Boasting authentic flavours, Taste of the Middle East has been appeasing appetites with its home-cooked dishes since opening in 2014. Editor Marissa Carruthers and photographer Lucas Veuve sample the menu.
It would be easy to drive past Taste of the Middle East, an unassuming ground floor eatery with a banner hanging above the door announcing its presence, but to ignore the no frills restaurant would be an injustice. Sometimes it’s the simpler things in life that have the most to offer.
What it may lack in décor, it certainly makes up for with its menu, which boasts a plethora of Arab dishes, all made with loving care in the kitchen. And it’s this that has given the restaurant its glowing reputation across the capital.
Having fled the fighting that has crippled his homeland of Iraq, Hashim Farhan opened the restaurant in May 2014. Operating it alone for the first six months, his wife and five sons joined him six months later. Despite the family having no experience in the restaurant business, with his wife Muna heading the kitchen with her excellent home-cooking skills, the Halal restaurant quickly made a name for itself.
The menu spans the region, with Fatit hummus ($5), shawarma ($6), foal ($5) and a range of salads, soups, sandwiches and wraps. We started with one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, the Iraqi biryani.
Offered in chicken ($7) and lamb ($12), Fahram’s son Ahmed guided us towards the lamb. “You won’t be disappointed,” he promised.
It did not disappoint, with the fragrant dish pleasing the palate. In line with Halal preparations, the lamb is bought live before being slaughtered by a friend, who is a Muslim butcher. The meat is then boiled four times before being cooked so it falls off the bone easily.
Served on a bed of yellow Basmati rice, with a few peas and diced carrots thrown in, the dish is a delightful fusion of flavours, with the saffron shining through.
The chicken tabsi ($5) was up next. With the dish originating in Turkey, the Iraqi twist sees aubergines, potatoes, garlic, onions, tomato sauce and barbecue sauce mixed together. A chicken thigh is cooked separately in a barbecue-style sauce before being plated and the tabsi sauce drizzled atop to add a warm spicy flavour.
We combined this with some fattoush ($3); a bread salad that originates from the Levant. Refreshing and light it consists of pita bread doused in olive oil and then fried before being cut into squares and placed on diced tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, with a sprinkling of salt and spices thrown into the mix.
The falafel ($3) is another popular dish. Made from chickpeas that are soaked in water for 10 hours before being mixed with salt, barbecue powder and a special Iraqi powder mix of spices, the seven balls served on pita bread are soft and tasty.
They come with a side salad and generous serving of smooth hummus.
With plenty more on the menu, indulging in an authentic taste of the Middle East in the centre of Phnom Penh couldn’t be easier.