Jun 30 2012
Tucked into a difficult-to-spot shophouse on Street 178 in Phnom Penh within spitting distance of Phnom Penh’s National Museum, Warung Bali only has nine tables. So before we go any further, you have to promise not to go there when we want dinner. Deal?
At first sight, hidden a few doors up from the corner of the museum park, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. The interior is not quite redolent of Bali – you might be thinking beaches, palm trees and rice paddies, but actually it’s a bit gloomy and the walls are covered in plastic panelling. There are a few nods to the name, with tassled parasols and various crafty pictures on the wall, but overall the place doesn’t say tropical paradise.
Which is fine, because what the menu says, loud and clear, is cheap. And peanut sauce. There’s enough variety to suit a fussy group of eaters, with soups, chicken, deepfried fish/prawns/squid, tofu and nasi goreng. All main dishes are 8,000 to 12,000 riel (that’s about US$2-$3) and we’re yet to find something that’s not tasty. The chicken satay sticks are smothered in sweet peanut-ty loveliness. A plate of gado gado Indonesian salad makes a perfect lunch — steamed vegetables, tofu, boiled egg and crackers with, you guessed it, peanut sauce.
A personal favourite, the rendang daging, or stewed beef in spicy coconut sauce with steamed rice, is the most expensive item on the menu at 12,000 riel. Share a few dishes between friends and it’s difficult to pay more than about US$4 for a great feed. All this value for money means you can experiment with the drinks menu, which is full of interesting mixes. For 6,000 riel, try a tamarind and sugar concoction, or a blend of pineapple, coconut milk and orange juice.
Warung Bali is particularly popular with volunteers and others trying to stretch out a budget. You’re unlikely to see too many Khmers eating here, but there are enough Indonesian expats to suggest the food is sufficiently authentic, and it’s halal too. Arrive early for lunch or you may have to wait, despite the quick service. And don’t make the mistake of turning up too near to the 21:00 closing time — the good stuff will have gone or the rice will be finished.
If we’re already inside hogging your table, you’ll find a number of other eateries to chose from as you head towards the river on St 178. Fortune Pho is a favourite for soups and Asian dishes, while Rising Sun will provide some Western staples to keep you going. Turn the other way, towards the National Museum, and you’ll find Le Wok, a French-Khmer fusion restaurant with prices that classify it as a splurge menu.
25 Street 178, Phnom Penh
T: 012 967 480
Open daily Mon-Sun 10:00-21:00
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