capital, discovering noodle specialists to yakitori skewers and meat-laden barbeque joints, to test what’s on offer. Photography by Rudi Towiro.
Charcoal barbeque at Kazu
Meat-lovers will appreciate the sleek and sophisticated atmosphere at Kazu. Glowing pots of charcoal sit between diners while space age silver flues suck up smoke from each table’s individual grill. Patrons can barbeque quality cuts of pork shoulder and melt-in-the mouth imported beef on the embers, with Korean-style kimchi, biminbap rice, seaweed soup and sesame-laden spinach and bean sprouts on the side. A feast for both the stomach and the senses, Kazu is delivering its unique product – and possibly some of the most tender meat in Cambodia – in style. Try the couple’s course ($40 for two) for a slap-up spread, or the selection of lunch specials for under $10.
2A Street 302, Phnom Penh. Tel: 023 211 949.
Chewy noodles at Green Bowl Udon Cafe
Steaming bowls of thick and chewy wheat noodles swimming in a clear broth (from $2.50) are the order of the day at Green Bowl Udon Café. Add crispy tempura vegetables for a dose of crunch or try the fermented nattou soybeans to give an extra kick to this classic Japanese dish. With a devoted crowd enticed into the cosy Green Bowl villa by the excellent udon, which can also be served chilled, ensure that you time your visit right to grab a seat during the lunchtime rush. Or why not try the evening menu that features an expanded range of dishes.
29B Street 288, Phnom Penh. Tel: 089 831 007.
Pick-your-own skewers at Yakitori Jidaiya
Barbecued skewers laden with meat and vegetables are Yakitori Jidaiya’s speciality. As one of the newest Japanese venues in the capital, guests dine traditionally, sitting zashiki-style on floor pillows at low tables. DIY dining sees patrons choose from a selection of meat and vegetables to pack onto their skewer, such as pork spare rib ($1), grilled chicken ($0.75), aubergine ($0.50) and cheese and bacon ($1.75). Pre-chosen skewers are also available. These are either doused in pepper or a mild soy sauce before being thrown onto an open barbecue.
79A Street 63, Phnom Penh. Tel: 097 230 6301.
High-end dining at Hachi
For fine dining, Sofitel’s Hachi restaurant is a must. Offering a zen experience, the venue’s décor has been inspired by feng shui and includes six private tatami rooms with rice paper screens and delicate chinaware. After overcoming its beady eyes, the creamy salmon head soup ($28) is a stand-out dish. Along with a well-stocked sushi bar, other delights include robatayaki, a traditional Japanese barbecue, and kobe beef steak ($98) – renowned for its flavour, tenderness and fatty texture. An extensive range of traditional Japanese sake is also available.
Sofitel Phnom Penh, Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh. Tel: 023 999 20.
Hand-rolled sushi at Sushi Bar
Since bursting onto the Phnom Penh scene in 2012, Sushi Bar has gained mass-market appeal. The brand has multiple outlets in Ho Chi Minh City and is so successful that it recently expanded onto the Chroy Chang Var peninsula. Brave the chorus of enthusiastic greetings to browse a photograph-heavy menu of good-value sushi rolls, curries and soba noodles, whisked out at break-neck pace. For a vision of loveliness, try the mango laden rainbow roll ($6.50). The salty miso soup is excellent. Try sipping it in the sunken seating of the BKK1 branch’s private function rooms, which make for a good party atmosphere.
2D Street 302 or 74 Tonle Sap Street, Phnom Penh. Sushibar-kh.com.
Okonomiyaki pancakes atNinja
A restaurant full of Japanese diners is a sure sign that authentic food is being dished out by the kitchen. Already a popular chain in its homeland, Ninja opened up its doors in Phnom Penh last June. Dishes include the thick and fluffy okonomiyaki ($4.50) – a hearty pancake made from egg and wheat with shreds of cabbage thrown into the mix. The value-for-money bento boxes ($7 to $9) also enable diners to try the many tastes of Japan, from juicy and sweet chicken teriyaki to the herb-infused chicken gyoza dumplings.
14b Street 278, Phnom Penh. Tel: 088 861 7623.
Hokkaido noodles atShangri-La Ramen
Oodles of noodles are a must when visiting Shangri-la Ramen. The clue is in the name, as this restaurant is renowned for serving up ramen dishes hailing from the island of Hokkaido. Hungry diners can fill up on an ultra-large serving of ramen wheat noodles ($8.75) with sliced pork, boiled eggs, cabbage and dried seaweed cooked in a meat broth and flavoured with miso and soy sauce. Other delicacies include octopus and cucumber with mayonnaise ($3.75) and roast pork and seasoned egg ($3).
477 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh.
Tel: 077 773 02
Sweet treats at Fuwari
Japanese cuisine may be associated with the more savoury things in life, but Fuwari cake shop is showing the country’s sweet side. Set on Street 63, the bakery is serving up light and fluffy local delights, including the signature Tokyo pafu cake ($0.75), consisting of a pastry filled with custard cream. The sakura cake, made from a cherry blossom imported from Japan, is also a speciality, along with the green matcha tea.
79b Street 63, Phnom Penh. Tel: 023 665 5989.