No 9, Street 57
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Khmer Surin is my Company restaurant in Phnom Penh. Set in a beautifully designed Khmer style wooden house with an extensive water garden, the menu has all the Khmer classics as well as more familar Thai dishes, reasonable prices, and good service. It's a great intro to Khmer food for friends - all the flavor without the possible health code violations, since I don't want to send anybody home with THAT sort of souvenir. I'll even eat at Khmer Surin when people aren't visiting, which is quite the testimony.
I was taking my dear Tulane buddy Bojo out for a pre-Tuol Sleng lunch—and you'll need the calories if you're going there. I'm not going to insert some sort of punchy joke line here because 1. out of line as hell and 2. Seriously, I can't do it. Moving on.
My boyfriend and I love the fried squid here. It's a simple dish, but they do it really well. Light crispy batter, nice tangy dipping sauce, and the squid is tender and doesn't require five minutes of chewing to get through. I like fried food that isn't so violently greasy that I can feel my arteries hardening upon consumption. Well played.
Fish amok is served here in small individual servings, which is a bit annoying if you're the type who orders one fish amok all for yourself (usually me) but is very handy if you're 1. in a group and 2. introducing the wonders of fish amok to another person for the first time. This is what I use Khmer Surin for - first introductions to Khmer food for friends - so this serving style works fine for me. It's also good amok, with plenty of flavor and a very uncomposed, soft texture - I don't like it too thick.
Everyone loves satay. Something about marinated meat on a stick in tandem with spicy peanut sauce turns on the synapes of just about everyone I've ever met. Vegetarian? You can do it with tofu. Satay rocks. And this is good satay. Tender, which is the main thing, since bad satay entails gnawing beef jerky off a wooden stick which is never fun. The peanut sauce is a bit oily, but nothing insurmountable.
Want to get your friends to eat water lily? Order the water lily with chicken and peanut sauce, evocatively called "Swimming Rama" on Khmer Surin's menu. Combine two universally loved food products (except for those with peanut allergies, poor bastards) with one certified Weird Thing and you've got a handy loophole. Also, water lily, despite the fact that it is grown in large sludgy ponds by people who live in floating villages (most of the time) is actually delicious, nutritious, and close enough to spinach for most people's needs.
Khmer Surin also makes a fantastic Thai-style stuffed omelette. It's a thin omelette stuffed with diced pork, green pepper, onion, and a slightly sweet ketchup-chili sauce, and it is absolutely fantastic. The Pad Thai is missable - the noodles are too thin and not enough flavor - but don't pass up that omelette.
Khmer Surin is best appreciated at night, when you can dine sitting on silk cushions on a lovely wooden porch while listening to traditional Khmer music. Even if you're a Jaded Expat, it's a nice reminder that you do indeed live in a cool and exotic place. A reminder you sometimes need when much of your average week in said Exotic Asian Wonderland may involve fighting with sketchy mototaxi drivers, killing malevolent insects the size of your goddamn face, and dealing with sudden and brutal downpours. The adventure is still there, you just have to remember it sometimes.