new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Suzume: Homey Japanese Food in Dark Heart of Phnom Penh

Friday, December 16, 2011

Suzume: Homey Japanese Food in Dark Heart of Phnom Penh

14A Street 51
092 748 393
Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has more Japanese restaurants than I ever expected it to have, mostly due to the city's healthy (and apparently chronically starving) population of Japanese NGO workers. Most Japanese restaurants here are of the rustic variety, specializing more in curries, soups, ramen and gyoza, rather than more complicated and delicate affairs like sushi.

Expat-beloved and low-key Suzume, however, has a phone-book size menu with most standard Japanese dishes, including ramen and gyoza, a variety of tempura, and even a selection of sushi rolls.

Downside: everything is more expensive than it is at other "mid-range" Japanese places in town, including ramen at $7, which I think is a bit ridiculous in Cambodia. Bowl o' noodles, like everyone else eats here, just from Japan.

Edamame:possibly the perfect snack, tragically a bit hard to find here, or at least in the awesome pre-packaged microwave pack format you can find the stuff in Northern California. Buttery nutrient rich deliciousness, all natural, hard to object in any way.

Suzume does a pretty good turn in shrimp and vegetable tempura, which can be fried into a chewy, immense mass of suck and here is light and airy in the best Japanese fashion. Fried seaweed in batter is curiously delectable. I do not know how they turn shrimp into shrimp *poles* like this but it is rather impressive. Probably involves deveining, maybe crustacean torture, I don't know.

Vegetable gyoza are another classic - need to be light and not chewy, in the Japanese fashion (more leeway is allowed for big meaty greasy Chinese dumplings). These were filled with cabbage and chives and were quite tasty. I like the meaty variety more but one makes concessions when dining with vegetarians. (Hey, I love you guys. Cook for ya all the time. Well, used to.)

My boyfriend is sort of a Japanese curry obsessive and this is probably the most comforting of Japanese comfort foods to the expat set: mild curry, rice, and fried pork katsu on top. Great for cold weather (if we had any) and excellent if you're: 6'6, working on a construction site, or have recently suffered from a bout of weight-loss causing sickness. Since most foreigners here often experience #3, fire away. Japanese people: is this also Comfort Food of Choice? Suspect so for many.

Tuna rolls are a simple but delicious affair, and these use nice fish and are well-rolled, which is often an issue with sushi in Cambodia.

Admittedly: I spend my days at the Khmer Rouge War Tribunal of late and sometimes day-dream about asking the anti-materalist anti-Western Communist leaders of yore - "Hey, did you know bunches of expats dine on Japanese imperialist food at rather high prices in your very own capital? Suck on it!"

I will never get a chance to do this but it's kind of a dream.

My personal favorite: eel and cucumber rolls. These were quite good, and had a nice fresh, sweet, nicely unctuous flavor. Simple sushi rolls are something I miss very much from the US. Had I known I would miss Tulane University cafeteria sushi so much. In any case, these rolls fill the void in my heart, and there's no "service charge" like that surprise tacked on at Rahu. Tasty as Rahu's sushi may be.

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