For tasty Yakitori spit-roasted chicken skewers, head straight for the stall on Street 123, although they’re only sold during dinner time. If meat is off the menu for you, then don’t worry because vegetarians are also catered for, with mushroom or aubergine and cheese options available. Other Cambodian food is served throughout the day, including chicken, rice and salads.
Another Khmer staple is noodles, and there is an abundance of places to get your fix from. One of the finest is the fried noodle stand on the corner of streets 135 and 450, near Russian Market. Specialising in fried noodles with beef, tofu and veggies, with a fried egg on top (starting at $1), the popular stand ensures queues are kept to a minimum by operating a four-wok system.
Blink and you’d miss it, but this nondescript coffee stall in the centre of Russian Market really does what its name suggests – serve the best Khmer coffee. And the best part of it is the hospitality of owner, Ai Bounnareth, who has operated the coffee and fresh juice stand since 1980. Friendly, he is happy to share his knowledge with visitors while he makes drinks from behind the counter. And with coffee costing $1, it’s a bargain compared to the upmarket coffee shops he is competing against outside.
Start the day in true Cambodian style with bai sach chrouk, or pork and rice – one of the most popular breakfast dishes in Cambodia. Served across the city, a great spot to sample the dish is at Russian Market’s central food court, where vendors flog a variety of snacks and fresh fruit juices throughout the day. The scent of marinated pork being barbecued wafting through the air is enough to get the saliva flowing.
If the sound of a Khmer-style baguette whets the appetite then this relic left over by the French is served across the city. There are many carts stacked full of fresh baguettes stuffed with various fillings around Russian Market. Nompang sak koh is a tasty option, with skewers of barbecued lemongrass beef layered inside a baguette with pickled vegetables and chilli. Bread sellers can also be seen, and heard, thanks to the speaker that announces their presence – cycling through the streets.
Stave off the mid-afternoon hunger pangs with a typical Cambodian snack of chet chien. Here, ripe bananas are flattened and dipped into a sweet batter with black sesame seeds and then deep-fried before being served steaming hot. If this sounds up your street, then several chet chien vendors can be found around Russian Market.
Russian Market is another great spot to sample one of Cambodia’s other national dishes, nom banh chok, or Khmer noodles. Eaten either for breakfast or as an afternoon snack, the freshly-made rice noodles topped with a fish-based gravy made from kaffir lime, lemongrass and turmeric root, this dish is a must-try while in Cambodia.
For a taste of Mexico, get your Tex-Mex fix at Cam’s Burrito, a small cart that sits outside Core Explore Fitness on Street 454. Having made a name for itself with the popular food cart on Street 172, this is their second outlet, with a third in Kampot. Cam’s serves up fantastic flavoursome burritos with a range of fillings that will stave off hunger well into the night.
The number of coffee carts and cafes in Phnom Penh is an indication that Cambodians love their caffeine, usually iced. Recent months have seen the coffee cart revolution sweep across the capital, with mobile carts and small, fixed roadside trucks cropping up. The stretch of Street 430, outside Phnom Penh Sports Club, is dotted with coffee carts serving a variety of coffees, teas and other refreshments.
Food vendors flock to the city’s schools and universities to serve the crowds of hungry students breakfast, lunch and snacks, so this is a good place to find a range of carts. A selection of carts serving sliced fruit, chet chien, fruit shakes, and noodle and rice dishes gather outside Toul Tom Poung High School on streets 135 and 155 throughout the day and make a good spot to browse what’s on offer and dig in.