Making local street food accessible is the aim of Mr Mab’s owners, who pride themselves on creating authentic Khmer cuisine for guests. Editor Marissa Carruthers and photographer Charles Fox take the taste test.
Chimm Solvannarith lets out a groan as he recounts stories those living in Cambodia will be all too familiar with. Stomach bugs, sickness, racing to the toilet – all too often, he would hear such tales from guests who had fallen sick after being tempted to try the abundance of street food on offer across the country.
“Traditional Khmer cooking can be found on every street corner and in restaurants, small and large, good and bad,” says Chimm, who is also known as Ritz. “We wanted to make street food accessible and enable people to try that tasty-looking dish they see sizzling on a sidewalk but never had the nerve to try. Basically, we cater for those who can’t stomach the, at times, dubious produce of the streets.”
The result is a menu packed full of authentic dishes that can be enjoyed safe in the knowledge they have been prepared in a clean kitchen. Popular dishes include grilled pork, steamed rice and pickled vegetables (bai sach chrouk, $4), pan-fried chive cakes (num kachay, $3) and crab spring rolls (nem cha kdam, $5).
But it was the num bahn chok ($4) that got our saliva flowing. The renowned noodle dish can be seen across Cambodia, with women selling bowls from baskets hanging on poles precariously balanced on their shoulders.
As a bit of a DIY dish, the fresh rice noodles are served separately from a steaming bowl of chicken curry, given a subtle spice by the coconut, and plate of herbs and vegetables, such as banana blossom, cucumber, mint, basil and chives, that are added to taste.
Each evening, Mr Mab puts on a three-course set menu. Wednesday brought with it chicken and pineapple salad followed by wild prawns with toasted garlic and herbs, and chilled lime tart ($12). The cold salad is served in a hollowed-out pineapple and despite being an unusual combination, works well with the sweetness of the pineapple complementing the savoury meat.
The fish amok, served as the Wednesday special with papaya salad and mango bread pudding ($10) is cooked the traditional way – steamed in banana leaves – and the end result is divine.
The wild prawns are a filthy feast, and the only way to eat them is to dive in hands first. The plump prawns are toasted with a mix of garlic and herbs, giving them a sharp but welcome kick.
It’s impossible to visit Kep without tucking into its tasty crab (1kg $15, 0.5kg $7.50). Here, the plate is piled high with small, freshly caught crustaceans covered with lashings of chilli and Kampot pepper, picked from the small on-site plantation. Despite tackling the crabs being a messy mission, especially for such small portions of meat, when you get to the flesh, it’s well worth the battle.
And the good news for those looking for their crab fix is that Mr Mab’s recently opened a flashy joint at Kep Crab Market where diners can enjoy a more upmarket crab-eating experience.