Wining and Dining 2 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 Breathing life into Khmer cuisine NATHAN GREEN Master chef Luu Meng talks about the changing restaurant scene in Phnom Penh and what sets Cambodian cuisine apart You have become pretty well-known in Cambodia and beyond, firstly for Malis and Topaz restaurants and increasingly for a range of other business ventures. How far does your empire spread? My French partner and I own the Thalias chain, which includes Topaz, Malis, Baitong and the Cafe Sentiment brands. That is the dining part. And then I own the Almond Hotel and Feeling Home, which is a serviced apartment. Cafe Sentiment was designed to target the next generation, the trendy youth, to try and introduce them to the modern dining experience. You are also head of the Hotel Association of Cambodia. Is there an opportunity to use Cambodian food to attract more visitors? I was invited by the Ministry of Tourism to come with them at the end of May to promote Cambodian fine dining at the Asian Food Festival at the Jeju World Culture and Travel Expo on Jeju island in Korea. It was a really great way to promote the country through art, music and cuisine. With art and music, you can see it and you can hear it and you can keep it. With food, after you taste the ingredients and the spices, it can create memories through your tastebuds. This taste and experience we can export to the world and build up the Cambodian image abroad. As a hotel association we have been talking about that a lot. What is Cambodian cuisine? Cambodian cuisine from a long time ago used very unique Indochina spices with an influence from Indian spices. Today we use very fresh spices grown locally that leave the eater feeling very light and refreshed after the meal. Indian food is characterised by spice, and we are the same but it is a fresher spice. In Cambodian cuisine a few ingredients also stand out. We have very nice rock salt and nice Kampot peppers, and then of course our palm sugars are very rich and have good flavours. On top of that we have prahok, or fish preserved to make the flavours come out. In France they have almost unlimited types of cheese, and we are the same in Cambodia with prahok. It can be prepared in many ways, and the taste and texture is always different depending on how it is made. Malis is well-known for the way it incorporates French elements into traditional Khmer cuisine. How do you do that without losing authenticity? We don't change the taste of the food, we change the presentation. Our objective at Malis is living Camboidan cuisine. That is our whole philosophy not fusion or mixing but enhancing the flavour of Khmer food through our presentation and the dining experience. So, we use a lot of raw ingredients to produce the Khmer cuisine, but present it based on the French lifestyle and way of dining. They French have many steps to a meal and it is this part of French culture that we bring to Malis. They show us how to start with a starter, how to have the appetiser, when to have the fish, or main dish, and how to nicely finish with a dessert. Master chef Luu Meng explains the finer points of his Cambodian cuisine. PHOTOS: VINH DAO 3 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 You have been heavily involved in the restaurant scene over the last two decades as Cambodia has recovered from years of war. How has the dining scene changed in that time? The change is very much from the customer point of view. The customer today is more understanding of what they are looking for. Today of course there are a lot of choices in the city so customers are changing in that they are looking for much better eating environments, the unique aspects that restaurants like Malis can provide. For us, that type of change motivates us to work hard to create a dining experience that meets the changing needs of our customers. Are you referring here to domestic customers, or the foreigners living, working and visiting here? Foreigners are not a main focus for us. Here we have a lot of Cambodians that we need to work for; they are our daily bread and butter. Of course we can provide a very nice place for foreigners to enjoy, but for us the Cambodian community, business people and family people are our main target. That said, we get a lot of foreign customers who are in Cambodia for the first time saying they didn't expect a place like Malis to be here. Do you see a new generation evolving, the much talked about Khmer middle class even, that is more in touch with the modern restaurant experience? Young rich Cambodians, the next generation, have travelled around and experienced other nations and cultures. Now, instead of eating at home seven days in the week, they have been influenced to eat out more and more. Sooner or later, the way of dining not only the food on the plates but the whole knowledge of dining and its surroundings - will change, and it is already happening. High hopes for organics SAM RITH AND LUCY KINDER Demand is growing for organic food in Cambodia, but supply is lagging and a certification system needs to be put in place D emand for organic food is on the rise in Cambodia, or so says Yang Saing Koma, president of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC). "There is a lot of interest in organic food among people living in urban areas within Cambodia, but people in rural villages are also becoming concerned about the use of pesticides," he told the Post. Unfortunately, Cambodian farmers are not growing organic food in big enough quantities to meet the growing demand. "The market is too limited," Yang Saing Koma. "Farmers in Cambodia tend to grow rice rather than vegetables, and this is often seasonal, especially for those farmers who grow rice along the riverside." Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG The Natural Agri-Product Marketing Project sells organic products from three stores in Phnom Penh. Cambodian farmers also employ subsistence a small amount of pesticide to get rid of bugs. techniques for their farming, meaning they tend to produce enough rice to feed their family but rarely think about the wider needs of the market, or the opportunities to increase their income. The solution, according to Yang Saing Koma, is to invest more money into ensuring that farmers have the potential to grow produce which is free from pesticides, as well as changing the attitudes of the farmers so that they become accustomed to growing a wide range of products. In addition to rice farmers, CEDAC works with growers of organic vegetables, fruits, palm sugar and pepper, with chicken and pig farmers, and with fish paste producers. Mission impossible Yet many farmers in Cambodia still think that it is impossible to grow food without using pesticides. The lack of official certification also means that consumers in rural areas that want to eat organic have to rely on the word of local farmers. We are not officially organic ... We also have to use 4 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 CEDAC is attempting to implement its own basic standard of certification. Most notably, it is collaborating with Oxfam on the Natural Agri-Product Marketing Project (NAP), which aims to ensure that farmers can get higher prices for their organic products, and that consumers can get easier access to organic food. "We have introduced an internal system to control what is termed as organic," Yang Saing Koma said. "More and more people want to sell organic food so we are beginning to meet the demand. As well as fruit, vegetables and herbs, we also stock more unusual products such as forest honey." The government is also interested in promoting organic products, he said. Growing demand NAP operates three stores in Phnom Penh. San Sok Len, a cashier at one of the stores, said she has noticed an increasing number of customers wanting to buy organic food. 'This year, each day I sell natural products to around 30 to 35 customers on average. Last year I had between 10 and 15 customers a day,"she said. "Our prices are a bit more expensive than the market price, but we still have many customers coming to buy our products. She added that Cambodians tended to be suspicious about whether organic food really had any intrinsic value, but after trying the products, many remarked on the good quality. "Even though it is more expensive, it is delicious and good for me," said Sok Thea, 26, who has been buying organic rice from San Sok Len's shop for three months. He said that he pays $5 for 5 kilograms of organic rice, whereas ordinary rice would cost him about 1,700 riels (around $0.41) per kilogram. Other organisations have also sprung up to improve the quality of Cambodian produce. The Peri-Urban Agriculture Centre (PUAC) works to improve the living conditions of Cambodian farmers through the production of high-value vegetables that are free from chemical residues. Nake Tharenn, one of PUAC's directors, said it is difficult for farmers to completely cut out the use of pesticides. "We are not officially organic because we have to import our seeds from Thailand or Vietnam, and we cannot be assured that they are pesticide-free,"he said. "We also have to use a small amount of pesticide to get rid of bugs. If we did not do this, the vegetables would not grow." Small scale buyers Although PUAC distributes to some of Phnom Penh's top hotels and restaurants, demand for pesticide-free produce has grown mostly amongst individual Cambodians, Nake Tharenn said. "People who are cooking for themselves or their families are prepared to pay a bit more to buy goods that are pesticide free," he said. "Hotels and restaurants are often reluctant to buy organic products because they need large quantities of produce to cope with the demand for food. They also want food that has a nice appearance, and often the appearance of organic food cannot compete with shiny, chemically treated produce." Srey Naren, the marketing manager at the Stung Sen Meanchey Organic Farmer Association, said 1,000 families consistently bought organic rice from the association's shop in Phnom Penh. Most were local with only a small minority of foreigners. She said she only sold 5 tonnes of rice per month last year but this year was selling around 10 tonnes per month. "Our customers are increasing by the day,"she said. "They say that organic rice is nutritious, and as well as buying organic rice for themselves, they also buy it for their relatives and friends." Like other organic vendors, the Stung Sen Meanchey Organic Farmer Association does not have enough produce to fully satisfy customer demand, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables. Kith Seng, the under secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that in response to the demand from consumers, his ministry urged farmers to grow organic crops as much as possible. "Year after a year we see an increase in farmers growing organic produce," he said. But when even those in the "organic movement" admit to using small amounts of pesticides to kill bugs, until a proper accreditation system is in place, organic consumers will have to buy on faith. Local meat not always a tough sell BENNETT MURRAY They have a reputation for toughness, but Cambodian cows can give a good cut cut of beef to someone who knows what he’s doing, butcher says, and the country’s chickens can’t be beat 5 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 C ambodian meat may not be the most reputable in the world, with beef particularly notorious for its toughness, but a little searching can yield tasty cuts of both domestic and imported products. AK Wines has a wide selection of meat imported by AusKhmer, while Phnom Penh butcher Rolf Lanzinger, better known as Lanzi, said he strives to make the highest-quality cuts of meat possible from the local supply at Danmeats. AusKhmer Managing Director Simon Roe said local slaughtering techniques and hygiene resulted in a lower-quality product. "A problem with the local beef is that it's slaughtered today and then eaten two hours later," he said. Imported beef, on the other hand, uses better-bred cattle and superior methods of ageing and storage. "[Foreign suppliers] remove the air from the bag and vacuum seal it very tightly so you'll get a prolonged shelf life, and it'll age and you'll get a more tender, higher-quality animal," Roe said. Genetics also presents a challenge, as Cambodian cows haven't been bred as thoroughly as Western cows to produce high-quality beef. Roe said. And importing foreign cattle isn't easy, as they have trouble adjusting to Cambodia's hot, humid climate. Lanzinger said producing quality beef in Cambodia was a "nightmare". Though the beef can actually taste quite good, the animals' cells don't contain as much water as professionally raised cattle in the West. As a result, the beef gets tough very fast when it's cooked. However, Lanzinger said there were ways to overcome this, with beef tenderloin being one of his most popular products. "The beef tenderloin is good,""he said. "You need to handle it correctly, age it correctly, hang it correctly: You cannot just put it somewhere in the fridge." Natural meat tenderizers, such as bay leaf and papaya leaf, can help as well, he added. The Cambodian cattle industry is still in its earliest stages, Lanzinger said, making it hard to guarantee a consistent quality of supply. "Each farmer raises cows in different ways," he said. "Sometimes [the meat] is more dark, sometimes it's more light, sometimes its bigger, sometimes its smaller." Photo by: BENNETT MURRAY Danmeats butcher Rolf Lanzinger stands by his meat oven. A problem with the local beef is that it’s slaughtered today and then eaten two hours later. Home-grown joys Danmeats is one of the few foreign-owned businesses to only use Cambodian beef, but it is quite common to find locally raised chicken and pork on Western-oriented restaurant menus and supermarket shelves. "Chicken and pork is very good quality locally," Roe said. "It's easy to raise, it's easy to handle and it travels better when it's processed." Lanzinger believes the pork to be among the best in the world, and even better than the pork in his native Germany. "The pigs in Kampot are the best in my eyes," he said. Even though Cambodia still imports many of its chicken and pigs from Thailand, Lanzinger said, the local supply is better. "The real Cambodian chickens are top," he said, explaining that they must be prepared differently from chickens in Western countries. "If you cook them our way, you'll get a tough thing with some meat on it." Cambodians in the provinces prepare the meat by placing a spiced chicken in a pot with salt and pine needles with just a little water. It is then steamed over a fire, producing a much tenderer chicken. Lanzinger said he uses a machine to produce a similar effect. "I would always take a Cambodian chicken over a Thai chicken," he said, explaining that the redder color of Cambodian meat indicates higher quality. Lanzinger admitted he was a bit of an idealist for almost exclusively selling Cambodian products and said he took great delight in promoting the local meat trade, especially to Cambodian customers. "We're getting more of those Cambodians now, from the top and the middle classes," he said, adding they were often shocked when he told them his meats weren't imported. "You see a huge, speechless face of surprise," said Lanzinger. "We can show to people that you don't need to look to Thailand, you don't need to look to Australia, or you don't need to look to Vietnam to get all those imported things. "You can do it here, and you can do it in top quality." 6 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 Local KFC business is finger-licking good BENNETT MURRAY Operator aims to open at least three additional fast-food outlets in Phnom Penh in the next year M ORE than one year after its arrival as the first major international fast-food chain in Cambodia, KFC General Manager Benjamin Jerome says he's confident the restaurant is doing well in the local market. The chain now has three restaurants in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap. "Through our market activities on the ground, slowly the locals are accepting the taste of the original recipe for chicken," Jerome said. KFC is one of the largest fast-food chains in the world with 20,000 locations in 109 countries. Its Cambodia outlets are operated by Kampuchea Food Corporation Co, a joint venture of the Royal Group of Companies, Malaysia's QSR Brands and Hong Kong's Rightlink Corp. In order to acquire the franchise rights, the company had to demonstrate the country had both the infrastructure and demand for American-style fried chicken. Jerome said the presence of local fast-food joints like Lucky Burger and BB World convinced KFC there would be interest from consumers. With 90 percent of the chicken coming from within Cambodia, reducing the need for imports, the rights holder was also satisfied the infrastructure was in place. Photo by: BENNETT MURRAY KFC General manager Benjamin Jerome. Though KFC's fried chicken recipe is universal, Cambodian outlets also offer steamed rice instead of mashed potatoes. Jermone said that KFC's experiment in Cambodia has been successful so far, and Kampuchea Food plans to open at least three more outlets in Phnom Penh in the next year, with one on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard, one near the Olympic Stadium and one on Sisowath Quay. "When we first opened, we could see that KFC is generally patronized by expats and tourists, who know the KFC brand," he said. However, he said, local interest increased over time. "We're in here. We're confident of the market." Hopes for culinary longevity ride on monster subs, monastic stew MICHAEL HAYES Two new restaurants are using different approaches to meet the city’s craving for hearty wholesome food, but both look likely to become permanent fixtures on the Phnom Penh scene A midst the swirl of hype, confusion and drama surrounding the Phnom Penh restaurant world, with rumours flying about which gourmet eatery will be forced to bite the dust first in this brave new world of economic miasma, two new establishments have recently opened that will warm the hearts of those who enjoy simple yet wholesome cuisine. More than a handful of the capital's residents have been waiting for the Fatboy Sub and Sandwich Shop to open since the days of UNTAC. Why it took so long remains a mystery, but the fact that this American-style sub shop is now up and running has been a cause for celebration in several quarters already. With the motto "build it your way", Fatboy is the brainchild of Al Schaff. Drawing on the genius and efficiency of a General Motors assembly line (before GM lost the plot), Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG 7 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 Schaff has set up a sub and sandwich ordering system that avoids cross-cultural communications complexities. There's no need for any menus with photos or cryptic entrée descriptions bearing seven unpronounceable adjectives in Esperanto. Fatboy’s sub and sandwich ordering system avoids crosscultural communications complexities. This is the most wholesome home-cooked food I've eaten in Phnom Penh. Just stand at the counter and point. Which sub: basic, combo or hot? Which bread: Italian or multigrain? How big: 6-inch or footlong? Which cheese: four choices? Which veggies: eight choices? Which sauce: 12 choices? Schaff, who hails from Dayton, Ohio, said that, so far, his roast beef sub was one of the top sellers and the Cajun chicken and meatball subs were moving nicely as well. "We try to use the best ingredients we can find," he said, noting that Lanzi at Danmeats was the source of his imported turkey cold cuts and smoked ham. The fact that Fatboy was only open from 11am to 6pm was a source of frustration for several sub junkies, but since June 10 that hurdle has been removed and closing time is now 11pm, Monday to Saturday. There have been a few grumbles from customers, with one saying that Fatboy's potato salad has too much mayonnaise and another noting that the Malaysian chips were subpar. But these are small trifles for what this totally biased reviewer hopes will be a permanent fixture in the capital from now on. Find it at 124 Street 130, near Sharky Bar. Rumiana Ivanova, and her then three-year-old son Mitko, moved to Phnom Penh in 1981 when her husband was posted to the Bulgarian Embassy here. Mitko has been here most of the time since and, having met and married Tong Samphos, looks set to be around for the long haul. Together, the three of them have opened the Victoria Pub and Restaurant at 8 Street 172, between Street 51 and Norodom Boulevard. It offers a variety of traditional Bulgarian dishes, some of which are heavenly. "They have the best bean soup in the world," said Tom O'Connor, a restaurant aficionado who helped bring fame to the FCC and Metro cafe, and who is now working on another hush-hush eatery plan, the details of which he is reluctant to reveal. Ivanova says she uses a variety of spices including dill and two "secret ingredients" she imports from Bulgaria. Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON Rumiana Ivanova offers a variety of heavenly Bulgarian dishes at the Victoria Pub and Restaurant on Street 172. Whatever they are, the taste of the pork stew monastery style, a special dish Christian monks eat after fasting during Lent, is superb. Anybody who has ever tried Greek food will recognize the shopska salad, only you won't find cubes of feta cheese. Instead the cheese is shredded on top of the vegetables. "That makes all the difference," Mitko said. "It just tastes better." The moussaka Bulgarian style is worth a go and the baklava will test anyone's resolve to try and count calories. Overall, Tom O'Connor summed up what this reviewer felt as well when he said: "This is the most wholesome home-cooked food I've eaten in Phnom Penh." Exploration unearths Phnom Penh's hidden culinary gems STEPHANIE MEE Though there is no shortage of dining establishments in and around the city, the adventurous diner can sample some exotic fare in unusual settings by throwing out the guidebook and taking a few chances 8 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 Photo by: STEPHANIE MEE Saphorn Music Bar shows that making an effort to stray from the well-trodden path can lead to pleasant surprises. The Asian-fusion decor inside Chinese House matches the palette of the regionally influenced menu. PHOTO SUPPLIED E ven with its profusion of eating and drinking establishments, it can be a daunting task to find a venue in Phnom Penh that offers something different from the standard fare of pizzas, pastas, steaks, hamburgers, or the typical Khmer offerings of loc lac, amok, and fried rice. The 2009 edition of the Cambodian Yellow Pages lists 793 Khmer restaurants in Phnom Penh: 515 Western/international restaurants - of which 136 are French - 275 Chinese restaurants, 311 cafes and 302 bars and pubs. Amidst this ever-growing culinary landscape there are a few hidden gems that stand out for their unique atmospheres, interesting locales, and culinary ingenuity, should the adventurous diner seek them out. Take, for example, one of Phnom Penh's most distinctive restaurants, which can be found in one of the most unlikely spots for a popular café: behind a Sokimex fuel station in the Russey Keo district. Café Promenade is the brainchild of the friendly Visdh Nou and his equally amiable daughter, Sotheavy Nou, and occupies a large swathe of land on a sandy bank of the Tonle Sap River. As small children play football and do backflips in the sand, and groups of laughing locals lounge on cushy wicker chairs facing the river, Visdh Nou describes how popular the natural beach-like haven has become. "I found this place by accident, and originally intended it to be a small café, but it has gotten busier and busier since we opened almost a year ago," he says. Visdh Nou explains that although they offer an eclectic menu of tasty finger foods such as fresh mango salad, roti with Capa duck, spicy buffalo chicken wings, and the Cambodian favourite of phak luv (baguette with pate, cucumbers, lettuce and pickles), he wants to focus mainly on the atmosphere. "When I decided to buy these large comfy chairs, people warned me that customers would order a drink and stay for hours. I thought, ‘so what?'" he says. As the café is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there really is no reason for people to leave. "During the day we usually get students and families who come to relax and enjoy the views," says Sotheavy Nou. "At night we get many people who work night shifts, karaoke stars, employees from CTN who work late, and of course the occasional late-night drinkers who 9 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 come from other parties or bars. It's actually a very lively and safe place to be at night." Atmosphere can make or break a restaurant, and at Sophorn Music Bar in the Bak Kaing district along National Road 6, atmosphere is the main draw. Here a series of stilted wooden walkways form paths high above a lotus-filled lake to breezy, thatched pavilions overlooking the calm river and lake, grassy fields and sugar palm trees. Each pavilion is adorned with two to three rustic hemp hammocks and low-lying wooden tables. Photo by: STEPHANIE MEE Café Promenade, on the banks of the Tonle Sap, offers a relaxed, sandy, beach-like haven within the bustling city of Phnom Penh. "This spot is popular with all sorts of city dwellers because it is close to the city, but away from the pollution, dust and noise of the city centre," says owner Nong Chom. "People often spend hours relaxing here because of the beautiful views, fresh air, and the spectacular sunsets." Popular dishes at Sophorn Music Bar include hearty seafood soup with lime, whole roasted chicken cooked with a choice of Coca-Cola sauce, lemongrass, honey, or tamarind. The house speciality is bunh, thin sticky rice pancakes, fried until crispy on the outside, filled with shredded chicken, and served with sides of fresh vegetables and a sweet and spicy sauce made of peanuts, vinegar, chilli and palm sugar. Photo by: STEPHANIE MEE Enjoy the laid-back vibe of Sophorn Music Bar from a hammock. Dining in Phnom Penh doesn’t have to be an exercise in homogeneity or the mundane. Non-Khmer speaking diners should note that the menu is written only in Khmer, although many of the staff can speak English fairly well. For a bit of history with unique Asian fare and cocktails, Chinese House, an art gallery with a second-floor restaurant and bar, is an ideal spot to spend an evening of culture and cuisine. Built in 1903 by a wealthy Chinese merchant, the house is an amalgamation of Chinese architecture and French colonial style, and retains all its original roofs, doors, pillars, facade and floor tiles. Co-owner Alexis de Suremain says he almost turned the venue down. "When someone suggested I open a restaurant here I originally thought that it was too far from the main drag," he says. "But then when I finally went to see it I thought, ‘wow'." The enticing Asian fusion menu was formulated by the talented Rattana Gordon, and includes distinctive specialities such as spicy pork in soup with broad rice noodles, a dish that hails from the Yunnan region in Southwest China. And the coconut milkbased chicken curry topped with crispy rice noodles is an ethnic Chinese Muslim dish. "You will never find these dishes anywhere else in Phnom Penh," said Gordon. "Most of the dishes are influenced by many different cultures, for example Malay, Chinese, Khmer and ethnic minority groups." Chinese House also raises the bar with special events, which include live jazz bands, Chinese punk shows, movie nights with an accompanying three-course vegetarian meal, and rotating art shows at the gallery on the first floor. Clearly, as these three restaurants prove, dining in Phnom Penh doesn't have to be an exercise in homogeneity or the mundane. There's macho to like about booze KYLE SHERER They may look sniggeringly camp, decorated as they are with parades of buff, semi-naked men, but there is nothing effeminate about Cambodia’s punch-packing muscle wines 10 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 SIEM REAP C ambodian-made "muscle" wines, festooned with inspiring images of muscular men, promise to make imbibers stronger, more energetic and healthier - and they certainly pack a punch. The parade of demented-looking, semi-naked and extremely buff men formed by the logos of Golden Muscle Liquor, Special Muscle Wine and Wrestler Red Wine makes the bottom shelf of a Cambodian liquor store look like the weightlifting room in a maximum security prison. It's a lineup that fills many Westerners with dread. Anecdotes abound detailing the graphic consequences of drinking cheap Cambodian hooch. One expat swears that after trying Special Muscle Wine, his friend blacked out for 12 hours and regained consciousness in a strange new bed, next to a strange new partner. Other expats voice concerns about the content and preparation of the brews. Photo by: KYLE SHERER Golden Muscle Liquor, Special Muscle Wine and Wrestler Red Wine have a parade of buff men on their labels. Whether or not there's any basis to the myths, most Siem Reap bar owners don't provide the heavier Khmer liquors, with the exception of Cambodian Mekong Whiskey. But the bottles abound in corner stores, and though prices may vary, as will side effects, this is what the more adventurous alcoholic can expect. Special Muscle Wine goes for $3 for a 630-millilitre bottle. The murky black drink has an alcohol volume of 35 percent and tastes strongly of soy sauce, making it an exceptional companion to a platter of spring rolls. However, it is not recommended that romantic types share Special Muscle Wine over a candlelit meal as, in the words of one tuk tuk driver, "If you get it near a flame, whoosh!" According to bottle store owners, Special Muscle Wine is popular with Cambodian men. "It's good if you want to drink, then sleep," said one. The description of the wine on the bottle and on the website of its company, Lao Hang Heng Wine, puts forward more sensational claims, including, "It is particularly effective in alleviating rheumatism and fatigue", "while consumed in large quantity does not cause a hangover", and "consumers look fresh, healthier and younger". The secret behind its potency is apparently "deer's antler and many precious Chinese herbs". Claims of bestowing fantastical gifts are not uncommon on the Cambodian liquor shelf - OK Wine simply has the words "Power Orgasm Happiness Brightness" written down the side. It also has the disclaimer "Everything done within 7 days", which sounds more like a vaguely-worded threat than a jazzy slogan. Top shelf The upmarket twin to Special Muscle Wine is Golden Muscle Liquor, which is produced by the same company. Though it has a near-identical sales pitch and list of ingredients, Golden Muscle Liquor is slightly stronger at 40 percent, and far more expensive at $10.50. The first noticeable difference between Special Muscle Wine and its more expensive sibling is that the latter has little flakes of debris swirling around the bottom of the bottle, which, judging by the list of ingredients, could be anything from lingchi to deer antler. Golden Muscle Liquor is less reminiscent of soy sauce, and closer in taste to a strong Western alcohol, like methylated spirits. Rounding off the macho drink list is Wrestler Red Wine, which is the weakest of the three with a 20 percent alcohol volume, but also the one with the most outrageously pumped logo, possibly as compensation. A 700ml bottle of Wrestler Red goes for $1, and promises a delicious concoction distilled from sugar cane and grapes under the supervision of a "foods technologist". The result is an easily-swillable drink that tastes like warm sugar water, and is closer to the energy juices popular with sports players than a merlot. Life, liberty and fine wine DARREN GALL 11 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 N O nation is drunken where wine is cheap, and none sober where the dearness of wine substitutes ardent spirits as the common beverage." So said Thomas Jefferson, third US president and the primary author of the American Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776. As Americans spend this time of year celebrating their independence from the kingdom of Great Red Apron has a wide range of fine wines. TRACEY SHELTON Britain and the drafting of their most famous document - penned by a man once mockingly referred to as the president for wine - I've been reflecting on my own unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It has been my good fortune to have found my way to Cambodia, where I can celebrate and enjoy the great range of fine-quality, reasonably priced wines readily available. Tax not want not "I think it is a great error to consider a heavy tax on wines as a tax on luxury. On the contrary, it is a tax on the health of our citizens." That's Jefferson, again. But while many countries have begun to agree with his wine ruminations, others continue to bundle wine with other alcoholic beverages, often merely as a cheap grab for revenue. In the midst of the Southeast Asian wine boom of the late 1990s, Thailand raised its taxes and duties on wine by 150 percent, stifling a promising local industry, disenfranchising higher-end tourists, expats and business travellers. This has also created a black market for wine, estimated to be as high as 80 percent of all wine turnover - it is out of control. Vietnam, too, has engineered decline and corruption in its once-promising industry with a 70 percent import tax and a 60 percent consumption tax, Other regional countries have seen the benefits of moderate and well-thought tax regimes on fine wine. In Singapore, for example, new tax rules were recently put in place where alcoholic beverages are no longer taxed by container size but rather on alcohol content, meaning that some lower alcohol wines have actually come down in price. A bottle of wine containing between 12.5 and 14 percent alcohol (about average for a medium to full bodied bottle of red wine), attracts a very reasonable tax of around US$5.80 per litre. In Hong Kong, the government did away with import taxes and duty on wine. On a recent trip there, I found a very dynamic and burgeoning market positioning itself as a regional hub for sourcing and re-exporting fine wines. Cambodia employs a reasonable to moderate tax rate of 70 percent, but wine is classified as a luxury item. Still, this is quite competitive compared to some of its neighbours and many an expatriate friend makes regular forays into Cambodia to stock up. The growing list of wine bars, fine wine stores and wine focused restaurants springing up across Phnom Penh and regional tourist centres can only do more to enhance the country's attractiveness as a destination. Red Apron is one of my favourite wine stores in Phnom Penh. Also featuring a wine bar, the store on Street 240 has a large range of reasonably priced French wines and a good smattering of wines from around the world. Its regular wine tasting evenings at around $20 per head are a great way to try different styles and varieties before you buy. Quarto Products is a wine wholesaler with a hole-in-the-wall retail store on Street 108 near Wat Phnom. It boasts a small range of well-selected wines from all over the world, and it's a good place to hunt out something different. The Food Pantry opened up last month at 125 Street 105 in Boeung Keng Kang III. A large selection of Australian and New Zealand wines is complimented by a selection of French wines consisting of some very good buys from premier regions, as well as wines from many of the world's leading producers. They do free in-store tastings on Friday nights, a great way to take the edge off your week. ___________________________________________________ Darren Gall is the director of AK Wines. He has been working in the wine industry for 20 years, a great deal of which has been spent in Southeast Asia. Visit AK Wines at 125 Street 105 or email email@example.com No meat is no problem in the city 12 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 ALETHEA ODRERIR Choosing to go without animals and animal products is often harder than it sounds, but for vegans and vegetarians living in Phnom Penh, there are plenty of restaurants to choose from V eganism may be becoming an increasingly popular lifestyle choice, but healthy vegan food is not always easy to find. However, if you look carefully, many restaurants in Phnom Penh do offer great food free of animals and animal products. The most vegan-specific restaurant in the city is K'nyay, a restaurant tucked away in a leafy, quiet area on Suramarit Boulevard. K'nyay, which opened in June 2007, offers a variety of delicious, fresh, and 100-percent vegan dishes mostly consisting of traditional Khmer food. To cater to friends of vegans, some vegan options can even be made with meat if requested. "We aim to dispel the myth that we need animal products to create mouthwatering meals," David Hunt, co-owner of K'nyay, said. "We hope to provide a menu that is absoutely animal-free and absolutely delicious." At K'nyay, all the dishes are made in the traditional Cambodian way, with the omission of common ingredients such as prahok (preserved fish) and kapi (shrimp paste). Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON K’nyay is Phnom Penh’s premier vegan dining experience but stil caters to carnivores. We hope to provide a menu That is absoutely animal free and absolutely delicious. To start, K'nyay has a variety of healthy shakes, smoothies and juices made from fresh fruit and soy milk. The menu then offers a range of flavorful food, from appetizers such as roast red pepper soup and sweet potato and taro fries, to main dishes such as banana and jackfruit curries. Though it's a rarity to find vegan cake, K'nyay offers chocolate and carrot cake among its dessert options. Vegan food items range in price from $2 to $5, while options substituted with prawn, pork, fish or beef instead of tofu are $6. Delivery is a tempting option, and K'nyay offers free delivery with orders over $5. It even uses recyclable packing and biodegradable delivery bags. Boddhi Tree Boddhi Tree cafe is a well-known stop for tourists coming from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum across the street. It is located in a beautiful garden setting in front of a traditional house used as a guesthouse. Boddhi Tree has Mediterranean and Cambodian food options, many of which are vegetarian or vegan. Appetisers include slowgrilled eggplant on bread with chipotle tomato sauce, and Mediterranean warm tomato brushetta with olive oil. Main dishes include Cambodian curry with tofu and coconut rice, and hummus and roasted vegetable pita. Items are reasonably priced from $3 to $5 and the staff are extremely friendly and helpful. Miao Xiang Xi Healthy Vegetarian Restaurant is a great stop for a cheap vegan lunch or dinner. The Chinese restaurant on Monivong Boulevard provides around 30 mock meat and vegetable dishes at very low prices from 3000 to 6000 riels ($0.75 to $1.50). All the items found in any Chinese restaurant are included, but here real meat is replaced with vegan variants, such as mock chicken wings and vegetable dumblings. The mock meat is wonderful, with a great taste and texture. Though most of the food options are vegan, a few dishes are not. Pictures are included on the menu, so examine these carefully, as some soups contain egg, and of course, the bubble tea includes milk. At the back of the small restaurant is a mini market thatsells meat substitutes, which are rare and very hard to find elsewhere in Phnom Penh. This is quite an unusual restaurant, but the quality vegan Chinese food is top notch. K'nyay is open from 12pm to 9pm Monday through Friday and 7am to 9am on Saturday but is closed on Sunday. The restaurant can be found at 25K Suramit Boulevard, but it is set back from the road and hidden away, so keep an eye out for the large "K" sign. Boddhi Tree is open from 7am to 9:30PM daily, and remains open during all holidays aside from Khmer New Year. The cafe can be found at 50 Street 113. Miao Xiang Xi is open from 6:30am to 9pm daily, and is located at 699 Monivong Boulevard, between Street 360 and Mao Tse Tung Boulevard. 13 Phnom Penh Post Wining and Dining Supplement 26 June 2009 A pauper's guide to dining out MARTINA CLEARY Despite it’s Third World status, Phnom Penh is not exactly cheap when it comes to going out to eat, but with a little inside knowledge its easy to fill your belly without emptying your wallet T ightening your purse strings while dining out in Phnom Penh doesn't mean searching high and low for non-descript cuisine detailed with flavourless tidbits. There are enough cheap, good eats in the city to keep even the most fiscally conservative diner satisfied, and finding the capital's top walletfriendly deals isn't too difficult if you know where to look. Making your money go further at Mama's restaurant isn't challenging by any means. One of the cheapest international eateries in the capital, its French-Khmer menu ranges from shepherd's pie to spicy curry with prices lingering around the US$2 mark. The homemade fruit shakes have attracted a small group of followers who wax lyrical about the delicious combinations at an affordable price. Photo by: MARTINA CLEARY Regulars will travel across town for BKM’s signature fish amok. Indistinguishable in decor from other Khmer-style Even a pauper can dine like eateries, Mama's is popular among expats, but you'd be forgiven for passing it by if you miss the discreet waist-level sign at 10C Street 111, just a few minutes walk from O'Russei Market. a king in Phnom Penh On a similar note, but in a different part of town, Sinan Restaurant, just off the riverside, offers a range of international and local dishes for around $2. Whether you wish to whet your appetite on beef lok lak or stuffed aubergines, Sinan caters for your every need. While the cafe may lack atmosphere, its formula is simple - cheap food, fast service, happy wallets. Equally as popular at lunchtime as it is in early evening, you are more than likely to bump into someone you know at this well-frequented budget haunt at 166 Street 13. Just around the corner, and just as popular, Warung Bali offers a taste of Indonesia in one of city's busiest areas. This familyowned restaurant at 25E0 Street 178 is famed for its extensive, yet well-priced, menu; delicious, well-portioned Indonesian dishes range from $1.50 to $2.50. Its signature dish is the ayam bakar kecap Bali, chunks of chicken marinated in a homemade sauce. Closer to the river is Famous Beef and Noodle Soup, serving Pho noodles for $2.50 and other Asian dishes for $3. Small and minimalist, this restaurant is extremely popular at both lunch and dinner time and customers often find themselves spilling onto the pavement for a spot of al fresco dining. It's located at 11 Street 178. Taking a stroll away from the river and towards the lake, you will stumble across a fine selection of cheap eats on Street 93, otherwise known as Lakeside. BKM Cafe is a cosy, family-run restaurant offering the expected selection of Asian and Western dishes. While the humble owners do not boast about their menu, their customers certainly do. Regulars will travel across town for the in-house speciality, fish amok, and at $2.50 their efforts are worth it. Customers are invited to choose their own music while browsing an extensive drinks menu, which includes a Long Island Iced Tea for $1.50 and a glass of house wine for $2.25. Further down the strip, you will come across La Dolce Vita, but here the good life doesn't come with a hefty price tag. The menu offers standard Khmer cuisine, though it is the extensive range of pizzas and pastas that have customers coming back for more. American size portions of spaghetti Bolognese cost $3.50 and a Greek salad $2. A favourite among regulars is the steak, which comes with sautéed potatoes and vegetables and only a $4 bill. Its neighbouring Tex-Mex cousin, Zorro, serves delicious all day breakfast burritos for $1.75 and a full breakfast for $3. Be warned - they close at 5pm, so get your order in early. Of course a review of Cambodian bites on a shoe-string would not be complete without mentioning Restaurant Khmer BBQ, easily the best all-you-can-eat deal in town on the corner of Street 86 and Monivong Boulevard. For $6 if you are a foreigner or $5 if Khmer, you are invited to feast on crab, squid, prawn, chicken, beef and tofu in an indulgence session that can last for hours.. While the list goes on, hopefully this brief taster shows that those with a lighter wallet and a little know-how will find even a pauper can dine like a king in Phnom Penh.