new Things I Ate in Cambodia: PHNOM PENH: Chiang Mai Thai Restuarant, Sisowath

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

PHNOM PENH: Chiang Mai Thai Restuarant, Sisowath

Chiang Mai Thai Restaurant
227 Sisowath Boulevard
+855 11 81 1456
7 days a week, 10:00 AM until 10:00 PM. Upstairs seating available.
Vegetarian friendly: Extremely.
Price: $$

Thai food can be surprisingly difficult to get in Phnom Penh. European food of many varieties is easy to get around here, Korean food is rife, sushi is eminently possible and you can't swing a cat without hitting a place serving some bizarre take on French food - but Thai? Like, that country right next door? Harder. (Don't get me started on the curious paucity of Vietnamese food). This can, of course, be chalked up to ancient and historically relevant ethnic tensions, but it doesn't help when I just want some larb-gai.

Ethnic tensions aside, there is a pretty good Thai restaurant smack dab in the tourist hell of Sisowath Quay. It's called Chiang Mai Thai because it is indeed Northern Thai food - there's northern style dips on the menu, an inordinate variety of larb-type dishes (and the real thing) and you can even get an honest-to-god bowl of God's chosen food, Burma's khao-soi.

I eat here a lot because it is one of the cheaper options on Sisowath, the management is nice, and the food is reliably tasty. I also like the Bible-length and decently photographed menu. The dining room is simple and functional, and closed off enough that you won't get too much beggar-harassment unless you are sitting right up against the entrance.

They do fish amok here, but they stir-fry it instead of baking it. Personally, I love Chiang Mai's take on the Eternal Khmer Dish. It's fresher, firmer, and less custardy then some variants on the theme. If you can tear yourself away from a psychological reliance on the cute little banana leaf package, this is good stuff. You can also get it made with chicken or shrimp if you're feeling irreverent.

I usually pair this with mixed vegetables or stir-fried waterspinach. Nothing particularly special though I like the nutrients. Water spinach is delightful and something that makes up the bulk of my diet, like many Cambodians. A tasty, nutrient rich vegetable that can be grown in pretty much any scummy pond is a gift of nature. (Don't think about the scummy part, actually. I mean. They cook it with high heat).

This is a dry, Khmer style red-curry with a large quantity of local vegetables. A really tasty dish that is aggressively healthy without entirely seeming so. I am very fond of Cambodia's tiny, globular eggplants and these are used to good effect here. There is a dash of coconut milk for flavor, and a whole lot of dry, intense spices.

I have also sampled the larb-gai here, which, as previously mentioned, is quite good. As spicy as you can take it, extremely tangy, and plenty of rice powder to give it that nutty and slightly crunchy finish. They do pretty good curry crabs, using Cambodia's particular and stripy crab variety—these are best eaten with a mess of morning glory and a philosophical attitude about getting one's hands messy.

I have not tried the khao soi yet - I got spoiled for choice in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and am a bit wary - but I will eventually once the need for coconut-egg noodle-chicken-pickle soup gets too strong, and it will, it always will.


The guys at Chiang Mai deliver and they do it quickly. No screwed up orders to date, and they always bring change. The guy on the phone speaks actual English.

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