Sunday, April 28, 2013

It's Happy Hour Again

In this blog entry, we highlight some of our favorite places for food and beverages in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

We found Khmer cuisine to be decent and filling, but occasionally a bit bland for our tastes. We did have some individually outstanding Khmer meals.  We like Vietnamese and Thai food even better, because it is spicier and less laden with MSG.  Or if it is MSG-positive, we don't know about it.

We admit that we weren't as adventuresome as we might have been in eating out.  We saw a show about bizarre Cambodian food on the Travel Channel just before we left on our trip.  There are apparently abundant opportunities to eat insects, duck embryos, scorpions and other exotic delicacies, if you know where to find them and seek them out. We did not, and luckily they didn't find us either.  Or we probably would have tried at least one of them, to please the locals.

One block of Pub Street in Siem Reap, around dusk

Between pubs, a sidewalk foot massage:  $1 for 10 minutes

Our favorite place to eat and drink in Siem Reap was Temple Bar on Pub Street.  Like almost every other place in Siem Reap, it is an indoor/outdoor space with a lively front patio.  It has free wi-fi and plenty of room to spread out on the tables, so we were able to do some blogging and E-mailing there.  A local draft beer is only $0.50 during the long happy hour, and the wine was OK.

At night, Temple Bar has loud thumping music, but we were always there in the late afternoon or early evening, per our usual preference.  They also have free apsara dancing shows upstairs every evening at 7:30 PM and 9:30 PM, but unfortunately we never made it.  We ate at the villa most weeknights.  We needed to be home early even if we did go out, so we could get up early and teach the KSEDO kids.  And we were too tired to stay up late after temple hopping on the only weekend that we were in town.

Front patio of Temple Bar, in the evening

There is no mystery as to why it is called Temple Bar

Sarah chats with Van, our favorite Temple Bar waitress

Another favorite Siem Reap hangout was Picasso.  It is a small bar in The Alley, a pedestrian alley parallel and perpendicular to Pub Street with back-to-back restaurants, cafes and pubs.  It has seating for only 18 people inside.  With standing room and a patio out front when needed, it supposedly could fit a maximum of 35.  Most of the time, there were about a dozen people in intimate proximity, including a few regulars.

Restaurant row in The Alley; we had a good meal at Amok (yellow sign)

Picasso has one of the most unique environments we have ever seen in a pub.  The whole place is brick-lined and arch shaped, and feels like a subway tunnel.  The bar is shaped like the top of a tuning fork, with barely enough room in the middle for 2 or 3 bartenders to move around.  The bar top is made of polished sandstone.  Two of the three bartenders are a likeable Australian man and woman (not a couple).  Yes, it has a Picasso theme.

With this space layout, the evening can naturally evolve into one large conversation among the patrons.

Sarah with Philip, the Aussie bartender, and other Picasso patrons

Picasso art on the walls, original we're sure

We had a great meal one night at a restaurant called Cambodian BBQ.  We had five kinds of meat, along with vegetables that were boiled simultaneously.  The meat included crocodile.  Tastes like chicken.

Maybe croc meat from behind our villa, but that's more for handbags

We also liked the Red Piano in Siem Reap, for its perfect street corner location and decent wine selection.  This was Angelina Jolie's favorite place in Siem Reap.  We haven't seen all of Angelina Jolie's movies, but we like her taste in wicker furniture bars!

We met Adam, our nighttime tuk tuk driver, near Red Piano

In Phnom Penh, our first stop was the Foreign Correspondent's Club (FCC or "The F"), a popular ex-pat spot.  There is a large open air restaurant on the 3rd floor, and bar stools at the concrete rail on the 4th floor balcony with a great view over Sisowath Quay and the river.  We met some interesting recent Tulane Med School grads and an accountant from Winnipeg.

View of Sisowath Quay and Ton Le Sap River from FCC balcony

On the upper level of FCC, it is easy to imagine war correspondents in the early 1970's sitting in the very same seats, discussing the harrowing events of the day over a whiskey or beer.  In actuality, that couldn't have happened, since the bar only opened in 1993.

Al Rockoff, a push-the-envelope war photographer who came to Phnom Penh in 1973 and barely escaped death at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, still lives in PP and hangs out at FCC.  Rockoff worked closely with Sydney Schanberg, the NY Times correspondent to Cambodia who reported on U.S. atrocities there in the early 1970's during the Vietnam War.  Schanberg also barely made it out alive in April 1975.

War Correspondent's Memorial, near our hotel and U.S. Embassy

The Mediterranean kabobs are especially good at FCC.  A Turosak family member with an advanced degree in journalism may be receiving an FCC T-shirt in the mail soon.

Another favorite restaurant is Fish, located about a half mile north of FCC on Sisowath Quay.  We had some excellent spring rolls and Fish amok, a fish curry inside banana leaves, served with rice.  It is the national dish of Cambodia, and is very tasty.  Actually, anything served within banana leaves is very tasty!  The bar area was chic modern with a few Khmer artifacts.

John's fish amok didn't last long; Sarah like fries in any country

I must return to being a normal person who doesn't take bar photos

Another Phnom Penh restaurant that we stopped at a couple of times was Le Moon, on the roof of the boutique Amanjaya Hotel.  It has a great panoramic view of the area, atmospheric lighting, good food and decent wine.  It looks down over our favorite monastery in Phnom Penh, which we passed by several times in a tuk tuk.

Sarah is inspired to give the traditional Khmer greeting

Comfortable wicker chairs, amusing mural, and a breeze!

The stairway is filled with fun Tiger Beer ads

We also spent a fair amount of time at The Elephant Bar lounge at Raffles Hotel, where we were staying.  It had comfortable seating, mood lighting, a pool table, unique beverages and a friendly and attentive staff.  We did some blogging there as well.  Unfortunately, we don't seem to have any photos that we can find.  Or maybe we just forgot to document it, and enjoyed the moments even more.....

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