Cambodia was the country where I had the most memorable culinary experience ever. On my first day on Pub Street in Siem Reap, $1 fried tarantula, scorpion skewers and hints of cocoon as free tester from the vendor were my appetizers, while waiting for the real dinner in the restaurant next door.
In my point of view, the most challenging part of tasting insects is that they are served in their original form, that certain (perhaps, many) people may find it disgusting and unappealing. When I found out that tarantula tastes like beef floss and scorpion is savoury without the excess of weird insect smell (thanks to the marinating process I guess), I felt like I just won the (culinary) challenge and ready to conquer the world as a foodie!
As we continued to enjoy the night in the most vibrant area in the city, we happened to see the sign that manage to get our attention: Crocodile Burger sign! I mean, really? This is interesting.
In just a stone’s throw away, we found another attractive food display covered with microwave safe plastic wrap, exhibiting mouthwatering meals sold in the restaurant called Cambodian Soup, followed by prices written on the blackboard under the display. They sold a wider variety of meat skewers, barbecue and steak, including crocodile and kangaroo. Again, crocodile? Hmm…. I think Cambodians are pretty used to with crocodile meat.
So, I made a decision: I would like to give a shot to have a dinner in this restaurant the following day.
CAMBODIAN SOUP: MORE THAN JUST SOUP RESTAURANT
Don’t let the restaurant name fool you. Yes, it is called Cambodian Soup, but they sell beyond soup dishes. Not only do they offer Asian (mostly Khmer and Thai) fusion dishes, but also tantalize meat lovers by the wide variety of meat, from chicken, beef, fish, frog, mutton, pork to crocodile and kangaroo served as steak and skewers apart from Khmer and Tom Yam soup.
Apart from that, I think the name Cambodian Soup sounds too conservative compared to the edgy interior design. Embracing industrial design as the main concept, it incorporates underground atmosphere with visible pipes, uncovered red bricks, steel lamps and carved stone, inspired by the majestic Angkor Wat temple, on the pillars and lower parts of the wall.
Furthermore, vintage elements spice up the atmosphere at they give more colour and nostalgic feeling, from old-fashion ads, rustic tiles until the most eye-catching decoration hanging on the ceiling, such as bicycles, a Vespa and a rickshaw that mingle with various designs of hanging metal lamp.
I was curious how crocodile meat looks and tastes like when it is served on the table as a dinner menu. Nonetheless, the impression of a scary animal with an intimidating eye gaze, sharp teeth and fags faded away as soon as I looked at the crocodile steak display in front of the restaurant as no one could differentiate it from any regular chicken steak or Wiener Schnitzel.
Compared to insects, tasting crocodile steak seemed to be a piece of cake. Nonetheless, the waiter reminded me that since crocodile meat is chewy, it is more advisable to have the stir-fry minced crocodile with rice and sunny side up for a first-timer like me.
To be honest, I didn’t really feel the sensation of crocodile meat although the meal itself tasted good. Most probably because the appearance of minced meat diminished the sensation of eating exotic dish.
My dad ordered kangaroo steak, that was surprisingly as great as beef tenderloin steak, especially when mixed with the savoury black pepper sauce. Don’t get me wrong, I love kangaroos as cute and lovely animals. I just didn’t know that the meat could be that good.
Of course, there are many other choices for non-adventurous foodies. Thai pineapple fried rice and amok (with the choice of fish, beef, chicken and pork), the most common Cambodian dish served everywhere in the country, are great choices, too. Furthermore, I recommend Khmer Soup (not pictured) to try. Khmer soup is sort of like tom yam soup in terms of sour and refreshing taste of the soup, but not spicy. For those who can’t stand of chili, this could be a perfect option.
FINALLY, CROCODILE STEAK!
On our final day in Siem Reap, nobody had an idea on where to go for dinner. I personally would like to get kangaroo steak just like what my dad had in Cambodian Soup. Since the variety of menu is quite abundant there, they agreed to return to the same restaurant.
However, they ran out of kangaroo steak on that day. That was unfortunate. Yet, they still had crocodile steak. Since crocodile meat is chewy in nature, the waiter asked for a confirmation from the kitchen department whether the crocodile meat they used was the young or old one. A few minutes later, he told me that the young crocodile was the one they used. So, finally I ordered crocodile steak, for real!
Having had previously seen how crocodile steak look like, I expect neither fancy nor exotic appearance from my most awaited dish since day one. I concluded that crocodile meat tastes like chicken, yet more chewy. Nonetheless, it is considered tender for crocodile meat standard.
Overall, Cambodian Soup have good quality food with value for money. Moreover, I love the young-spirited ambiance inside the restaurant. My crocodile steak only cost me $6.50, my dad’s kangaroo steak was $9. Basically, you can get good quality meals for less than $10, excluding drinks.
How about drinks? Well, I only paid $0.50 for a glass of beer! We initially didn’t want to have some beer, but the waiter misunderstood me when I said, “Three separate bills, please.” with “Three beers, please”. In the end, we unexpectedly received 3 glasses of beer. Nonetheless, we were surprised that beers are so cheap after checking the bill as if we paid for nothing.
FYI, in most cases, dining in Cambodia is very cheap. So, there’s no need to have a tight budget for it. Isn’t it great?
IF YOU HAVE TIME, GO TO TEMPLE BALCONY
Right above Cambodian Soup, on the 2nd floor, there’s a very nice bar called Temple Balcony, where there are Cambodian dance performances showing 5 times a day and pool tables to rent. Having the same ownership as Cambodian Soup, I noticed the hanging bicycles and the same pillar design used downstairs, but the dim lighting and traditional statues deliver more mysterious atmosphere. Also, you can enjoy the same food and drinks as those at Cambodian Soup, that’s for sure.
So, don’t rush, go upstairs and enjoy your night at Temple Balcony as well!