Having enjoyed street food in Hanoi, I wanted to sample some authentic Cambodian food whilst here in Siem Reap. That meant avoiding Pub Street, which is geared to western tourists with so-called ‘Cambodian’ food being altered to cater to tourist tastes.
A Google search revealed that a restaurant close to my hotel provides authentic Cambodian food for locals, and is a place not often visited by tourists. Sign me up!
I had passed by ‘Sensabbay 3’ each time I walked to town and back, as it is a short walk from my hotel.I had assumed that it was a karaoke bar, based on the ‘hostess girls’ that were sitting at the entrance. However, a web-site on local cuisine suggested that it was one of the few places in Siem Reap to serve authentic food.
When I walked through the gauntlet of hostess girls, and said that I just wanted to eat, I was shown to a table by one of the waitresses who were dressed in somewhat suspect schoolgirl clothing.
I was able to communicate to the waitress that I would like a beer. I think she asked me if I would like a ‘tall’ beer, to which I agreed. A short while later, she returned to the table with a bucket of six Angkor beers! She then proceeded to pour one into a glass with ice. Wary of the ice, I got a clean glass and let her know that I didn’t need any ice.
I let the waitress know that I wanted to eat and she told me that the menu was not in English. I had come prepared with the name of an authentic Cambodian dish – Kang Kep Bampong (deep fried frog). The waitress couldn’t understand but the maitre d’ understood. I was asked ‘spicy or not’ and responded ‘medium spicy’. I’m not sure whether that was understood.
The waitress and the maitre d’ both asked if I needed ‘a lady’. I politely declined. As I understand it, the hostesses will provide company whilst eating and drinking (for a fee). They may provide additional services!
However, this doesn’t seem to be an all-adult venue. There was a family with a young child dining at the next table to me. And there was a family-type movie being projected onto a screen, that the family found to be very funny. The movie had no sound but had English sub-titles that made no sense whatsoever! It was funny to me because it made no sense.
When the dish arrived, it was decidedly spicy. If this was only ‘medium spicy’ then I’m glad I didn’t ask for all out spicy. Although I suspect that he only heard ‘spicy’ and that’s what I got. I’ve eaten frogs legs several times, but this was different. There were a lot of bones in the frog that I had to negotiate. And the rest of the dish had strong flavours and unusual texture. Something different – which is just what I wanted. The spicy flavour ensured that three of the beers were finished in short order.
After the frog, I decided to try something else. Without a menu, I asked the maitre d’ what he recommended. He smiled and said ‘Thank you.’ Something was obviously lost in translation. Later, I was able to communicate that I wanted something else to eat. He recommended something, but I only understood the word ‘beef’. The resulting dish tasted good, but seemed to be more western oriented than a local dish.
Video: Footage from inside Sensabbay 3
I managed to get through five of the beers. As I need to be up early tomorrow to visit Angkor Wat, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and left the sixth beer in the bucket.
And the cost for two courses of food and five beers? $20. I gave the staff a nice tip and left very contented. It was nice to have been able to get a brief glimpse into local culture and to sample some authentic fare.