Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
This post is a continuation of my previous post, A foodie’s guide to Cambodia.
Before going to Cambodia, I asked my family where to get the best food in Cambodia. My brother had lived in Phnom Penh for six months and my parents had visited the country a couple of times. Their answer was depressing:
There is no good food in Cambodia.
I have been to countries where this is indeed the case – Myanmar, for example, did not have food to write home about. So with expectations suitably lowered, we arrived in Cambodia. Once there, we were pleasantly surprised to find that there’s actually lots of good food to be found in Cambodia – you just have to know where to look.
Best dessert in Cambodia
I naturally have a sweet tooth, and when I’m on vacation (and more often than not, when I’m not on vacation too), I like to let it have its rein. During that awkward time between lunch and dinner, when you’re tired from walking around exploring all day, but it’s not quite late enough to sit down and have a beer and a proper meal, that’s the perfect time to go in search of cake.
The best dessert in Cambodia that I found was this amazingly rich chocolate cake at the Choco L’art Cafe in Battambang. It had layers of chocolate mousse, hazelnut mousse and chocolate cake studded with hazelnuts, and it was divine. Paired with a good plunger coffee, this cake was a great way to spend a few hours, especially with the chess set from the cafe.
Best social enterprise cafe in Cambodia
This one’s probably a way for me to sneak more cake into the mix. #noregrets.
We visited Siem Reap at the end of the year during the supposed ‘cool season’. The afternoons were north of 35C, and with the blazing hot sun, it just wasn’t possible to be outside without risking heat stroke. Maybe I’m losing the ability to stay cool no matter the temperature after spending so many years away from Malaysia. At any rate, on our first day in Siem Reap, when it was finally cool enough to leave the hotel we ventured forth on our daily pastry hunt and came across the Bayon Pastry School Coffee Shop down a little dirt lane.
The Bayon Pastry School is a free vocational pastry school for disadvantaged women. Each year, the school selects and trains 20 women for free. The course runs for 11 months, including 4 months of internships, and includes other classes such as English, and skills to run a business. Accommodation, food and all training material is provided.
How could I not support such a good cause? After the heat of the day, it was nice to relax in the shade with a slice of chocolate Christmas log and iced coffee while looking out at the garden. I wanted to try their bread, too, and planned to go back for breakfast, but we went on New Year’s Day, and unfortunately it was closed. I guess there’s always next time.
Best restaurant in Siem Reap
On our first day in Siem Reap, new in town and still finding our feet, we chanced upon the Chanrey Tree. We had no reservations but asked for a table for lunch, and were immediately shown to a table. Looking back, this experience, coupled with our past few days in Battambang and Phnom Penh, made us extremely complacent. We would call a restaurant a couple of hours before asking for a table, only to be told they were booked out for three weeks. Siem Reap has plenty of nice restaurants (or so we hear, having not been able to visit any of them except the Chanrey Tree!), so do book ahead. But I digress.
The Chanrey Tree is known for their delicious khmer cuisine and we weren’t disappointed. My favourite was the char khroeung, a stir fry with plenty of khmer herbs, including lemongrass, galangal and turmeric. It was almost like a curry, but much lighter without the coconut milk.
I was quite tempted to try the roasted stuffed frog, but we’d already had frog a few times in Cambodia, so opted for the chicken instead. It was marinated in the Khmer way, and was delicious. The Happy Gwailo didn’t like it that much though – the fish sauce (or more likely, prahok) in the marinade made the dish a little too fishy for him.
So far so normal, but what set the Chanrey Tree apart from the other restaurants we’ve been to is the service and the setting. The tables were covered in snowy white tablecloths; the flatware was of the highest quality; the little cold wet face cloth they brought out at the start of the meal to cool you down after the heat of walking outside was amazing; the waiters were very attentive and made us feel very pampered – all these touches and more, were what made the meal great.
This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Variations on a Theme.
Choco L’art Cafe
Street 117, Krong Battambang
Open daily 8am – 11pm
Bayon Pastry School
Taphul Village, Siem Reap
Walk down Taphul Road heading south from National Highway 6 and look out for a little laneway to your right.
Pokambor Ave, Krong Siem Reap
Open for lunch 11am – 2.30pm and for dinner, 6pm – 10.30pm
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