Among some of the capital’s newest developments lies a traditional Khmer kitchen, with wooden architecture that sets it apart from its modernist surrounds. Lim Meng Y and Conor Wall test it out.
With a wooden cart, classical fishing equipment, pine furniture and dimmed lighting, the interior of Khmer Food Village is reminiscent of a prosperous 17th-century Cambodian community. The concept eatery, inspired by traditional village life, aims for visitors to get a taste of the country’s culinary specialties.
“We want customers to taste … traditional dining with authentic Khmer cuisine in a Khmer house, with small modern touches,” says Ron Chhay, Khmer Food Village’s general manager. “We aim to get both local and international food tasters satisfied with Khmer cuisine.”
The restaurant serves an expanding lunch and dinner menu of Khmer dishes (from $3 to $8) that hail from every walk of life. The kitchen is located in the centre of the restaurant, with seven different food stations spread throughout the venue. Each is distinctively decorated and specialises in a different type of dish, ranging from soups to salads and fruit juices.
Main dishes include the vegetable-laden Khmer soup, Kor Kou. Pumpkin, peas and small baby aubergines are mixed together to create a soup that has a slightly bitter, but wholesome, flavour.
Another classic offering is Fish Amok, a coconut milk curry often served during special occasions. The Khmer Food Village version is decorated with banana leaves, with the fish buried inside a creamy, full-flavoured curry.
Perhaps a more unusual dish for Western palates is grilled frog — a favourite countryside snack, especially during the rainy season. The restaurant, which uses bigger frogs than seen in rival versions, has used chopped vegetables as a stuffing, which combine well with the tender meat.
Newcomers will have to get to grips with the restaurant’s card payment system. Diners are given a re-loadable card from the cashier, which is used to purchase food and drinks from the stores, rather like a market.
“Some customers complain about our payment system, but they don’t realise this is how we get them to [experience] the real village. They have to bring money to buy food by their selves,” says Chhay.
After a good meal, diners may want to try another traditional drink. Fresh, sweet sugarcane juice ($0.75 a glass) is served in the restaurant and is a best-seller, according to the general manager.