Wanting to create top quality street food in a restaurant setting while retaining rock bottom prices was top of YamYam’s menu. Writer Erin Hale and photographer Lucas Veuve visit the new restaurant.
When Chinese expat Bryan Bai opened YamYam, he had a clear mission in mind: to bring Chinese and Khmer street food indoors, and serve it in a trendy setting without losing its traditional flavours or reasonable price tag.
“In Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Bangkok, you can hardly find ‘pure street’ food on the street, because really, really good street food already moved indoors,” he says. “I want people to enjoy higher quality street food and many different types of food.”
Borrowing traditional techniques and recipes from the street, Bai’s menu is filled with familiar favourites, such as Chinese pork bao – a spongy steamed bun filled with pork – as well as dumplings and fried rice. Most prices are 10,000 riel ($2.50) or under, but don’t for one second think this means Bai and his team have skimped on quality.
Making the bun exterior for a fried pork bao is gruelling work, taking five hours to complete, says Bai. But the effort shows in the final product, which is perfectly browned on the inside, with the interior remaining fluffy and cooked all the way through. The freshness shines through, and it’s evident that nothing has been frozen then reheated at YamYam.
Also delicious is the steamed rice served in a bamboo basket – one of Bai’s signature dishes. The rice has a pleasant aromatic fragrance as it’s steamed in a banana leaf, which mixes well with the other flavours. Add a dash of soup to make sure the rice doesn’t dry out while it’s steamed, vegetables, shrimp, spices, pork, and it’s a simple but tasty meal.
The menu leans towards the meat-heavy side of things, with pork featuring in most dishes. However, catering for the vegetarians out there and those wanting a meal minus the meat, rice and noodle dishes can be prepared to individual tastes.
Starting the day off with a full stomach is also on the menu, with Chinese breakfast served from 6am. This includes two varieties of kuy teav, a noodle soup served with pork or seafood, and rice with pork.
Based on the number of customers frequenting his restaurant since opening, YamYam has already made an impression on the increasingly popular neighbourhood. In fact, YamYam’s lunchtime buffet – six Khmer dishes and a soup for 10,000 riel – has been such a hit Bai’s had to buy more tables to cater for peak hours.
YamYam’s “live kitchen”, which sits outside its front door, has also helped lure customers here.
Diners can watch dumplings being made by hand following traditional Chinese methods – all other dishes are created in the indoor kitchen to the back of the restaurant.
With YamYam’s long hours of operation it’s easy to stop by for a snack or one of their delicious teas out-of-hours.
Taking the “street” theme seriously, Bai also commissioned local street artists to create installations which, along with industrial concrete floors and incandescent lighting, create a real contemporary vibe.