Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dining in Phnom Penh/Indonesian

I've been very excited about dining in Phnom Penh and blogging about the experience. I wrote up my review of a terrific Cambodian meal that I had last night. That will appear as a guest blog piece on another site. Once it's up, I'll post the link for it.

Tonight I ventured out again, on my second full day in Cambodia. I decided that I wanted Indonesian food, which is not readily available in Boston. So, I set out for a restaurant that had received favorable reviews online: Warung Bali (#25 Street 178, Phnom Penh, Cambodia) . I had high hopes that were largely unmet. I suppose it's not possible to find fabulous places to eat every time you step foot inside a restaurant.

It's an unassuming place with plastic-covered tablecloths and simple wooden chairs. My tuk tuk driver drove right past it, as it's pretty easy to miss.

Anyway, I opened the menu and the first thing that struck me was the fact that about 70% of the dishes were deep fried. This confused me, as I know that there are a number of Indonesian dishes that don't involve a deep fat fryer. Maybe I should have left then. Sometimes it's best to trust your instincts. But Indonesian food was what I wanted and Indonesian food was what I was going to eat.

The menu was divided into: appetizers ($1.50-$2.50); soups ($1.75-$2.50); chicken dishes ($2.00-$2.50); fish dishes ($2.00-$2.50); prawns/squid dishes ($2.50); tofu/tempe dishes ($$1.50); egg dishes ($1.50); noodle dishes ($2.00-$2.50) and desserts ($2.00). The noodles dishes (mie) seemed to be the most creative.

But for some reason, I became stuck and was determined to have fish. I ordered spring rolls with peanut sauce, deep fried fish with chili sauce, steamed rice, and gado gado. I ordered fruit juice (orange, coconut and pineapple), which was sublime.

Four crispy spring rolls arrived a few minutes later. They were not too greasy and were filled with vegetables. The peanut sauce seemed just average. For some reason, it did not seem homemade and had a bottled feel.

Before I could finish one spring roll, the fish arrived. Upon inspection, I could see that the fish had indeed been deep friend. What raised alarm bells was the fact that the chili sauce seemed to have been simply poured on top of the fish. The result was what I expected -- a disjointed dish. The fish itself seemed to lack seasoning and the chili sauce seemed no more complex than a copious amount of red chilis sauteed in oil and garlic. Maybe if the fish had been allowed to sit in the sauce over a low flame, it would have improved the flavor.

I ate some of it because I was quite hungry, but it was not a satisfying endeavor. Still, I held out hope for the gado-gado, a traditional Indonesian dish of steamed vegetables served with a peanut sauce and hard-boiled egg. It looked promising when it arrived! It consisted of small green beans, one-half of a hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts and tofu. The peanut sauce was far superior to the one served with the spring rolls. There were actually peanuts in the sauce, which was thickish and flavorful. And it had a nice kick to it. It was quite good.

Warung Bali was not the worst restaurant I've ever been to, but it did not meet my expectations, either.

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