Category Archives: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Chronicles of living in Southeast Asia’s “Charming City”.

Cambodia Reflections: When it Rains, It Pours

Far from a simple adage when speaking of monsoon season in Cambodia.  We had a few scattered showers over May, but this past week the rain has increased 10 fold, culminating in the last 3 days which we’ve had multiple torrential downpours every day.  And by “torrential” I mean enough to drench your entire body in 30 seconds and to flood the streets in 5 minutes.  Attempting to get anything done is a feat of will on these days when you have no idea if the moment you step out of your house the skies will open up and swallow you whole.

Unfortunately, Phnom Penh suffers from poor urban planning and consequently the advent of rainy season here inevitably entails coming to terms with the deluge of street floods.  I quite enjoy a downpour here and there, especially when you still get sunny mornings as we usually do.  However, having to wade through dirty (probably slightly toxic) flood water for 5 blocks in the rain just to find a tuk tuk last night was less than ideal.  Though I suppose this all adds to the bizarre, inexplicable charm of this darling city of mine.  Learning to cope with the extreme weather fluctuations becomes a game of timing…. testing how long you have to make it to the nearest cafe or bar as the storm clouds roll in so that you can weather the storm with a glass of wine in hand.  So…

“Hello Monsoon Season!  Lets make this the best one yet!  

Happy Hour at 5?”

Storm Clouds PP

Storm Clouds Rolling in over Phnom Penh, source here.

By Michael Freeman

By Michael Freeman

Motos in Rain

By Daniel Patterson

By Shawna Huang

By Shawna Huang

I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain,
And all that I hear as I lie in my bed
Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.

I step very softly,
I walk very slow,
I can’t do a handstand–
I might overflow,
So pardon the wild crazy thing I just said–
I’m just not the same since there’s rain in my head.

– Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)

By Ralph Combs

By Ralph Combs


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Restaurant Review: Gastrobar Botanico, Phnom Penh

The entrance to Botanico of of St. 29

The entrance to Botanico of of St. 29

Gastrobar Botanico is one of those hidden gems that people feel so proud of finding when visiting a new city.  It’s secluded off of street 29 down a narrow, winding pathway lined with tropical shrubs, bamboo and banana trees. Once you make it down the pathway you reach a garden oasis tucked away among the swanky hotels and apartments of Phnom Penh’s BKK 1 neighborhood.  Completely open and outdoor in design, there are four concrete horseshoe seating areas under safari stye canvas tents that have retractable sides that roll down for particularly damp days in the rainy season. The bar and kitchen are at the far end, also housed in an open canvas tent adding to the jungle safari feel.  All about is tropical greenery and combined with the individual tent seating, Botanico gives you a sense of intimacy and seclusion that is uncommon.

A+ on design and atmosphere, without a doubt.

Tranquil garden oasis.

Tranquil garden oasis.

Overall, the food is of a very high standard.  However, unfortunately can be a tad hit or miss.  The dishes range from truly outstanding to a bit mediocre to just not worth it.  The menu has a range of conceptually creative and inspired tapas, sandwiches and burgers.  The tapas in particular show the sort of inconsistency I just mentioned.  The Potatas Bravas ($4) are simply a bowl of potato chunks covered with a chili  “aioli” sauce that honestly just tastes like a flavorless cream with a sweet, slightly spicy tomato sauce.  Don’t get me wrong, its perfectly edible and tastes fine, but maybe not worth the price.  Similarly, the Mozzarella Fingers ($5.5) are perfectly fried mozzarella sticks (the only in PP that I’m aware of), however they’re pared with a “chilli-basil marmalade” that for some reason just misses the mark.  Perhaps the topping is just a bit to sweet of a pairing with the saltiness of the fried mozzarella.  In this case it may just be my personal taste preferences, but I’m confident that they could come up with a better, equally creative, sauce to pair them with.  On a brighter note, the Salmon Croquettes ($5.5), served with a mild tartare sauce, are outstanding.  They perfectly balance the delicate savoriness of the salmon with the light tanginess of the tartare sauce.  Simply delicious.

The Mozzarella Sticks

The Mozzarella Sticks

The main courses fare a bit better consistency wise.  Of the sandwiches, the Chicken Breast Milanesa ($7) is the obvious standout, tender chicken breast, melted gouda, crispy bacon and tartare sauce panini pressed between ciabatta bread.  Botanico also has some of Phnom Penh’s best (and definitely most innovative) burgers.  The American Beef Burger ($8) is not something you’d find in your average local burger joint in the States, but it is tasty nonetheless.  Beef, cheddar cheese, bacon, bbq sauce and, if you choose, a fried egg.  I have a thing for gooey fried eggs on sandwiches (an acquired taste admittedly) so this could just be me, but I love it.  However, the Spanish Beef Chorizo Burger ($8) really did not measure up.  Served as 3 small sliders, the buns were too dense, the meat was overcooked and dry and there wasn’t enough of the aioli or roasted red pepper to make up for either of those deficiencies.  Unfortunately, the best part were the crispy potato fries it was served with.  Considering the very high price tag (for Cambodia) this was a huge disappointment.  On the other hand though, the Mexican Red Beans Burger ($6.5) is possibly the best veggie burger in the city, hands down.  Initially when I first got it I thought it had been overcooked and burnt.  However, the red bean falafel patty was merely perfectly crisped on all sides, giving it a little extra crunch that makes all the difference.  Add guacamole, pico de gallo and jalapenos and it is as satisfying as any meat based burger.  On the other hand, although all the salads are quite good, they not particularly memorable (compared to their other dishes).  But if you wanted a light dinner, I’d go for the Chunky Avocado Salad ($6) which comes with an avocado cream and banana chips.

The "American" Burger (with sangria in the back)

The “American” Burger (with sangria in the back)

Botanico also serves a unique breakfast menu as well.  The Perico ($6) is my favorite.  It consists of scrambled eggs with onion, tomato, capsicum and melted gouda and is served with a side of Spanish arepitas (small cornbread rounds).  The mini croissants with smoked salmon are quite good as well, though the pancakes are just mediocre.

On another note, Botanico boasts some really exceptional cocktails (all $4.5).  Their red and white sangrias do the classic justice and the basil, cilantro and ginger based Tepui Mojito is the perfect refreshment for a hot Cambodian day.  The Copa Pimm’s entails gin, lime, orange, cucumber and herbs and has a surprising hit to it.  Lastly, the Lemongrass + Chilli Mary, a Southeast Asian twist on the classic Bloody Mary, is one of my favorites.  Although purists may take offense at the fusion, it packs a hell of a punch and the lemongrass adds a subtle herbal flavor that to me is irresistible  However, once again, sometimes consistency can be a problem in the drinks department as well.  Usually they are phenomenal, but I have been a few nights where there was way too much lime dumped in the sangria and it seems the bartender accidentally dropped a whole tablespoon of chili into the Bloody Mary and I barely got through half of it.  These nights though also seemed to coincide with the only sub-par food experiences (see chorizo burger disaster above) I’ve had at Botanico, so this might be indicative of there being new staff… or the regular staff having a terribly off night.  Its hard to tell.

The Copa Pimm's cocktail

The Copa Pimm’s cocktail

In general though, Botanico is well worth a stop.  The staff is attentive and well trained and the small group of young women who usually wait tables are especially lovely.  They also have really good internet so I sometimes like to go to there to stretch out on the cushions and work for an afternoon over the weekend.  In a lot of respects the sublime atmosphere makes up for any shortcomings and  I think if they can refine their menu a bit Botanico will join the ranks of Phnom Penh’s best fine dining.

#9b, Street 29, between Sihanouk Blvd. and St. 294, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

*** All photos provided by Gastrobar Botanico’s Facebook page

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Restaurant Review: Yumi, Phnom Penh

Yumi is without a doubt one of my favorite restaurants here in Phnom Penh.  Located on a quiet side street in BKK1 it’s easy to walk past the small, unassuming sign, but those who stumble upon this place are well rewarded.  Somewhat hidden in the back of a leafy courtyard, Yumi features an open modernist design with both indoor and outdoor comfortable seating.  The small group of waiters are incredibly well trained, polite and impeccably coiffed and the manager is one of the loveliest women you will meet in Cambodia.

As for the food, virtually everything I have tried has been delectable.  Yumi serves creative pan-Asian fare, leaning heavily towards contemporary renditions of Japanese classics.  I personally return time and again just for the Pumpkin Gyoza ($3).  These perfectly pan fried dumplings are filled with a creamy yet savory pumpkin filling and are served with a well balanced sweet/salty miso sauce.  The Yumi Pork Ribs ($10) also win high marks across the board and are some of the best ribs I have ever had (anywhere).  The extraordinarily tender meat literally falls off the bone and is covered with a sweet, tangy Japanese katsu sauce.  I will not lie, I have been known to lick the sauce off of the plate, it is just that good.

Other notable dishes include the tempura’ed Chilli Salt Squid ($5), the Braised Aubergine (eggplant) sidedish ($1.5) and the “Yumi Roll” ($4/7), a unique take on a sushi roll containing raw beef, kimuchi and tempura crust

Yumi also arguably boasts some of Phnom Penh’s best cocktails.  Although their focus is on the classics, each drink is prepared with attention to detail and proportion (something that unfortunately cannot be said for most of the cities’ cocktails).  I am personally a fan of both their Mai Tai and the Dark and Stormy, as well as their wine selection.

Finally, don’t leave without trying some of their homemade ice cream or sorbet.  The Honeycomb, Coconut and Apple Champagne flavors are all devine.

Yumi is definitely not to be missed.

No.29a Street 288, Phnom Penh BKK1, Cambodia

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