Nak Won Korean Restaurant
Street 222, #40, Corner of Street 63
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cambodia happens to have a lot of Korean expats, and all those Korean expats need somewhere to eat - which means Phnom Penh is lousy with Korean eateries. From Korean BBQ places to casual lunch spots to fast-food chains of Korean origin, the city is lousy with Korean foodstuff. As for me? I'm thrilled. My mother lived in Seoul when she was a kid and I grew up eating kimchi - Korean is one of my favorite cuisines of all time. So I was happy to run across the Nak Won Korean Restaurant, conveniently located near my workplace.
Nak Won is a small, quiet, and family run place, set inside what is obviously one of Phnom Penh's trademark expat-homes. There is an English menu but the staff's evident surprise when I ambled in indicates there isn't much barang custom here. No one speaks much English, but the photo menu is helpful. (A few visits and some translation from other patrons has ingratiated me with the staff, mostly because I answered the Ultimate Question of "Why is a white girl devouring that much kimchi?" to their satisfaction).
The lunch menu bears the advantage of being cheap and featuring a pretty healthy variety of dishes. There's pork galbi, stir-fried pork with chili sauce, stir-fried beef, bi-bim-bap, kimchi stew, beef soup, Korean pancakes (pajun), Korean "sushi" (gimbap), galbi stew, grilled fish, and a number of large multiple-person dishes. And as you may perhaps be able to tell by the photo above, the banchan (side dishes) are just plain fantastic - and re-fillable. Meals also come with a tasty soy-bean-pumpkin-chili-onion soup I find rather addictive, and watermelon for dessert.
It's definitely the tastiest kimchi I've had in town. Further, they mix it up considerably, which is important for a Korean restaurant's banchan options. (For the die-hards - yes, they've got purple rice. The real deal).
They do a fine turn with the grilled meats here. This is grilled chicken in a typical slightly sweet Korean marinade ($7). Dark meat (the good stuff) and served with lettuce and Korean bean paste to wrap it all up in. A good light lunch. One interesting thing about Korean food is that I stuff myself silly whenever I eat it, but it's inherently reasonably light - well, okay, until you get to the galbi....
They also do a very fine turn with pork galbi. A huge serve at $7 bucks and juicy, delicious, and on-the-bone. I couldn't finish it and was regarded with some concern by the male half of the husband-wife pair that run the place. I resorted to extremely positive hand-gestures. Yum.
I befriended two Korean brothers on my last visit, who spoke English and were amused enough by my enthusiasm for kimchi to get a conversation started. I was quickly gifted some chilled soju, taught some rudimentary Korean phrases and etiquette, we exchanged business cards, and then they gave me a bowl of the excellent spicy chicken stew they'd ordered - a massive, $25 dollar serve that's suitable for three or more. One of the guys ended up †hrowing the leftover purple rice and panchan in with the dredges of the stew, putting the heat back on, and making a helluva tasty impromptu bibimbap. Clever!