With its deep red and warm yellow decor, lively atmosphere and rows of wooden tables, Khmer Kitchen bears an uncanny resemblance to a Spanish venta or a Mexican cantina. But the similarity ends with the decor and what you will actually find at this busy eatery in Siem Reap’s tourist centre are generous portions of honest Cambodian food at good value prices, and all within staggering distance of the bright lights of Pub Street.
Now, just to avoid any confusion, Khmer Kitchen actually has two locales, both in the Old Market area of town. The first occupies a handsome old colonial building that stretches from the western edge of the market itself through to Pub Street Alley, and has two eating areas separated by a walk-through kitchen.
The second is on the corner of Alley West and Street 11 and offers a cosier and more intimate dining experience, albeit from an identical menu to the original Khmer Kitchen. The Khmer Kitchen website says they actually have three location in Siem Reap. No one I know here seems to know where the mystery third one is so we’ll stick with the two we all know and love.
Khmer dishes on the extensive menu include banana blossom salad, noodle soup and loc-lac – stir fried meat with a rich gravy, lime juice and freshly ground pepper — all at $4, and fried morning glory (or water spinach) at $3. Many dishes can be ordered with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, fish, shrimp, vegetables or tofu making it a good place for picky eaters, vegetarians and carnivores to eat side by side. The only caveat for vegetarians is that there’s a strong chance the same cooking pots are used for everything.
The spring rolls at $2.50 always make a good starter — be it the deep fried or the fresh variety, although vegetarians be warned once again, in amongst the fresh shredded vegetables and Thai basil I suspect there could well be a hint of prahok, the deliciously pungent, but distinctly un-vegetarian Cambodian fish sauce. The Khmer dumplings at $2.50 also make for an interesting starter.
Personal recommendations would have to include the fresh vegetable-packed spicy Khmer style soup with chicken — you can also choose from pork, beef, shrimp tofu and so on — the red curry, and any of the Masman curries from the small selection of Thai dishes available, all at $4.
Servers wander amongst the tables with big pots of steamed rice, ready to give you an extra dollop if you are feeling particularly peckish and your first serving fails to satisfy your appetite. Please note, even the generously-sized soups come with rice so if you are prone to late night munchies then a large soup with a free side of rice (or two) could be the way to go.
Service is usually fast and efficient but can get patchy at busy periods — of which there are many during high season — and you may find your main course appearing before your starters, or one main course being delivered to your table a good five minutes before the next. Unfortunately this is still quite common in some Khmer restaurants, but usually the quality, authenticity and price make up for it, as is certainly the case here.
To accompany your meal, draft lager is available in Anchor and Tiger varieties at $1 a glass, cocktails start at $3 and the reasonably sized wine list, including rose for the sophisticates among you, starts with glasses at $2.50 and bottles at just $10 – a positive steal.
Both Khmer Kitchens are very popular with tourists and expats, and you can often find the two venues full at peak times during high season. If that’s the case, more’s the pity, but you can usually find another decent restaurant within a few yards, including the budget food stalls along the edge of the Old Market itself.
Address: Street 9 & Pub Street Alley, Old Market area, Siem Reap
T: (063) 964 154 or (012) 763 468
Coordinates (for GPS): 103º51'15.12" E, 13º21'15.48" N
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Simon is fluent in English, Spanish and French, but to date he has only mastered a few carefully chosen words of Khmer, like "Food" and "Beer" and "Fat".
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