new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Mekong Korean: Cold Weather Food for the Tropics

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mekong Korean: Cold Weather Food for the Tropics

Mekong Korean Restaurant
Sothearos Drive
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Korean restaurants are rife in Phnom Penh, and family restaurant Mekong Korean occupies a convenient location in the very center of the city. Dishing up rustic versions of Korean standards such as bi-bim-bap, tofu stew, stir-fried pork with red pepper and chicken stews, the restaurant has an entirely nondescript interior, few Western customers, and background music trending towards "Christian Celtic Songs Of the 90's." I find it all rather relaxing.

My favorite dish here is definitely the bulgogi stew at $8. It's not really bulgogi - they use ground beef here - but I love the slightly sweet, beefy, sesame infused broth. It's served with cabbage, carrots, sesame seeds, onions, and a bunch of enoki mushrooms. All the vegetation can make you pretend you're being healthy. Also a great option when dining with people who are red pepper averse, which is a serious, serious malfunction in Korean restaurants.

Another good dish here is Korean chicken stew, an exceptionally homey dish of braised chicken in a spicy red pepper sauce with potatoes, capsicum, onions, and chilis. It's spicy and delightfuly rustic at the same time. Great over rice, big pieces of skin-on, bone in chicken, something you'd make yourself in cool weather. It's almost getting into the low seventies at night in Phnom Penh now so I feel cold-weather food is entirely justified. It's around $14 for 2, and the stew's serving size was big enough that Giant Iowa Boyfriend and I could share it and be more than satiated.

The reason Korean restaurants may seem somewhat pricier than other restaurants is undoubtedly due to panchan, the ubiquitous selection of side-dishes trotted out at any Korean restaurant worth a damn. As these side-dishes are always refilled upon request (or without request), you could consider a good Korean restaurant something more of an all-you-can-eat buffet—and entree portion sizes tend to be healthy as well.

Mekong Korean does excellent marinated eggplant, fishcakes, beansprouts and daikon, but you'll get something different every time. I find their classic cabbage kimchi only OK, however. Something a little too harsh in the flavor. You'd be surprised how specific kimchi lovers can get. Also, how hard it is for kimchi lovers to get their non-Korean significant others to kiss them after they eat it.

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