Before I left for Cambodia, I did an online search of restaurants in Phnom Penh. I wanted to identify a local restaurant that would be willing to let me film its chef cooking local dishes. The very first Cambodian restaurant that I contacted was Frizz. It is named for its former Dutch owner, whose name is Fritz. Locals had trouble pronouncing his name, which came out as "Frizz." Hence the name.
I emailed the restaurant with little hope of a response. I was pleasantly surprised that Seng Kear, the new Cambodian owner, emailed me back and agreed to let me film his chef preparing Khmer dishes.
I was ecstatic. We arranged a time for me to stop by the restaurant to talk more about my project. Two days after arriving in Phnom Penh, I found my way to the restaurant.
It was only then that I found out that Frizz does half-day and day-long cooking classes on Khmer cuisine! I signed up for the full-day class, with the understanding that I would be able to film and photograph the experience. I've been posting about those experiences (http://inthekitchenwitheva-eva.blogspot.com/2011/06/learn-to-cook-khmer-cuisine-cambodia.html, http://inthekitchenwitheva-eva.blogspot.com/2011/06/learning-to-cook-khmer-cuisine-part-2.html, and http://inthekitchenwitheva-eva.blogspot.com/2011/06/learning-to-cook-khmer-cuisine-part-3.html). I have another post to write as well as film that needs editing before I upload it.
The class was great fun and I learned a lot about Khmer cuisine. The knowledgeable chef also provided valuable insights into Cambodia's history, about which I knew little.
I learned about how Thai cuisine evolved from Khmer culture and about how famine during the brutal years of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge led people to eat insects (which we sampled during the cooking class.) Central to Khmer cooking is the kroeung, which is a wet paste that forms the basis of many dishes. It usually includes lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chilies, and often galangal and kaffir leaves. This is the palette that gives rise to delightful dishes such as fish amok and various curries. It is combined using good old-fashioned elbow grease, via a mortar and pestle.
It occurred to me that I had not eaten at the restaurant, which would be a very different experience from the cooking class. So one evening after a long, hard day of work I took a tuk tuk (motorcycle drawn carriage that serves as a taxi cab in Phnom Penh)
to Frizz for dinner.
It's a pleasant but unassuming place
with a relatively small number of tables.
Atmosphere and ambience are great but I'm food-focused! Frizz's menu features Khmer dishes,
including the ones we made in the cooking class:
While waiting for my entree I ordered a refreshing fruit juice, made of fresh passion fruit.
For the main dish I chose the kari saich trey ($4.75), which is a fish curry (I chose green) with coconut milk, sweet potato, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, kaffir lime and leaves.
It is served with rice as are many Khmer dishes.
It was a very, very filling dish and had a wonderful texture that is hard to describe. Usually I'm suspicious of foods that combine too many soft textures; but this dish was really lovely. It had a creamy texture and was delicately spiced by the kaffir lime and leaves, galangal and garlic. If I could have licked the bowl I would have. It was that good.
For dessert I decided to be health-conscious and opted for a fresh fruit salad with yogurt on top ($2.75). I should have held off on the yogurt, which I thought would be homemade.
The pre-made yogurt was unnecessary and clashed with the fresh taste of the fruit. My feedback would be for for the chef to either make fresh yogurt or to serve it on the side.
The best part of the meal was when Mr. Kear, the owner, came in. I invited him to sit with me and we had a great chat. He's a real entrepreneur who has pulled himself up by the bootstraps with a story is worthy of filming. He worked in restaurants throughout Southeast Asia before starting at the bottom at Frizz. He worked his way up from washer to waiter. Eventually, the Dutch owner sold the restaurant to Mr. Kear, who has a nice vision for where he wants it to go. I work on international development and have come to realize that one of the best ways to promote poverty alleviation is to support entrepreneurs such as Mr.Kear.
Please be sure to go to Frizz on your next trip to Phnom Penh. You'll enjoy high-quality food and great prices. And you'll be supporting a bright, hard-working entrepreneur!