2014 Christmas dinners in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is definitely the hub of Christmas activity in Siem Reap. All of the hotels have decorations bordering on the outrageous and there are lots of options for Christmas dining. As per usual, many of the major hotels are offering Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners, and some smaller budget establishments are, too, and their prices are even lower than last year. Here’s the Move to Cambodia round-up of the best 2014 Christmas dinners in Siem Reap. If you know of others, please leave details in the comment section.

Christmas in Siem Reap

Just another sunny Christmas in Siem Reap!

Mie Cafe

With what promises to be the most exciting Christmas Eve dinner in Siem Reap, Mie Cafe is offering a six-course menu for just $33 per person. The menu starts with avocado “cannelloni” with fresh Mekong crab and smoked salmon, duo of carpaccio and tartar, oyster brioche marinated with tapioca, grilled Mekong prawn ravioli served on pumpkin curry puree and emulsion of green peas, apple cider braised pork shank with porcini mushrooms and Swiss gruyere mashed potatoes, and for dessert, chocolate caviar and sticky rice crusted with young coconut. The menu is fantastic (I’ve tried many of the items on it) and is a great deal for the price. They also have a vegetarian option available. Reserve in advance by calling 012 791371 or email chef@miecafe-siemreap.com.

#0085, Phum Treng Khum Slorgram, Siem Reap (On the road to the temples, turn right after the Sofitel Hotel)
T: 012 791 371


For the week of December 22nd, Belmiro’s will be offering a classic American Christmas menu of honey-baked ham, scalloped potatoes with Cheddar cheese and cream, maple-glazed carrots, string bean casserole and bacon-wrapped sausages for just $12. They will be serving this alongside their regular menu of pizza and subs, so there’s something for everyone, even the non-ham-eating humbugs in the group.

# 7 Street 7, Siem Reap [map]
T: 095 779 930

Molly Malone’s

Irish pub and restaurant Molly Malone’s is offering a great-value Christmas dinner from 12 p.m. on December 25th for $25. This year’s menu starts off with a glass of mulled wine, then a cream of mushroom soup starter, and then traditional roast turkey with sage and onion stuffing with roasted and mashed potatoes (they’re Irish, after all) cauliflower cheese, steamed seasonal vegetables, gravy and cranberry sauce. For dessert they are offering a chocolate, raspberry and cream yule log. Kids get a two-course menu with a soft drink for $15.75. Reservations are suggested.

Corner of Pub Street and Sivutha Blvd, Siem Reap
T: 063 963 544; 063 674 0999

Nita by Vo

Swish hotel Nita by Vo in the Charming City is having a four-course Christmas Day lunch this year that will give you the chance to “dine in air-conditioned comfort.” The meal starts with a Champagne cocktail and Khmer appetizers, then pumpkin soup and a choice of three mains, including roast turkey. Finish up with a Yule log for dessert and a swim in their rooftop pool. Cost is $35++ and bookings are required. Call 063 767 788 or email info@nitabyvo.com for reservations.

Nita by Vo
Charming City, Siem Reap
T: 063 767 788

Gigi Brasil

Gigi Brasil offers a Brazilian-style Christmas dinner. This means a churrasco-style dinner that consists of 15 types of grilled meats. The meats will be accompanied by roasted corn and pineapple, skewered vegetables, garlic bread, salad, rice, farofa, farinha, pao de queijo dessert and a glass of wine or bubbly. They’re serving it up on Christmas Eve from 7:30 p.m. until late for $27 per person. Reserve by calling 089 247 030 or 092 308 335.

546 Sala Kanseng Village, Siem Reap
T: 095 812 135

Christmas in Siem Reap

Merry Christmas, Siem Reap. Let’s eat!

FCC Angkor

As usual, the FCC Angkor has some upscale Christmas dining options on December 24th and 25th. Their set menu is $50+* per person and starts with a glass of bubbly. They have not announced the dinner menu for this year, but if it’s anything like last year, it promises to be excellent. Reserve by calling 010 600 123 or email leakhena.s@fcchotels.com.

Pokambor Ave, next to the Royal Residence, Siem Reap
T: 063 760 283

Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor

The ever-popular Christmas Day brunch at Raffles Hotel. Due to the mad rush of early arrivals last year to catch Santa, this year the brunch starts at noon and Santa will be arriving at 1 p.m. an hour later with gifts to the kids. They haven’t announced the buffet menu, but it’s likely that it will be similar to last year’s, which featured a sushi and sashimi buffet, pastas, salad bar, a selection of Asian and international hot foods, carvery, cold cuts, cheeses, soups, and desserts (including a yule log). Basically the menu is very long and you’ll leave stuffed. Price is $60++ for adults and includes free-flow beer and wine, or $80++ with champagne or +90++ with pink champagne. The price is $30++ for kids 6-12 and free for kids under 5. Reserve in advance.

If you’re looking for a Christmas Eve celebration, Raffles has another over the top event that includes pre-dinner cocktails, a buffet dinner by the pool which will be filled with thousands of floating candles, a Khmer cultural show, and an appearance by Santa who will bring gifts for the kids. The buffet menu hasn’t been announced, by last year featured no less than a whole suckling pig on a spit. Cost for adults is $115++ and is half price for children ages 6 to 12. Children 5 and under eat for free. It is highly recommended to make a reservation 24hrs prior the event by calling 063 963 888 or emailing dining.siemreap@raffles.com
1 Charles de Gaulle Avenue
T: 063 963 888dining.grandhotel@raffles.com

*All of the hotel prices are ++, which means they don’t include various taxes and VAT. Expect to pay an extra 10% above the listed price.

2014 Christmas dinners in Phnom Penh

Cambodia sure loves its Christmases, and every year there seems to be more and more of it. Here’s the Move to Cambodia round-up of the best 2014 Christmas dinners in Phnom Penh with a good mix of budget and upscale options. If you know of others, please leave details in the comment section.

Christmas in Cambodia

Just another sunny Christmas in Cambodia.

Hagar Restaurant

Hagar is having their yearly buffet on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On the 24th and 25th they are offering a buffet dinner that costs $20 for adults and $10 for kids 10 and under. On the 25th they are also offering lunch buffet at $15 for adults and $7.50 for kids. The Christmas Eve menu features roast turkey and the Christmas Day menu features lamb. Both have lots of sides, accompaniments and starters, including cheese and soup. There will be several desserts that will include Christmas pudding and apple pie. Reservations are required. T: 070 221 501

44 Street 310, BKK1, Phnom Penh
T: 010 333 095

Aussie XL

Aussie XL does a great value Christmas dinner of roast turkey with stuffing, honey-glazed ham and roast pork with roast potatoes and vegetables, pumpkin and a pudding with custard for $15.95 per person starting at 12:00 on Christmas day. Reservations suggested as they will book up fast. T: 023 301 001.

205A Street 51 (Pasteur), Phnom Penh
T: 023 301 001

Alley Cat Cafe

Alley Cat always puts on a great holiday feed, and this year promises to be no different. On Christmas Day they are offering a three-course menu for $19.50 per person. The meal with start an egg nog welcome drink, mussels in a fresh tomato and basil broth, then a plate of turkey and ham with mixed roasted vegetables, lamb with mint sausage, cauliflower cheese, red cabbage with apricot and balsamic vinaigrette, and Italian green peas. If you’re not too stuffed, they give you a choice of Christmas pudding or raspberry cheesecake for dessert. They are serving from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Christmas day. Reservations are advised, call 012 306 845.

42, Street 19z, Phnom Penh
T: 012 306 845


The FCC is back with their yearly offering on December 24th and 25th, offering a set menu for $35++ per person that includes a glass of wine. They have not released the menu this year, but last year it featured roast turkey. Since last year, though, the price has gone up and the glass of champagne has disappeared, so already a disappointment. Call for reservations: 010 849 637.

363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh
T:023 724 014

Paddy Rice

Paddy Rice is offering a two or three-course Christmas lunch and dinner on the 25th of December. Lunch runs from noon til 2:30 p.m. and dinner is at 6:00 til 8:30 p.m. You’ll be greeted with a glass of Buck’s Fizz on arrival, then a classic prawn cocktail and then onto a traditional roast turkey and ham dinner with brussels sprouts, sausage wrapped in bacon, stuffing balls, bread sauce, roast potatoes, carrots, green beans, gravy and cranberry sauce. For dessert there’s a fruit trifle. Cost is $19.50 for two courses and $22.50 for three courses, and if you book a table of four in advance, they’ll throw in a free bottle of wine. Bookings are recommended.

213 Sisowath Quay (at the corner of Street 136), Phnom Penh
T: 023 990 321; 017 773 102

The Exchange

The Exchange is putting on Christmas dinner to benefit Cambodian Children’s Fund, as well as a cyclo scavenger hunt. The day starts at Black Bambu at 10:30 a.m. where you’ll answer clues in a Christmas quiz and collect random items on route for a chance to win Santa’s sack. Don’t ask me what this means, because I’m just as perplexed as you are, but I can only report the nonsense that I’ve been given. The main event though is the Christmas carvery, featuring roast turkey with chestnut herb stuffing and honey-glazed ham with apples sauteed in brandy, roast vegetables and mashed potatoes, as well as a seafood buffet featuring prawns and oysters and a tasty-sounding selection of canapes. Mince pies, Christmas pudding, cheese and port will all be served, as well as free-flow drinks throughout the day. The price is $65, or $15 for those 16 and under. Kids under 5 eat for free. Reserve in advance by calling 023 992 865 or email info@theexchange-cambodia.com.

28 Street 47 (France Street), Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh
T: 023 992 865

Raffles Hotel Le Royal Christmas

Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh all decked out for Christmas.

Raffles Hotel Le Royal

If you’re looking for something a bit more upscale, Raffles always has several very swish options (even if you don’t want to spend this much on a meal, it’s worth going to check out their 12-foot Christmas tree that they’ve had shipped in from the United States).

Every day until the 31st Raffles has a Christmas afternoon tea, which I think is the same as their usual afternoon tea, with the addition of Cambodian children singing Christmas carols. Price is $20++ or $34++ with a glass of (actual) Champagne.

It appears that they’ve reduced the more “affordable” options this year, and are focusing on their Le Royal dinners on the 24th and 25th for $125++ and $100++ respectively. We’re still on the edge of our seats waiting for the menu to be emailed to us, but we’ve been promised ” traditional favorites such as roast ham or roast turkey and an extensive buffet selection including yule log cakes, minced pies and more.” Plus all-you-can-drink wine, beer, and…water. Dinners from from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. and kids meals are half price (and those 5 and under eat for free). Dress accordingly and reservations required: T: 023 981 888.

They’re also offering “intimate festive celebrations,” ostensibly to keep you away from the riff-raff crowding their $125 buffets. These intimate celebrations are available for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinner and feature a five-course set menu with a glass of Champagne. There are promises of foie gras, venison, and Christmas pudding, as well as lots of wine. $160++ on Christmas Eve and $130++ on Christmas Day. Reservations required: T: 023 981 888.

92 Rukhak Vithea Daun Penh (near Wat Phnom), Phnom Penh
T: 023 981 888

Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

The Sofitel has several Christmas options this year. On December 24th they are having a Christmas Eve 4-course dinner at Do Forno with a lot of food that I’m too lazy to type out. $78++ per person, $39++ for children under 12.

Also on December 24th from 6:00 until 10:00 p.m. at La Coupole, there will be a dinner serving up Christmas favorites and Christmas carvery. Best of all, they’ll have free-flow booze. $89++ per person including unlimited beer and wine, $109++ per person including unlimited Champagne, and $45++ for kids under 12 that includes…unlimited soft drinks.

On Christmas Day, the Sofitel has a brunch at La Coupole from noon until 3 p.m. If it’s anything like last year, this one will be well suited for children as they’ll have a dedicated kid’s corner with live entertainment and access to the pool. The menu will feature Christmas classics. $89++ per person including unlimited beer and wine, $109++ per person including unlimited Champagne, and $45++ for kids under 12 that includes…unlimited soft drinks.

On the evening of December 25th they’ll have a dinner at La Coupole that features fresh seafood and a “festive buffet.” $45++ for adults and includes a glass of wine, $23++ for kids and includes a glass of…iced tea. 6:00 til 10:00 p.m. Reserve all of the above in advance: T: 023 999 200

26 Old August Site, Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh
T:023 999 200


Frankly, I don’t believe that anyone is still reading this, but if you are, Nagaworld has a five, seven or nine-course menu option for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Le Gourmet, their French restaurant. Lunch is served from noon until 3:00 p.m. and dinner is served from 5:30 p.m til 9:30 p.m. Five courses costs $60++, seven courses is $90++, nine courses is $110++ and each meal includes a chintzy single glass of wine. It’s likely that like last year, Christmas dinner will also get you entrance to Darlin’ Darlin’, the Nagaworld nightclub that features a pretty decent Filipino cover band and a lot of good-looking, financially-minded ladies. For reservations, call 023 228 822.

Samdech Techo Hun Sen Park, Phnom Penh
T: 023 228 822

*All of the hotel prices are ++, which means they don’t include various taxes and VAT. Expect to pay an extra 10% above the listed price.

Understanding Phnom Penh rental prices

It can be difficult to navigate the rental market in Phnom Penh alone, especially for a new expat who doesn’t know what to expect. Today Leah from Elevated Realty, a Phnom Penh real estate company and Move to Cambodia advertiser, explains prices of rental properties in Phnom Penh, and what sort of properties and features you can expect at different price points.

Phnom Penh apartment pool

A room with a view, or a home with a pool. Understand what’s possible in the Phnom Penh rental market.

Phnom Penh offers all types of properties, from traditional Khmer-style townhouses to luxury apartments with rooftop swimming pools. Renters can make their dollar stretch a long way, if they know what they are looking for and have realistic expectations. The first step to finding the perfect home is having a clear understanding of what is available to you.

There are essentially four property types in the city, and though every home varies slightly you can put most places into one of these four categories: Khmer-style shophouse, renovated shophouse, Western apartment, or full-service apartment. Each property has features that clearly define its property type, and each type comes with a relatively standard price range.

Khmer-style shophouse

A Khmer-style shophouse is easy to identify and is one of the most common property types in Phnom Penh, often built up into three or four-story low-rise row homes.

Khmer apartment Phnom Penh

A typical long and narrow Khmer-style shophouse.

This type of apartment can be found in nearly every Phnom Penh neighborhood. A Khmer-style shophouse is generally four meters wide by 16 meters long. The entrance is typically in the front or back of the apartment and the walls on either side have no windows.

Khmer-style shophouse bedroom

A typical Khmer-style shophouse bedroom often has no external windows.

Bedrooms don’t commonly have windows, and if they do, they will face the interior of the home, not outside. Bedrooms usually will not have closets and instead have movable dressers or rattan shelving.

A typical Khmer-style kitchen

A typical Khmer-style  townhouse kitchen. Note the lack of counter space!

The kitchen in a Khmer-style shophouse is normally very basic: a sink, two or one burner gas cooktop, sink, and often lacking cabinet storage. Bathrooms are also basic with no separate shower, floor to ceiling tiles, and no windows. Other home furnishings will also be sparse and be either rattan or wood. In terms of furnishings, you can expect chairs or a loveseat, coffee table, and a table for eating.

Khmer-style townhouse bathroom

Khmer-style townhouse bathrooms are usually “wet rooms” without a separate shower.

Though this style of home has fewer Western finishes, it is still very popular with foreign renters. A house like this is very local, and can have more charm than a new apartment building. Usually the owners are more willing to make improvements for you and will also permit you to make changes and modifications to the home. The right person has the ability to makes this style of house completely their own. It also lends to getting to know your landlord and neighbors (often local) gaining a better sense of community.

Pros: Easy to find; Affordable; Charming and unique; Local community
Cons: Older construction; Few windows; No separate shower; Basic kitchen; Rattan furnishing; Walk up

Price Range
City Center (BKK1, Royal Palace, Riverside)
$300 – $450
Outside Center (BKK3, Russian Market, Olympic Stadium, Toul Kork)
$300 and under

Renovated shophouse

A renovated shophouse can be more difficult to find but allows Phnom Penh renters the best of both worlds. They can be hard to spot from the outside because they have the same construction as the Khmer-style shophouse, but owners have renovated the apartment interior to have Western finishes, although they still have the same four meters wide by 16 meters long layout.

renovated Cambodian shophouse

The best of both worlds…a renovated Cambodian shophouse.

These apartments will be renovated to look newer, some with new floors, added windows, and updated lighting fixtures. Other home furnishings will be newer and Western-style with plush couches, and a glass coffee table.

Renovated shophouse bedroom cambodia

The rare renovated shophouse has external windows in the bedroom.

Bedrooms may have built-in closets, and built-in shelving and of course, air-conditioning.

renovated Cambodia shop house

Renovated shophouses bring Western kitchens to Khmer-style apartments.

The kitchen in a renovated shophouse will usually have cabinets for storage, and newer appliances. Though more modern and western than a Khmer-style shophouse, furnishings and construction may be cheap and require a bit of maintenance.

Renovated shophouse bathroom cambodia

A typical renovated shophouse bathroom.

This style of home is perfect for foreigners who want to live comfortably, but still on a budget. It offers you a little more basic comfort. but still has the charm and community of living in a Khmer-style shophouse. Owners are often friendly and eager to please and prices are affordable.

Pros: New updates to construction; Updated kitchen; Western furnishing; Affordable; Charming and unique; Local community
Cons: Few windows; No separate shower; Walk up; Harder to find

Price Range
City Center (BKK1, Royal Palace, Riverside)
$600 – $700
Outside Center (BKK3, Russian Market, Olympic Stadium, Toul Kork)
$400 – $600

Western apartment

A Western apartment isn’t too specific and the styles of these new-build Phnom Penh apartments can vary quite a bit. From small low-rise walk- up apartments, to tall 12-story multi-unit towers.

Western apartment Phnom Penh

Western-style apartments in Phnom Penh have significantly more amenities.

Western apartments are almost always new construction, will have diverse layouts, windows in every room and plenty of natural light.

Western-style apartment Phnom Penh kitchen

Kitchens are Western-style, with standard appliances and cabinet space.

In this type of apartment, kitchens should be Western-style with cabinet space, counter space, and a built-in cooktop.

Western-style apartment Phnom Penh bathroom

Western-style apartment bathroom in Phnom Penh. Yes, that is a bathtub.

Bathrooms in Western apartments will be newer, have a window, and have only necessary tile, eschewing the fully-tiled bathroom aesthetic popular in Khmer shophouses. Depending on how high end the apartment, bathrooms may or may not have a separate shower or bathtub. Living space will be larger and have modern lighting fixtures and plush western furniture. Generally services such as cleaning, internet, cable, and water are included in the rental rate. Some will have elevators and rooftop terraces.

Western-style apartment Phnom Penh  bedroom

Western-style apartment bedroom in Phnom Penh.

In this type of property the standard is drastically improved, construction is usually better, as is the security of the building. Typically most buildings will have parking for bicycles and motos. This can be nice if you prefer to have some of the comforts of home in your Phnom Penh apartment. These buildings often have many foreign tenants so this makes it easy to make friends and socialize. Owners are often more experienced and follow through on maintenance requests and concerns more readily.

Pros: New construction; Natural light; Updated bathroom; Western-style kitchen; Western furnishings; Easy to find; Affordable; More secure; Included services
Cons: Less unique style; can be walk-up or elevator

Price Range
City Center (BKK1, Royal Palace, Riverside)
$600 – $1000
Outside Center (BKK3, Russian Market, Olympic Stadium, Toul Kork)
$500 – $700

Full-service apartments

Full-service apartments are the best you can come by in the city, and include almost everything you could desire in a Phnom Penh apartment. Western style layouts, natural light, beautiful views, modern equipped kitchen with an oven, modern bathrooms, and walk-in closets.

Luxury apartments in Phnom Penh

You get what you pay for when it comes to luxury in Phnom Penh.

In this range, services such as cleaning, laundry, Internet, cable, water, and often concierge service are included. Buildings will have one or multiple elevators, 24-hour security, car, bike, and moto parking, a gym, and a swimming pool. You can expect to have streamlined and organized rent collection and timeliness in maintenance requests.

luxury apartment bathroom

The bathrooms in full-service apartments are just as nice as the rest of the place.

These buildings are easy to find in the city, but prices are often high and vacancy rates low. However, they can be found in nearly every neighborhood in Phnom Penh.

Luxury apartment phnom penh

Phnom Penh luxury apartments certainly are luxurious.

These buildings seem to be larger and often have families living in them, because of their size it is often more difficult to get to know your neighbors or your landlord on a personal level. This is the perfect place for a young professional who loves to entertain or family who likes to have the extra space and comfort.

And yes, there's a gym.

And yes, there’s a gym.

Pros: New construction; Natural light; Great views; Western layouts; Modern bathroom; Western-style kitchen; Western furnishing; Elevator; Included services; Swimming pool and gym; 24-hour security
Cons: More expensive; Can be difficult to get to know neighbors

Price Range
City Center (BKK1, Royal Palace, Riverside)
$1000 – $1500
Outside Center (BKK3, Russian Market, Olympic Stadium, Toul Kork)
$800 – $1000

For all of the properties shown, the price ranges are based on one-bedroom properties, for two bedrooms you can expect an increase of anywhere from $150 to $300 per bedroom. As in any city there are exceptions to these property types both in included services and prices. As Phnom Penh grows, prices continue to rise, however there are still great deals to be found. Some owners haven’t raised their rental rates in years. Others raise them with each tenant. It is important in any home that you feel comfortable with who you renting from and are able to effectively communicate with them. Also, do your own research and viewings to understand what you like and want.

Many forums and expats who have been in the city for an extended period of time may say that you can get a Western-style apartment for $200. While this is still possible, these days, deals like this are far and few between as the city on the whole is changing. Properties are changing—the most beautiful building in BKK1 five years ago might now be the oldest building in BKK1—and unable to compete with the premium apartments being built in Russian Market, but still be charging top dollar. Be sure to visit several places when trying to determine what you can get for your money, and understand that being open to different neighborhoods and property types increases your chance of finding a great deal!

Elevated Realty specializes in tailor-made home searches in Phnom Penh that are a hassle-free way to find the perfect space. View their properties on their site, Elevated Realty, or give them a call at +855 (0)23 220 609.

Recipes from the Cuisine Wat Damnak kitchen: Prahok ktis

Since it opened three years ago, Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap has become a critically acclaimed culinary institution, attracting patrons from all over the world. Many consider it the mecca for modern Cambodian cuisine

This is the second of five posts from Steven, who spent time working in the Cuisine Wat Damnak kitchen, covering a five-course menu and describing some of the techniques and flavor combinations that Chef Joannès Rivière uses to such brilliant effect. Chef Rivière’s recipes have inspired a legion of chefs in Cambodia, both local and foreign. He has graciously supplied some simple recipes and cooking tips to inspire your kitchen, too.

Cuisine Wat Damnak, Siem Reap

Cuisine Wat Damnak


Second Course: Prahok Ktis with Local Crudités

Prahok is a very traditional Cambodian dish whose basic ingredient is a fermented paste of salted freshwater fish. Its strong flavor is balanced with the addition of minced pork, shallots, palm sugar, and coconut, creating a unique and delicious dip that’s typically served with fresh local fruits and vegetables.

Although foreigners often shy away from prahok-based dishes, prahok ktis offers a more palatable way to eat the strongly-flavored ingredient, and Chef Rivière’s version is more refined than what you’ll find at the average mom-and-pop restaurant. The recipe requires a large cooking pot and will make enough that you can eat some now and keep the rest in the fridge for a few days–very handy if you fancy a snack, or you can serve it as part of a larger meal.

The ratio of prahok to pork is important. The chef advises 150 grams of prahok for every kilo of pork. “More prahok will make it very pungent,” he explains, “and too little will mean you will not achieve the correct flavor.” So if you’re making a smaller or larger batch of prahok, alter the amounts to maintain that ratio.

prahok ktis with Cambodian crudites

The finished product: prahok ktis with local crudites

Prahok Ktis with Local Crudités

1 kg fresh coconut water (see Chef’s Note)
1 handful fresh mushrooms
15 shallots
10 garlic cloves
2 hot chillies
1 handful pea eggplants
1 kilo minced pork
150 g prahok (see Chef’s Notes)
Vegetable oil
1 liter pork stock (see Chef’s Notes)
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 snakehead fish (approx 12 inches long), cleaned and filleted (see Chef’s Notes)
Kaffir lime leaf
Tamarind paste
Selection of crunchy vegetables and fruits (see Chef’s Notes)

chopping prahok

Chop the prahok and use the side of the cleaver to flatten it out until it is finely minced.

  1. Put the coconut water through a strainer and refrigerate. After half an hour or so it will have separated into water and cream. Skim off the cream and place in a separate container. Keep both water and cream in the fridge until needed.
  2. Prepare the vegetables that will go into the prahok ktis: wash the mushrooms and break up or chop into small pieces. Slice the shallots. Chop the garlic and chili. Pick the pea eggplants from their stalks and wash.
  3. Prepare the prahok: Place the blob of prahok on a cutting board and chop with a cleaver. (See photo above.) Then run the side of the cleaver over the top of the chopped prahok to flatten it out. Repeat this chopping and flattening process until the prahok is finely minced. It should look more like a paste now. Using your hands, thoroughly mix the chopped prahok with the minced pork.
  4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the shallots, garlic, and chillies and cook until soft. Add the mushrooms and the pork-prahok mixture. Continue cooking until the mixture is golden brown. (Do this in two batches if necessary, to allow the pork to cook evenly.)
  5. Transfer the contents of the frying pan to a large pot. Stir in the pea eggplants, the pork stock, the palm sugar, and the coconut water (but not the cream). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the prahok is thick, rather like a thick bolognese sauce.
  6. Meanwhile, cut the snakehead fillets evenly into small, thin pieces.
  7. When the prahok mixture has thickened, mix in the kaffir lime leaf–thinly sliced or whole, as you prefer–and the fish meat. Stir in the coconut cream and again bring to a boil while mixing well. Mix in the tamarind paste–not enough to make the dish noticeably sour, but just enough to give it a kick. Once the prahok ktis has come to a boil, remove it from the heat but keep it warm.
  8. Prepare the crudités: wash and cut the vegetables and fruits into easy-to-eat pieces. Make sure to cut out any pips, cores, or other parts that aren’t pleasant to eat. Arrange attractively in a bowl.
  9. Transfer some of the hot prahok ktis into a small bowl and serve with the bowl of crudites.
fresh cambodian vegetables

Choose vegetables that are firm and crunchy. Sour and tangy fruits bring an added dimension to the dish.

Chef’s Notes

Use fresh coconut water from the market if you can. You can substitute canned coconut cream, using plain water in place of the coconut water. Using canned coconut cream means the prahok ktis has less chance of breaking, since the cream has already been boiled during the canning process and often contains stabilizers as well. However, the flavor of canned coconut cream is sometimes very strong, which can throw off the balance of the dish.

When buying prahok, the chef advises that you make sure to ask for “trey rhoy.” Prahok trey rhoy is more expensive and is prepared in smaller batches, which allows the process of fermentation to be more accurately controlled. By contrast, regular prahok is prepared with smaller and cheaper fish and in much larger quantities, which makes careful preparation and proper hygiene procedures more difficult to maintain.

To make pork stock, why not buy a rack of ribs, sear them, and then slow cook them in water for 3 hours until tender? Strain and you have pork stock, as well as some tasty ribs to fill out your dinner menu.

If you are not confident about filleting a whole fish, ask the market seller to do it for you.

If the finished dish needs additional seasoning, add salt, but do not add fish sauce, which will make the finished dish too overwhelmingly fishy.

For the crudites, Chef Rivière suggests choosing fruits and vegetables that are firm and crunchy. He notes that a slightly sour or tangy taste is also good, as it cuts through the richness of the prahok. Some good choices are: green tomatoes, cucumber, star fruit, sparrow eggplant, banana shoots (after cutting place in water and lemon juice until ready to serve), green mango, rose apple, thai basil, laksa leaves, or other aromatic herbs.

cambodian market ingredients

The more you cook Cambodian food, the more accustomed you will get to the flavors and ingredients.

A note about Cambodian cooking

Rivière points out that Cambodian cooking, and indeed South East Asian cooking generally, is by no means an exact science. The recipes he has provided feature all of the ingredients you will need and the techniques required to execute the dishes, but the exact amounts used will depend on your taste.

Use the ingredients sensibly and taste as you go. Masses of sugar will obviously make a dish too sweet, while not enough fish sauce may leave the dish bland and underseasoned.

The more you cook a cuisine the more accustomed you become to the basics involved. Certain ingredients come up again and again and you will learn what they do and how to use them properly. We have tried to be as clear as possible in the presentation of these recipes, but they all require you to just roll up your sleeves and give them a go.

If you’re in Siem Reap, be sure to make a reservation at Chef Rivière’s restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak.

Christmas church events in Phnom Penh

Anna, an NGO-worker living in Phnom Penh on-and-off for four years, has contributed this update of various Christmas church services that will take place in the coming weeks. If you’ve got something you’d like to add or would like to contribute holiday information for your faith, please drop us a line.

The Christian community in Phnom Penh celebrates Christmas throughout December with a variety of church services and concerts. Below is a list of some of the events for 2014. All of the events are open to anyone and everyone, regardless of whether they are believers, non-believers or somewhere in-between(ers). It is worth noting that these will all be conducted in English, and they are all kid-friendly.

Christian Christmas Phnom Penh

Yes, Virginia, there are church services in Cambodia.

Sunday 14th December – Combined Churches Christmas Service, 10 a.m.

If you are going to go to one Christmas service this year, make it this one. Followers from multiple Phnom Penh churches, as well as many curious non-believers, will join to celebrate together in the air-conditioned splendor of the Intercon. There will be plenty of singing and a short talk, and it is recommended to arrive early because there will a lot of people attending.

The Intercontinental Hotel
296 Mao Tse Tung Blvd, Phnom Penh
T: 023 424 888 ext. 5000

Friday 19th December – Carols by Candlelight, 6.00 p.m

Outdoor carols by candlelight is a mainstay of Australian Christmases but less so for those from the chilly northern hemisphere. It involves gathering under the stars, pulling up a rug, lighting a candle and singing along while trying not to let the candle wax drip on you or spill your precariously-balanced drinks. Christmas cheer! Importantly, Christmas cookies, mince pies and mulled wine will be available for purchase.

#56-58 Street 57, Phnom Penh
T: 012 691 402

Sunday 21st December – ICF Carols and Readings Services, 9.30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

A Christmas service at one of Phnom Penh’s non-denominational Christian churches – involving jolly carols, readings from the Bible and prayer, as well as coffee and cake afterwards.

ICF International Christian Fellowship
#19-21 Street 330 (near Toul Sleng), Phnom Penh
T: 089 883 210

Wednesday 24th December, Christmas Eve Services, 6.00 p.m. and 11.00 p.m.

Every year one of Phnom Penh’s Anglican churches conducts Christmas Eve services. These usually have a warm atmosphere and are particularly nice for people from cultures where Christmas is traditionally celebrated on the evening of the 24th.

Church of Christ Our Peace (Anglican)
#57 St 334, BKK1, Phnom Penh
T: 023 362 023

Thursday 25th December, ICF Christmas Day Family Service, 10 a.m.

ICF  has a celebratory Christmas service with fun for the kids, Bible readings, singing and prayer.

ICF International Christian Fellowship
#19-21 Street 330 (near Toul Sleng), Phnom Penh
T: 089 883 210

Recipes from the Cuisine Wat Damnak kitchen: Prawn, rambutan, and lotus root salad

Since it opened three years ago, Cuisine Wat Damnak in Siem Reap has become a critically acclaimed culinary institution, attracting patrons from all over the world. Many consider it the mecca for modern Cambodian cuisine.

This is the first of five posts from Steven of Siem Reap Food Tours, who has worked in the Cuisine Wat Damnak kitchen, describing some of the techniques and flavor combinations that Chef Joannès Rivière uses to such brilliant effect. Chef Rivière has graciously supplied some simple recipes and cooking tips for you to try at home.


Chef Joannès Rivière shares his thoughts about cooking Cambodian.

First Course: Prawn, Rambutan, and Lotus Root Salad

Cuisine Wat Damnak, simple in its concept, presents traditional Cambodian recipes and flavors in a contemporary fashion. Chef Joannès Rivière’s honest and stylish approach has inspired many attempts to emulate him, but no one else seems able to capture the warmth created by the French-born chef’s high regard for Cambodian culture and by the high quality of the ingredients he uses.

One of his sources of inspiration is Le Guide Culinaire Cambodgien (translated as The Cambodian Cookbook), a record of classic Khmer cuisine compiled in the 1960s by the sister of then King of Cambodia Norodom Sihanouk. The princess who put this cookbook together was passionate about Cambodian food, and her book documents the state of the country’s cuisine prior to the devastation of the Khmer Rouge period.

A recipe that Chef Rivière derived from the princess’s tome is a first-course salad of fresh prawns, crunchy lotus root and sweet rambutans. The chef says, “If the lotus root does not appeal to you, then you can substitute some seasonal tropical fruits.”

The finished product: Prawn, rambutan and lotus root salad.

The finished product: Prawn, rambutan and lotus root salad.

Prawn, Rambutan, and Lotus Root Salad

1 kg fresh tiger prawns
3 lotus roots
1 kg rambutans (see Chef’s Note)
vinegar (preferably rice wine, but cider vinegar will do just fine)
lemon juice
long parsley, finely chopped (see Chef’s Note)
spring onions, finely sliced
500 g tamarind pulp

For the tuek prahem dressing:
75 g roasted peanuts
100 g toasted coconut
500 g tamarind pulp
10 cloves garlic
veg oil
3 Tbsp liquid palm sugar (see Chef’s Note)

tamarind paste cambodia

Use a colander to make the tamarind paste for the tuek prahem dressing.

  1. Prepare the prawns. Wash them and remove the heads and shells. Refrigerate.
  2. Peel the lotus root and slice thinly, cutting diagonally across. Boil for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Strain, then place back into a pan, cover with water, and add a splash of vinegar. Boil for 5 minutes longer. Strain the sliced lotus root. Cover with water to which you’ve added lemon juice.
  3. Peel the rambutans and discard the pip. Break up flesh or slice into smaller pieces.
  4. Make tamarind paste: Place the tamarind pulp in a pan. Add just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then allow to cool. When cool, push the pulp through a colander to separate the puree from the stones. Discard the stones. The puree should be the consistency of tomato paste. If it is too thick, add a splash of water.
  5. Make the tuek prahem: Grind the roasted peanuts with the toasted coconut. Chop up 10 cloves of garlic and fry in vegetable oil until they start to turn brown. Set the garlic on a kitchen towel and allow to crisp up.
  6. Complete the tuek prahem: Caramelize the liquid palm sugar until it turns a dark rich brown. Add 200 ml of water and 1 heaping tablespoon of the tamarind paste. Place in a pan over medium heat and whisk, making sure the sugar completely dissolves into the water. Add a pinch of salt. Stir in the ground peanuts and coconut and the fried garlic, after first setting aside small amounts of both peanut-coconut mixture and garlic to sprinkle on top later. Blend the tuek prahem with a hand blender or whisk vigorously.
  7. Cook the shrimp: Pour some vegetable or peanut oil into a pan on medium/high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper to taste. When the oil is hot, place the shrimp in the pan and cook until seared on one side. Turn over and allow the second side to turn golden, but be careful not to overcook. As soon as the shrimp are cooked through, remove to a plate lined with a cloth to soak up any excess oil.
  8. Assemble the salad: Put the lotus root and rambutan flesh in a bowl. Add some tuek prahem and mix well. Arrange on individual plates. Place the shrimp on top. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley and spring onion. Scatter the reserved ground peanut-coconut mixture and fried garlic over the top and serve.
Cambodia rambutans

Not all rambutans in Cambodia are created equal.

Chef’s Notes:

The tuek prahem dressing is a very popular condiment in Cambodia and you will find it on the table in most restaurants and households. It is rich and sweet in flavor, so Rivière advises not to overdo it when dressing the salad, as you do not want to suffocate the flavors of the other ingredients.If you would prefer your version of tuek prahem to be more nutty, add more peanuts. If you want it to be sweeter, add more palm sugar. If you’d like it thinner, add a bit more water.

Long parsley is originally from South America; it is called culantro in Spanish. In Cambodia, it is primarily used as a cheap substitute for coriander, during the parts of the year that it is too hot to grow coriander. Flat-leaf (Italian) parsley can be substituted.

Bear in mind that Cambodian lotus roots are much smaller in diameter compared to their Chinese or Vietnamese counterparts, usually a maximum of 4 cm. They are also much tougher, and that is why they need to cook for so long.

Some rambutans are native to Cambodia and are smaller than the more common, larger variety. Either are good to use in this dish, but the locally grown ones have a slightly sweeter taste.

The palm sugar used in this recipe is the gooey stuff available at the market. It is a staple in every Cambodian kitchen and it caramelizes far more easily than the powdered kind.

Cambodian cooking

Cambodian cooking is not an exact science; do it enough and you’ll learn to trust your instincts.

A note about Cambodian cooking

Rivière points out that Cambodian cooking, and indeed South East Asian cooking generally, is by no means an exact science. The recipes he has provided feature all of the ingredients you will need and the techniques required to execute the dishes, but the exact amounts used will depend on your taste.

Use the ingredients sensibly and taste as you go. Lots of sugar will obviously make a dish too sweet, while not enough fish sauce may leave the dish bland and underseasoned.

The more you cook a cuisine the more accustomed you become to the basics involved. Certain ingredients come up again and again and you will learn what they do and how to use them properly. We have tried to be as clear as possible in the presentation of these recipes, but they all require you to just roll up your sleeves and give them a go.

If you’re in Siem Reap, be sure to make a reservation at Chef Rivière’s restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak.

Review: Man Hao Ji Noodle Shop, Phnom Penh

There are a number of Chinese noodle shops in Phnom Penh, but newcomer Man Hao Ji Noodle Shop gives the rest a run for their money. This new Taiwanese-run restaurant on Street 118 has a small menu, but after eating there three days in a row (it’s that good), I can say that every item on it is fantastic.

Garlicky smacked cucumbers at Man Hao Ji.

Garlicky smacked cucumbers at Man Hao Ji.

In my household, we cook pretty regularly from Fuchsia Dunlop’s amazing Chinese cookbook, Every Grain of Rice. So imagine my delight when I was brought to a new Chinese restaurant serving up dishes exactly like the ones I’d been attempting to create at home. This bodes well for the authenticity of both my cookbook and the restaurant, I think. I was also buoyed by the fact that the restaurant is Taiwanese run, because the Chinese food I ate in Taipei was undeniably better than what I ate when spending a month in China, traveling around the country and gorging myself.

Chinese noodle shop Man Hao Ji Phnom Penh

Newcoming to the Chinese noodle competition in Phnom Penh, Man Hao Ji.

Man Hao Ji’s menu features several noodle soups and bowls of handmade noodles. Their speciality is beef noodle soup, cooked in the Chinese style with red braised beef flavored with star anise and Shaoxing wine. At $5, it’s the most expensive thing on the menu, but well worth it. The broth is richer and meatier than anything I’ve tasted in town, and would make your typical kuy teav selling tear up in shame. The other noodle dishes I tried were also really good, zhajiangmian, called Beijing mixed noodles, ($3) and Arhat vegetable noodles ($2). The Arhat noodles are named after a term for someone who has attained nirvana in Buddhism, and, unlike most vegetable dishes in Cambodia, is actually vegetarian.

Chinese beef noodles

Fragrant beef noodles, flavored with star anise. Seriously beefy.

The non-noodle dishes are just as good. Garlicky cucumbers in Chinkiang vinegar ($1), “aroma sauce of beef tendon,” beef stir-fried with cucumbers ($2), boiled dumplings with a spicy chili sauce ($3) and Shaoxing wine chicken ($3) were all delicious and excellent value. The only dish that I wasn’t as keen on was the pork knuckles, which was just a plate of cold pork knuckles and not much else going on.

The friendly waitress is from Taiwan and doesn’t know Khmer, but speaks English to recommend her favorite dishes (she likes the Beijing mixed noodles). They have Cambodia beer on draft but haven’t figured out how to work it yet, so bring beers in from the mini-mart next door if you want to save yourself some frustration.

Beef and cucumber stir-fry. Try it.

Beef and cucumber stir-fry. Try it.

Man Hao Ji is one of those small restaurants that’s either going to be a big hit or fold in a few months due to lack of business. The food is authentic, delicious, and cheap and the place is definitely worth a visit, so please keep them afloat until my next visit to Phnom Penh.

Man Hao Ji Noodle Shop

39 Street 118 (at Street 17), Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 089 265 065