Modern Reflections on Cambodian Cuisine
Restaurants are bridging the gap between traditional and contemporary cuisine.
Ingredients as common as lemongrass, to the unusual use of edible leaves and flowers, make up the flavors of traditional Cambodian cuisine. Today, this flavor has modernized, and while rustic dishes from street markets and hole-in-the-wall eateries are still favored, those who live in the city are developing a taste for new, innovative cuisine.
“Malis is a restaurant dedicated to restoring traditional and classic Khmer recipes for modern menus.”
MALIS, PHNOM PENH
Entrepreneurial chefs are making headway with fusing aromatic herbs and spices with newly fashioned cooking styles, inventing a contemporary cuisine with subtle hints of tradition.
As the stylish capital, Phnom Penh is leading the effort in redefining the authenticity of Cambodian cuisine and home to the nation’s many culinary treasures. Malis is a restaurant dedicated to restoring traditional and classic Khmer recipes for modern menus. The restaurant is the creation of Luu Meng, one of Asia’s top celebrity chefs and once named Cambodia’s only master chef. Meng is very much an idol of the city; he grew up in a refugee camp, has cooked with Gordon Ramsay and is now at the helm at one of the first upscale restaurants to offer traditional Cambodian recipes. Malis is an impressive environment to savor the best of the capital’s culinary creations: a life-size Buddha statue, serene and majestic, greets diners at the entranceway before they sample dishes that are based on locally sourced ingredients and refined cooking techniques.
Traditional Cambodian dipping sauce recipes use fermented fish as a flavor base but at Malis, Meng has created a special blend of spice paste called Kroeung, used for their signature Prahok Ktis dish, as well as many of their curries and spiced dishes. It’s a flavor unique to the restaurant, to modern times and to Phnom Penh.
Keeping the country’s former colonial French influence at the forefront, Van’s Restaurant is the epitome of contemporary French fusion fine dining, the kind of place for society’s chicest, serving en vogue dishes in the former Banque Indochine building.
Van’s executive chef Nicolas Malherbe has brought his Michelin-starred experience to Cambodia, taking French cuisine to the next level outside his native France. The restaurant’s menu is quintessentially French, but on closer look, each dish is sprinkled with flavors that are local to Cambodia: the Chateaubriand is accompanied by the famous Kampot peppercorns, and prawns from the Mekong are served in a refreshing mango and wasabi sauce, modernizing the value of French colonial gastronomy.
There is a certain visionary energy throughout the streets of Phnom Penh to revive and make new the Khmer traditions of the past, from rescuing traditional ceremonies to bringing back the vintage styles through modern designs. One thing is for certain, the Pearl of the East has majestically resurfaced, and is ready to be embraced once again.
Malis Restaurant: 136 Norodom Blvd.; +855 23-221-022
Van’s Restaurant: 5 Street 102, Place de la Poste; +855 23-722-067