Phnom Penh: Capital of Cambodia and Great Oakland Eatery

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Cambodian food rarely comes to mind, but on the occasions where I can’t decide what to eat, Phnom Penh always seems to satisfy my palette. The original Phnom Penh opened in the mid-1980’s by the Do Family and is located in an old brick building in Oakland Chinatown. About twenty years later they opened their second restaurant in the Laurel District. It wasn’t until I read their website did I learn that their family survived the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

Since the second Phnom Penh opened, it became my preference as it appeared nicer and location and parking was friendlier. On a recent visit to Phnom Penh with my sister and friend, we discovered that it was closed for renovations. Still wanting Cambodian food, we drove over to the original restaurant.

I am the type of person that doesn’t like to be disappointed so when I know what I like, I tend to go back to what I know.

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The appetizer of choice is always “noum om beng” which is a Cambodian crepe stuffed with pork, shrimp, coconut, bean sprout, served with their special sauce. On the side is fresh lettuce and cucumbers. It is a great starter.

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The soup that I love is “samlaw mach hour,” a brothy soup cooked with prawns, fish, pineapple, tomatoes, lemon and sauces. This provides such an interesting combination of flavors that work very well together.

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The entree that is my must have is “traop ann neun sach chhrouk,” eggplant grilled and stuffed with shrimp and pork. The texture and flavors are unique and delicious. This dish just melts in my mouth.

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The sweet basil fried rice with shrimp is only a recent discovery for me. It’s hard to go back to white rice when you have something so good. I would consider just eating this dish alone. It’s that good.

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This recent visit brought us thinking completely outside the box as we tried another new item, the crunchy string beans which are sautéed with braised tofu, mint and a touch of chili sauce. This was also a very tasty dish, good for the vegetarian.

It’s difficult to write about Phnom Penh and not think about the tasty food they serve. Guess I shouldn’t wait too long before my next visit.

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