Ah, the Cambodian beer garden. Cambodians love to drink, and they especially love beer. They especially love drinking beer outside with all their friends, preferably to the accompaniment of blasting pop music, karaoke, or some sort of over the top live performance. There will usually be a giant screen playing football of some variety, and there will be yelling when a good play is made. Cambodians especially especially love drinking beer with the accompaniment of a massive amount of food.
No, we're not in Germany anymore. The Khmer have taken the beer garden and made it into their own thing. Cambodian commercials feature beer and beer gardens to an overwhelming extent - a favorite of mine involves three hip young dudes helping peasants pull their water-buffalo cart out of a ditch, then adjourning to the beer garden with the hot beer garden girl to unwind. (Unfortunately, beer garden girls are often the victims of the very worst of Cambodian male behavior - read the papers).
You can get a menu at these places, but whenever I end up at our favored beer garden, Sbov Meas, we just order by ways of saying what we want. The menus in these places are usually large affairs, and if you want a specific Khmer dish, they've probably got it or they can rustle it up for you eventually. They'll serve you a dish of pickled cabbage for starters. Dishes come out whenever the hell they come out in the best of Asian traditions.
This is beef with green mango, a delicious dish I've only had in Cambodia. It's sliced beef stir-fried with oyster sauce and served with sliced, tangy green mango. The combination of sour and sweet is pretty superb. Green mango in general is a Cambodian standby and a very delicious thing. Slightly different from green papaya. I'd say more...appley.
If you order fried fish here, that's a thing. We thought we were ordering a whole fish and instead got Cambodian's beloved Little Stinky Fried Fish. I happen to be really into these, having spent my early childhood eating deep-fried smelts in Greek restaurants in Florida, but they've got little bones in them and a certain compelling funk.
They do great fried shrimp at Sbov Meas. Light and crispy, and even the tails get salty and deliciously edible. They serve them with lettuce and sweet chili sauce so you can wrap em' up as some Khmer do. They also serve it with Fishwort, the World's Grossest Herb. (If you ask me).
Sweet and sour? Yeah, man. Cambodians love sweet and sour anything (As does the world) and they've got a good turn with sweet and sour fried pork ribs. Bone in, don't bite down too fast. It's good Dranking Food. As is most stuff here.
You order the beer in massive pitcher-jar things with taps - they give you glasses and ice, so you can refill yourself. The aim is to get absolutely plastered, and this is usually achieved. (Cambodian alcohol tolerance is not superb). It's usually Anchor beer, but you could go Angkor, or Tiger if you're feeling fancy.
The night we were there happened to coincide with a wealthy Khmer woman's birthday party, and boy, was it done up right. Apparently some rich Khmer are turning birthday parties into massive, wedding-like affairs intended to not-so-subtly flaunt one's wealth to your social ouvre. That may have been what was happening here.
Then again, she also seemed to have secured for herself a bona-fide ladyboy show. Khmer find ladyboys vastly amusing, and these were some high-end specimens. They had definitely had The Surgery. Well, at least up top.
There was strutting, dancing, ass-shaking, a staged duet thing between a ladyboy and a boy over Jilted Love or whatever (involving banging on a steel pan) and a ladyboy with bigger tits then my own shaking it to the vast confusion of the male members of our party.
It was absolutely fabulous. Don't miss a good Cambodian beer garden when in Phnom Penh.