Thursday, June 2, 2011

A great lunch in Phnom Penh

My second day in Cambodia was busy. The morning was full of interviews for the project I'm doing here. Fortunately, I had the afternoon free and was determined to make good use of my time.

But before I set off on my excursion, I had to have lunch. The last interview before-- just before noon-- was well away from the tourist area, so I had high hopes of being able to find a local place, with local people and local prices.

So I consulted my tuk tuk driver, Tony, knowing that he would not fail me. And he did not! He did a U-turn in the middle of oncoming traffic (a regular experience of riding in tuk tuks here in Phnom Penh) and pulled next to the curb in front of a nondescript corner restaurant that had cheap plastic lawn chairs and tables sprawled across the sidewalk.

Apparently the restaurant is in the grilling business, too. As I looked at the corner I saw a man grilling what looked like chicken skewers of some kind. His colleague added a few chunks of charcoal and the grilling guy would move and periodically turn the skewers. Unfortunately for me, they were not ready to be eaten, but they smelled heavenly!

I settled into my chair and was greeted by a rude, sullen, sulky waitress who looked as though her face might crack if a smile dared to appear. What did I care? I was hungry and the menu was full of local dishes, ranging from fried rice with different meats (or just vegetables) and basil, to noodles mixed with vegetables and meat. I chose the latter, with beef.

A few minutes later, as the rain began to pour, my lunch arrived.

The noodles tasted freshly made, the vegetables were crunchy and the beef was not overcooked. It was tender and had absorbed whatever seasonings had been put in it.

Almost as satisfying as the filling, generous meal was the price tag. I paid 2.00 for the meal, including a bottle of water that cost all of $0.50. Of course I added a tip, which the waitresses laughed at. It seems that locals do not tip here. It would have been disgraceful (at least to me) had I followed that local custom.

The moral of the story is that it's usually best to go off the beaten track in search of local food that is tasty, inexpensive and filling.

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