The air is smoky with small fires being burnt all day. Chinese people have been burning fake money outside the front of their homes or shopfronts to bring good luck for the year ahead. Some of the money is quite convincing! I’m sure I saw a real $20USD bill amongst the fake looking $1USD bills on the pile to be burnt. I saw one shopfront with a massive whole roast pig, bowls of rice and other offerings.
It’s the day before Chinese New Year so we decided to splurge on somewhere nice for dinner. I chose Romdeng Restaurant for the evening and was pleasantly surprised by the lovely atmosphere and delicious food and attention to detail of this restaurant. This restaurant has extra brownie points because it trains disadvantaged young people with useful trades and tries to keep alive traditional Cambodian dishes.
We had a table in the lovely gardens around the main house. I was worried about mosquitoes but under each table, they had mosquito repelling coils burning. Love it! No mosquito problems!
For a drink, I tried their Khmer style fresh pumpkin and coconut juice. I had no idea what to expect! What came was a thick, smooth drink topped with shavings of what smelt like shavings from Nyonya style Love Letters. The drink was smooth, quite viscous, a little sweet and fragrant of coconut. Yum!
For food, we ordered,
- Romdeng’s Famous Chicken and Vegetable Curry Served with a Baguette;
- Stir Fried Red Tree Ants with Beef Fillet and Holy Basil; and
- Cambodian Rice Pancake Filled with Yam Beans, Bean Sprouts and Toasted Coconut.
It came out with a generous serving of steam rice. I love restaurants that aren’t stingy on their rice. The curry was delicious. It was similar to a Malaysian curry with their flavouring and use of coconut milk. The ant dish was great. The ants were quite large. I estimate they were about 8mm in length and generously fried in the dish with thinly sliced lemon grass and chunky bits of garlic and shallots. It’s delicious in combination with the chilli, beef and holy basil. A classic Thai style combo in my experience.
So what’s it like eating red ants? Nice! I couldn’t say they tasted of anything in particular. I think they added a nice texture to the dish. It’s a strange seeing them on my plate with their little bodies and legs but I’m not squeamish about stuff like this and ate heartily anyway!
The rice pancake was a surprise! It came wrapped around a filling of yam beans and dried shrimp. There was also a plate provided full of herbs, cucumber and bean sprouts. We also got a couple of sauces, a sweet, vinegary clear sauce with crushed roasted peanuts and a white coconut sauce. I’m not sure what yam bean is but google tells me the name of the vegetable is Jicama. I know this vegetable as “mangkuang” and the vegetable used for the filling of Penang style “pohpiah” spring rolls. In fact, the pancake filling tasted exactly like “pohpiah” filling. This Cambodian version uses a different style of pancake and the use of fresh herbs and sauces to accompany adds a fresh flavour and crunch to the dish.
All the dishes were tasty, well seasoned, beautifully presented and well portioned. Top marks all round!!
Of course, my dining partner had room for dessert! He chose the Turmeric crepes filled with caramelised bananas and topped with coconut ice cream. This came beautifully presented and drizzled with a very sweet sauce. The dish was very very sweet. It was fragrant, rich and delicious but way too sweet for my tastes.
Overall, my experience of Romdeng was very favourable. Our bill came to just under $30USD. Even thought this is more expensive that most meals in Phnom Penh, I thought it was fair because all the food was delicious and the restaurant’s attention to detail is commendable. A great and yummy experience! A definite must visit if you are in Phnom Penh!