Battambang Authentic Cambodian Restaurant + in Oakland...
- RWCFoodie Aug 21, 2013 06:26 PM
Four of us met for lunch today at Battambang in Oakland. Here's a list of what we ate. I'll leave it to my lunch companions to comment and will add pictures later...
Just a note, we had terrific service and enjoyed conversation with Navi who I believe is the owner. In talking with her we discovered that she will make many off menu dishes with as little as one-day notice. This includes a favorite, Nem Kao aka Crispy Rice Ball Salad. Also off menu, Cambodian sausage. She says they make hot and mild but today she only had mild. These are made in-house. (One lucky member of the group scored the last pkg of frozen mild sausage to go). I'd like to visit again and try some of these off menu items plus some others on the regular menu...
We went specifically to try the:
#94 - Amok Trei "Thinly sliced filet of fish in a red lemon grass sauce, then steamed in banana leaves" so we could add to the "Dish of the Month - August: Fish in banana leaves. (I think I heard that she only makes about 50 of these per day).
But we found several other dishes on the menu that we needed to try:
#19 Nhorm Lahong: Shredded green papaya, carrots, and fresh mints and diced prawns with a hint of ground peanuts in a lime sauce $8.25
#30 Baksei Trung Kor: Crispy fried quails stuffed with ground pork, bean thread, onions, ground peanuts served with pickles and ginger sauce. $9.75
#31 Num Banchev: The Cambodian version of Banh Xeo. Rice flour crepe with ground chicken, diced prawns, onions, bean sprouts and green onions served with cucumbers and vinegar sauce. $8.25
#40 Sach Chrouck Aing: Grilled sliced pork marinated in lemon grass spices served with pickles and lime sauce. $10.25
#95 Stir-fried Frog Legs with lemon grass, bell peppers, green beans with a hint of ground peanuts. $14.25
Off menu: Prahok Ktiss (Navi said she could make us 4 different Prahok dishes. We asked which version is the most popular and this was the one she recommended. Don't have the price.
Battambang Authentic Cambodian Restaurant
850 Broadway (between 8th and 9th Sts.)
Oakland CA 94607
It all sounded wonderful! Glad to hear that Battambang is still going strong after all these years.
Prahok is *very* Cambodian and, usually, in Cambodia, one detects the heavy, pungent scent of prahok hanging in the air the moment one walks into an eatery. I'd not experienced that at Battambang - perhaps they use it in smaller quantities - I don't think Americans like that kind of smell. Much like Thai eateries in the US, where one *never* smell any "nam pla" (fish sauce) in the air, like one does in eateries in Thailand.
Thanks for the great starting post, RWCFoodie. One correction—I think Navy said she made only 10 Amok Trei per day rather than 50.
My favorite of the meal was the Amok Trei. It may be the best I've ever had though it's been too long since I had Angkor Borei's excellent version to be sure which I prefer. Battambang's version easily surpasses the pretty decent rendition at Chez Sovan in San Jose. It's softer, more flavorful and spicier than Chez Sovan's. The softer texture seemed to allow more complex flavor to come through. Navy mentioned that her use of catfish is critical to getting the best result.
The pork was also excellent, with good flavor and a nice char. The thinly sliced and relatively small pieces allowed ample marinade and caramelization per unit of meat.
The prahok rounds out my top 3 faves of the meal, though my memory of Angkor Borei's prahok is even brighter, perhaps only because AB's was my first time for this dish so there was the extra excitement of discovery. The version we got today contained coconut milk which I believe Navy said the others do not.
The Num Banchev was very good and I'd definitely order it again. In fact there was nothing we had I didn't like, though I think I prefer the cleaner, brighter taste of the citrus sauces used in Vietnamese papaya salad to the funkier, more fermented taste of the Cambodian version with its stronger fish sauce taste. The frogs' legs were very flavorful but suffered from lots of small bones. We may have been spoiled for frogs' legs by the outstanding ones we had at Kim Thanh a couple of years ago, which were large enough to give lots of meat without so many little bones.
One of the great pleasures of today's meal was our interaction with Navy and her co-worker. They both seemed genuinely interested in chatting with us and were very appreciative of our interest in the food and desire to have the most authentic version.
Some other posts have suggested that it's hard to avoid getting dumbed-down versions if you're not Khmer but that was not our experience. Navy was happy to make it any spice level we wanted, and when I agreed we didn't want it "Thai spicy" she produced what I believe to be fairly typical of authentic Cambodian cuisine, medium spicy and a good level for me. My nose didn't run and my lips didn't tingle (sensations I enjoy in moderation) but the spicing wasn't too far short of that. She described all 4 versions of prahok she made and seemed pleased we asked for the one most Cambodians would choose. It was delicious and did not lack heat or funky flavor. It may have helped that three of us have been to Cambodia though I'm not sure she knew that when the orders went in.
By the end of our meal the place had mostly cleared out and both women came over and chatted with us some more. Navy's co-worker and I talked about conditions in Cambodia at the time of our respective visits there in 1994, while pilinut, her Mom, and RWCfoodie talked with Navy (about Cambodian food I think). I was the lucky one who asked about sausage and scored the last bit they had, though I had to settle for the non-spicy kind. It's made with beef rather than pork and is supposed to be more fermented than Lao sausage, so I'm eager to compare it.
With excellent food and incredibly friendly and attentive service, we had a delightful lunch. I just wish they weren't on the opposite side of the Bay from me. Based on today's meal, Battambang is a place I'd like to return to regularly.
With two such eloquent expositions of today's lunch, all I can do is echo what rwcfoodie and charliemyboy have already said. I think it was unanimous that the amok was the favorite dish of the day. No sooner than I had had my first bite than I was mentally debating whether we should order one more amok trei. I'm sure we would have finished it--we'd have had more leftovers, but not of the amok. Navy mentioned that she grinds all her spice pastes from scratch, and it shows. The seasoning of the amok was fresh tasting and nicely balanced.
Like charliemyboy, my other two favorites were the grilled pork and the prahok ktiss. The latter reminded me of nam phrik with coconut milk, but with less chili. But at no point did I feel that the food had been dumbed down--Cambodian simply food doesn't rely on chili as much as Thai does. And they weren't pulling their punches with the fish sauces either: the nohrm lahong was pretty pungent, even for someone like me, who grew up with patis (fish sauce) and bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). The papaya salad was probably the dish my mom and I liked least, simply because we found the the fermented fish paste a bit too rank. I think the fish sauce could have done with some more cooking to take the edge off, or more tamarind, to balance the salt and the funk.
I'd happily return and order everything else again--and double the order of amok! It certainly helped that Navy and the other lady were so charming, and so sincerely keen to help us enjoy their national cuisine. With that level of service and the quality of the food, my only regret is that Battambang isn't a lot closer to home.
Tks charliemyboy for catching my boo-boo on the number of Amok Trei made per day - I really can't imagine them making 50 of those banana leaf cups in a day!
I enjoyed our lunch and I too rank the Amok Trei as my favorite, but I really liked the papaya salad. While the more familiar Viet version is indeed cleaner and brighter tasting, I really liked the funk and complexity of this one.
If Battambang was closer to home for me, I would be there often to explore the menu...
A clarification to my spice level comments—
When I said the spicing wasn't too far short of making my nose run and my lips tingle I was only talking about the spiciest dish, the papaya salad, and maybe the prahok.
Some of the dishes weren't spicy at all but the level of heat seemed appropriate for each dish. For instance I don't think the pork would have benefited from being as hot as the papaya salad—it had lots of interesting flavor that might have been obscured by Thai-level heat, and IMO adding heat to the quail would have ruined it. If you require genuine Thai level heat in every dish to be happy then Cambodian food is probably not the place to look, but for my money Battambang spiced each dish appropriately to its nature.
In pursuit of a restaurant with a strong vegetarian/lactose free menu, I was at Battambang with a group last night.
There's a 2 page long vegetarian section of the menu. We had a few more dishes than what I can remember, but all were great and didn't at all feel like second string dishes.
86. Trorb Aing Eggplant with lime sauce was not at all what i was expecting, but excellent. Very smoky eggplant, prepared in a chopped up manner akin to baba Ghanoush.
The 79 towhoo aing Tofu skewers kicked butt too. Tofu was nicely charred, and was not oversaturated with the tangy tamarind sauce.
The 77. Banchev Banlah rice crepe had a different texture than a banh xeo but was very similar. Despite the nicely charred outside, it was neither oily nor crispy, and had the fluffiness of a buttermilk pancake. It didn't come with any herb accompaniments, but I liked the bamboo shoot focused filling more than the meat fillings I've had elsewhere.
I ate here a few nights ago. I had been meaning to go ever since this discussion started in August.
Cambodian (meat) spring rolls - they are short and cute, and the order included 8 of them, along with dipping sauce. The plate also included some homemade pickles (carrots, cabbage, cucumber). I thought the spring rolls were good, but not amazing. I loved the pickles. We asked for more of them as we waited for the rest of our food.
The Kary Towhoo is described as cubed tofu, green bean, yam and young coconut meat in a spicy red curry sauce. When we ordered, we were asked if spicy was okay, and we said yes. What came out was a completely mild curry sauce. Like, I don't think chile pepper was even an ingredient. So it was a bit disappointing, though I did like the bits of young coconut.
Trorb Aing Eggplant was like hyperbowler describes. It's kind of like babaganoush...mushy eggplant, and very smoky. I thought it was slightly too smoky (my dining companion wondered if it was burned), but it was interesting and pretty good. I wouldn't recommend this unless you love smoky babaganoush.
Ahmok Trei was the main thing I wanted to try. I liked this version a lot. It was a soft, yellow custard with lots of lemongrass flavor, with pieces of fish. However, I think I prefer the version at Angkor Borei, which has a smoother texture. The version at Battambang had a slightly grainier texture. We ended up having some leftover ahmok, and I ate it for lunch the next day. Somehow, it actually tasted better as leftovers. Despite not liking it as much as Angkor Borei, I still liked it.
Last up was dessert...we ordered the pumpkin custard, which is steamed in banana leaf like the ahmok. I thought this was the best item we ordered. I loved the soft texture of the custard, the pumpkin flavor, and the mild flavor the banana leaf imparts. It wasn't too sweet. I bought two to take home, and ate one of them yesterday (steamed for 10 minutes) and it was great as well.
Like vulber says, I think it's really only the desserts that put this place in the running w/ Angkor Borei. That and the service, which was really helpful and friendly (although it's pretty good at A.B. too). I think savory-food-wise, I'd choose Angkor Borei over Battambang based on this visit, but it's great to have good Cambodian options on both sides of the bay.
re: Dave MP
LOL, you and the kitchen share the virtue of consistency :-)
Your 2007 tip about the vegetarian friendliness of Battambang is what led me there. You also didn't like the Trorb Aing back then! http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/384254
Good to know how it compares to Angkor Borei--- I need to explore more of their menu.
re: Dave MP
I'm quite fond of Battambang (haven't had the opportunity to try Angkor Borei) and your mention of the Ahmok Trei is droolworthy. I used to work at the APL Building in Oakland, just across from the restaurant, but not anymore.
Where I am now in Singapore, it's probably easier for me to take a 1.5 hour flight to Cambodia (where I'd never been) than a 20-hour flight back to Oakland for a taste of Cambodian cuisine :-D