Rue Pasteur (Street 51), #5, near entrance to Street 278.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
I've spent some time in Southern India over the past few years. The first time, I was 19 years old and working for a dysfunctional music magazine in Bangalore - the second time I was just passing through. My main impression of Southern India is that the people are nice, the scenery is delightfully tropical, and the food is awesome. It's a real mystery to me why South Indian cuisine hasn't taken off in the USA like the heavier, meatier food of India's north. It's lighter then Northern Indian food, mostly vegetarian, and is (usually) a bit more delicately spiced - and there are a dizzying array of regional variations from state to state throughout the massive area that encompasses India's south. The most iconic dish of Southern India would be, naturally, the dosa, a kind of crepe made from fermented mung bean flour. The dough is spilled out onto a flat grill in the same fashion as a crepe, and then it's (usually) filled with something - most commonly a spiced potato and onion mixture. However, there are roughly a bazillion ways to cook a dosa, varying by region, taste, and what yer mama made when you were a little kid on the coffee plantation (or whatever).
Needless to say, I was happy to find that there's a spot to get a dosa right here in Phnom Penh. It's South Indian run, as evidenced by the menu that covers a pretty healthy array of Southern Indian foodstuffs. They've got a bunch of varieties of dosa, including palak dosa, rava dosa made with semolina, and masala dosa with egg. They've got uttapams (flat South Indian pancakes), vadas (spicy Indian doughnuts), sambar idlis (rice cakes with spicy soup) and even ghee pongal (a kind of nutty rice dish). It's enough to warm the heart of any lonely South Indian expat in Cambodia. There's a couple of lunch-time South Indian thalis on offer, some South Indian-style meat dishes like chili chicken and praw pepper fry, and some good ol' Mughali style curries for those who just can't bring themselves to do the dosa thing. And yes, there's pretty good chai and coffee. These are essential.
The first time I came here, I ordered a masala dosa but somehow managed to convince the Khmer waitress that I wanted it to go. This meant it got brought out to me imprisoned in styrofoam, and by the time I'd communicated that I was actually interested in eating in, the damn thing was cold. A cold dosa is not a particularly pleasant thing. I decided I'd come back.
I returned recently and ordered a mushroom masala dosa. Thankfully, this came out hot and on one of those nice steel plates Southern Indians are so partial to. It's a pretty worthy effort, though it could have been a *little* hotter. The masala mixture inside with mushroom was nicely spiced and there was plenty of it. They've got a good handle on sambar, South India's mainstay spicy soup with potato, tomato, and a ton of spices, and the tomato and coconut chutneys are freshly made and excellent. You're supposed to eat a dosa with your hands, dipping it in the tomato, cilantro, and coconut chutneys according to whim. They'll bring you out a big plate of the tomato chutney if you ask for it. Which I did.
I had the non-veg thali today and thought it was pretty good, and definitely similar to standard fare in South India. You get three vegetables, curd (better this time then last time,) a small pot of chicken curry, rice, chapati, and a papad, along with some pickle. I especially enjoyed the stir-fried beet, which was a new one for me. The carrots and finely chopped green beans are very Andhra Pradesh - I need to ask where the owners are from. Chicken curry was also good too, if not spicy enough, and featured actual chunks of meat instead of the bone and gristle often found in India. $5.00 and it'll fill you up. (There was a fascinating discussion going on over at the next table regarding love, mistrust, and cross-cultural relations between Indian and Cambodian, but I guess I shouldn't go into too much detail. But it was awesome. "STOP WITH YOUR LIES!!")
It's a tiny little restaurant with only a few tables, but they deliver everywhere in Phnom Penh. There's always a large number of South Indian expats chowing down here. Go figure.