Into the category of neighbourhood-restaurant-I-wouldn’t-cross-
town-for-but-if-it-were-close-by-I’d-be-a-regular, I slot Phnom Penh
in Hintonburg. The food is tasty, there’s lots of it, the price is
reasonable, the service is fast and friendly, and the place has an
engaging family-run feeling that is getting harder to fine.
It describes itself as Cambodian and certainly the name suggests
that would be the driving force in the kitchen, but you could easily
end up with a meal you would get at a Chinese restaurant. Or a
Vietnamese or Thai. (If you want to try traditional Cambodian, ask.)
We asked and were directed by our server (who was a dear) to two
dishes. Number 212 – mi ga la (a noodle dish served warm, not hot,
with dried shrimp and peanut, laden with peppers and chicken,
slices of fish cake, crab sticks and hard boiled egg) – and the house
red curry. We enjoy the latter less, as the eggplant is cooked to
mushy shreds and the chunks of sweet potato are waterlogged
within the red, slightly spicy, coconut broth. But picking around
the fake crab, the mi ga la was very good. And so were lots of other
dishes, served up quickly and kindly and in heaping portions.
I would recommend you start with such mundane things as shrimp
rolls. For $6.95 you get 9 of them. They’re two-bite, crunchy treats,
the shrimp within soft, the casing crisp and brown and just greasy
enough. You hold them by the tails and dunk them in a fish sauce
cocktail. They come with a side of shrimp chips. (Note to shrimp-
lovers in a dangerous world: this is how you get your fix while
weathering the recession.)
If you have resolved to cut back on deep fried crunchy treats,
there are fresh spring rolls, served with peanut or fish sauce (your
choice) where you can have more shrimp (or pork, chicken, tofu)
with noodles, herbs and crunchy lettuce wrapped and rolled in
softened rice paper. Chopped shrimp meets chopped pineapple in a
crisp triangle roll (one of the “Five Flavours Deep-Fried” appetizer.)
The other four “flavours” include minced shrimp cling to a stick of
sugar cane, ground pork doing essentially the same thing, plus
mashed taro and mashed sweetened yam each given a wrap and a
fry in this motley collection of appetizers, marked Number 12.
Back to healthy choices: Vietnamese-style grilled beef with
lemongrass is tasty and sufficiently tender on a bed of vermicelli
drenched with the fish sauce dressing provided. It comes with a
refreshing salad of carrots and cucumber, bean sprouts, peppers,
and red chillies – light and limey, with roasted peanuts for crunch.
There are a variety of noodle soups. The pork noodle soup is listed
as a Phnom Penh special, so we order up Number 120, with shrimp,
pork, squid, fish cake and crab meat (ie, Pollock sticks) and find it
not the best, not the worst bowl, but fine and filling and
The noodle dishes go on and on here. Fresh Udon noodles with
deep fried tofu, egg noodles with scallion and bean sprouts, pad
Thai or fried wide rice noodles with bok choy and vegetables, to
which you may add the usual option of chicken/ beef/ pork/ tofu/
shrimp/ seafood (curiously all at the same price).
Order fried vegetables and you will be pleased with the fresh, crisp,
perfectly cooked collage of greens, trees and mushrooms.
None of the desserts appeal, so we order Chinese fried bread sticks
and dunk them in our Jasmine tea before settling a very fair bill,
and waddling home with leftovers neatly packaged and labeled.