new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Cantina: Mexican Food That Doesn't Suck in Cambodia, Crawling with Feral Journalists

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cantina: Mexican Food That Doesn't Suck in Cambodia, Crawling with Feral Journalists

347 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
023 222502

It's hard to properly review Cantina for me.

Hurley, the owner, is a friend, a fellow (vastly more experienced) journalist, and someone my boyfriend and I spend a lot of time sitting outside with, talking about nothing in particular, on rainy Phnom Penh nights. Cantina is also a dependable place to find a real, live Actual Journalist in Phnom Penh, unlike the FCC. Seriously: journalists can't afford to eat there. Don't even bother.

Cantina, as may be indicated by the name, serves Mexican food. Much to my shock when I first tried it, Hurley's food is extremely tasty and is not an abomination before the Lord, as Mexican food eaten pretty much anywhere other then Texas, Mexico, or Calilfornia is.

Hurley, as he told me a while back, has some sort of supply line going with Long Beach Cambodians who get him Mexican ingredients - chilis, salsas, hot sauce, beans, that sort of thing - on a regular basis. Further, they hand-make the tortillas, and everything is very fresh. You can even get good guacamole here if you come during the wet season. Mondolkiri province has enough elevation to grow good avocados.

We usually get taquitos to start off with, because who doesn't like a good taquito? And these are good, made with home-made corn tortillas and lots of chicken, and a very excellent creamy avocado sauce. Also, there's Tapatio here. God, I miss Tapatio sometimes.

I'm a tostada fan. Sort of like a taco salad without the fuss. The home-made corn tortillas really shine here, deep fried, covered in refried beans, cheese, meat, lettuce, tomato, salsa, hot sauce, and some guacamole, and you're good to go. I usually smash em' up with a fork, but the fried tortillas have enough give to allow you to break them into chunks. I have been told this is by design. They have good ground beef here - the Taste of Home - but there's also excellent slow-cooked spicy pork. Definitely give that a shot.

There's also tacos, fajitas, chili verde, quesadillas, gringas, enchiladas, nachos, and most of the other usual suspects. Mexican beer and good margaritas as well, including a frozen strawberry one that I have avoided for reasons of mental health. The decor is "Old war photos, most of them authentic, mixed with old raunchy Mexican movie posters," which I happen to find charming.

Most of the clientele are pleasantly-surprised Americans feeling home sick, though we shared a good laugh the other night when some French tourists walked by, one exclaiming loudly, "Oi, this is zee....Mexicaan food?" Oui, oui. Si, si.

Also, journalists. Let me explain.

Shoals of journalists come through Cantina on certain, special nights of the week, drawn there by some special signal - I believe it's the same lunar message that drives fingerling fish or certain species of eels to shore to spawn. Or could be because most of us — not all of us— have figured out how to send out mass text messages.

This makes me ask - why exactly do you, Presumed Fantasy Phnom Penh Tourist, want to meet a journalist, anyway? They have good stories, sure, but they also drink a lot and argue about weird socio-political matters, and then they drink some more. And then some more.

You might be talked into buying a round for a bunch of louts, or you might be forced to listen to some fuck talk for like an hour and a half about the time they got trapped in Kashgar during the Bad Days, whenever the Bad Days were (and there's always bad days).. After the bottle of bourbon, so the story makes even less sense.

Also, a lot of us are assholes. Present company included.

Consider Meeting Journalists in blanket terms before you actually run out and do so, that's all I'm saying.

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