You’re not in Kansas anymore; or Phnom Penh or Siem Reap for that matter. If you’ve become used to dining out on excellent food for buttons, you may need to adjust your settings.
There is decent food to be had in Kratie — and everywhere else in Cambodia — but you won’t get anything like the same range and quality that you find in the tourist and expat hubs.
Most of the guesthouses and hotels have their own restaurant attached, among which the most highly rated Khmer one is Heng Heng, on the corner of Street 10 and the riverside (not Heng Heng II, which doesn’t serve food). A typical Cambodian restaurant with heavy, high-backed wooden chairs and dense tables, they have a huge menu of traditional Cambodian dishes and some Western standards. Prices are very reasonable.
We loved the atmosphere at Le Tonle, relaxed and airy, with a stylish simplicity. The staff were very helpful and friendly, though as this is a hospitality training centre, there may be some glitches in the works. These students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are working and studying so they can start to build their own futures and careers, so a little patience will go a very long way. They’re working really hard. The food was delicious, with a wide selection of fresh Khmer and Western favourites, a full bar and fruit shakes.
A somewhat strange riverside option, though great for the views and the sunsets, was Jasmine Boat. A fancier spot than everywhere else, and much favoured by the local big shots, they have a large menu of Khmer and Western food. We tried their beef claypot for breakfast — a dish on which we would live if we could — and found it to be one of the weaker ones we’ve had so far. On the other hand, they have excellent coffee, and are one of the few places in town you can pick up a proper Americano or cappuccino. The wines are good too. The staff were, in a word, delightful.
Just off the market, you’ll find Tokae, a very sweet corner restaurant with a great menu of Khmer and Western favourites, and some of the most fun staff we’ve observed, especially when the patently love-struck tuk tuk driver came in to chance his luck with one of the waitresses. They were efficient too. The food was solid, and very, very reasonably priced. Another market option, though a little less charming, is You Hong. Their huge menu of Khmer and Western dishes is served up in a brightly lit almost diner-style space, with low-slung red banquettes. The manager was extremely helpful, and seemed to be a good reference for any local advice.
If you fancy something a little, well, fancier, then head to Le Bungalow, where you’ll find a beautiful, classy space underneath a traditional Khmer wooden building and a nicely formulated menu of Khmer, French and Italian dishes at mid-range prices. We can only say though that the service was bizarre. The poor server hadn’t the faintest idea what she was doing, yet was let loose without the slightest sign of supervision. The result: we had to spend five minutes rooting around in the freezer looking for our own dinner after the wrong dish had been brought out first, following a good half-hour wait. If it had been anything other than andouillettes, we’d have taken it. We also had to locate our own wine.
It may have been an off night, but we found a similar level of ineptitude when we visited sister property Rajabori Villas, which makes us suspect the problem is institutional. If you’re feeling patient, and able to spell out everything very, very clearly, this place really is worth a visit. The carbonara we finally settled on was perfect. We would emphasise that none of what happened was in any way the server’s fault. She tried so hard to get it right, but that’s a virtually impossible feat without some semblance of managerial support and training.
A little further upriver, Sorya Cafe is the outlet for Sorya Kayaking Adventures, and a relaxed cafe space with a tempting range of pizzas, pastas and salads, smoothies and a surprisingly good selection of wines.
In previous editions, we recommended the Khmer restaurant beside the taxi rank and bus station — name only in Khmer, on the east side. But on our last visit, they seemed at a loss to know what to do with the foreigner in their midst, so on taking advice we took ourselves off to Kraches Krong, which is on the left side in between Streets 5 and 6, just above the bus station and taxi rank (one block in from the riverside). Again, the sign is in Khmer, not English, but you’ll know it by the vivid green frontage. The family here was very friendly, Granny was studying English when we dropped in, and the somlor kor ko (a thick vegetable soup) we had was dense and delicious, and just $2, including an iced coffee.
Sadly, Joe is no longer running Kratie institution Red Sun Falling, as he left town about a year ago. The bar is still here, and while its view is impaired by the newly build Jasmine Boat, it’s still a cool little hangout, and still has a decent book selection to mix and play with. We didn’t try the monster breakfast this time though.
While you’re in Kratie, make sure to pick up some krolanh — baked bamboo stuffed with rice, mung beans and coconut milk — or nem — raw, spicy river fish wrapped in banana leaves — from any of the street vendors along the riverside, or behind the pagoda.
Heng Heng: Junction St. 10 and Riverside, Kratie; T: (072) 971 613; open daily 06:00 – 21:00.
Le Tonle: Street 3, Kratie; T: (072) 210 505; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.letonlettc.com; open daily 06:00-22:00.
Jasmine Boat: Soramarith Quay (opposite St. 8), Kratie; T: (096) 33 11 998; email@example.com; www.jasmine-boat.com; open daily 06:00-22:00.
Tokae: St. 10 (just beside the market); T: (097) 3391 285.
You Hong: St. 8 (north side of the market); T: (012) 957 003.
Le Bungalow: Soramarith Quay (just south of St. 5); T: (023) 215 651; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sorya Cafe: Soramarith Quay (beside Canadia Bank); open daily 07:00-21:00.
Kraches Krong: Between St. 5 and St. 6, Kratie; T: (011) 660 242; open daily 05:00-21:00.
Red Sun Falling: Soramarith Quay (below St. 8); T: (011) 465 606; open daily 06:00-23:00.