No Cambodian Food for You!
I like to think of myself as sort of a discount chowhound, I like to find new and unique places to eat but I'm rarely willing to spend very much money on them. Thus, my explorations and recommendations tend to be takeout places, less expensive ethnic food restaurants and the like, and frequently one of my housemates will join me in these endeavors. Last night, however, we hit a wall of major proportions.
On the outskirts of Takoma Park, on University avenue, a new "Cambodian and Chinese" restaurant and market (called the "Phnomh Penh") has opened up in what used to be a bowling alley. Last night Norm and I set out to discover what the place was all about, and to seek out some Cambodian food for takeout. The supermarket was impressive indeed, although we didn't have much time to explore because it was closing as we arrived. The restaurant, on the other hand, was a major disappointment. The space, as expected, was nothing special, but it was the menu that was the real let down. The only thing on it that couldn't be found at every other Chinese takeout joint in the world was two seafood-heavy dishes described as "Sizzling Rice." When we asked the waitress about Cambodian food, she explained that they didn't have a menu for any of it, or at least there was none she was willing to show us, and that we Americans wouldn't want any of it anyway, describing it succinctly as "stinking food!" All our efforts to get more details, or some kind of listing of what was available, were rebuffed, and we left in disappointment to get some Peruvian rotisserie chicken and fried yucca at Senor Chicken.
Since I've tried and enjoyed examples of numerous different Asian cuisines, I thought that I could surely find an item or two at a Cambodian restaurant I would enjoy, but this was clearly not the place to experiment. My recommendation: Unless you speak Cambodian, steer clear of the Pnomh Penh restaurant, although the market may be well worth a visit.
Cambodians don't seem to have the sort of pride of cuisine that many other ethnic groups better represented in restaurants have. In Portland, ME, there was a Cambodian restaurant/sushi bar that never actually seemed to serve Cambodian food. The sushi was very ordinary, except for the time we ate spoiled uni, which I definitely don't recommend. I won't describe it, some of you may be eating.
I know the exact same restaurant that you are talking about, and have eaten there several times. Every time I went there I received two menus, one was the American-Chinese menu, and the other was the authentic Cambodian one. The Cambodian one is blue(?)and it has pictures of all of the various dishes. The names of the dishes are listed in English, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Khmer. They usually give both of the menus out to the customers and then let them decide what type of dish they would like. Did this not happen to you? If you go there again you should see the Cambodian menus, they are near the roasted pigs and ducks. I am surprised that they disuaded you from trying out their authentic dishes.
as someone who's travelled cambodia extensively, i can report that khmer food is uninspiring, unlike the superb food of neighboring vietnam and thailand. this is not to say that all meals i had were inedible; in fact i had some fine meals, but they were a synthesis of french, vietnamese, chinese and even american. some good thai and indian also. (the better meals were largely beyond the pockets of most cambodians.)