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Phnom nom nom: Phnom Penh

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Phnom Penh
244 E Georgia Street
Mon-Fri: 10:00am – 9:00pm
Sat-Sun: 10:00am – 10:00pm

Shortly before I first ventured to this corner of Chinatown, someone had told me that the deep fried chicken wings at Phnom Penh were so good; they had to be breaded in crack. After several escapades involving large plates of said wings, this is still the best description that I have heard.

I can’t really sit here and pretend that I have no idea what makes these wings so addicting. I can neither confirm nor deny the use of MSG in Phnom Penh’s cooking; however, what I do know is that they’ve won “Best Vietnamese Restaurant” for the last 4 years in a row, rendering any suspicion, of any kind, irrelevant. Just enjoy it. It’s undeniably delicious, so, don’t worry about it.

Phnom Penh is one of Vancouver’s favourite “holes-in-the-wall,” serving up Cambodian and Vietnamese home-cooking. There is a consistent line up that stretches out their front door, catching the eyes of those wandering through the heart of Chinatown. They don’t take reservations for groups smaller than 6, so be prepared to sit tight and keep your chin up (it’ll save your drool from hitting the floor.)

I’ve never actually had something I didn’t like at Phnom Penh, but the chicken wings are certainly their signature dish. They come freshly fried (is that oxymoron?) in a generous, crispy pile, with a lemon pepper dipping sauce that is just as addicting as the wings themselves. Don’t bother with the small order; you only live once, okay?

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On my most recent visit, I was craving some hot pot. The Phnom Penh Beef Stew Hot Pot wasn’t exactly the sizzling hot pot that I had envisioned, but it was fantastic in it’s own right. There were both sweet and savoury flavours in the broth and the beef was incredibly tender. There were also pieces of beef tendon (loved by many, but, a bit too squishy for me,) that added depth and texture to the dish. If you must know, I drank the broth with a spoon because it was so good.

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The Crispy Fried Fish with Garlic is a must-try. The fish is not heavily seasoned like the chicken wings, but the same crispiness is achieved through a quick, flash-fry. Paired with a salty garlic and onion sauce, it’s got the authenticity of food found in Asia’s street-side hawker shops.

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I always like to round out the meal with a veggie dish, but I realize that Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic hardly qualifies. This is a super-simple dish (go to T&T, buy the pea shoots, fry them with garlic,) but their simplicity doesn’t make them any less tasty. My only point of contention with the veggie items at Phnom Pehn is that they’re pretty pricey ($13-$15) for what they are. But hey, they sell large plates of crack-coated chicken wings for $12.95, so I can respect the overpriced vegetables.

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Other notable mentions:

I’m a big fan of their Vietnamese Vermicelli Noodles with Spring Rolls. It’s a big bowl of exactly everything you hope for – noodles, lettuce, cucumber, carrot, spring roll, & crushed peanuts. Add a swig of fish sauce and you’re off to the races!

The Fried Rice. Again, no promises about the existence of MSG. It’s really tasty, though.

The Deep Fried Frog Legs. If you haven’t tried frog legs and need some Instagram cred, try them here. They’re cooked and served just like the chicken wings…and they (pretty much) do taste like chicken!

Sure, there’s some talk out there about exactly how Phnom Penh makes their food so addicting, but hey, just refer to their 4 years of gold-medal award winning. Besides, no one looks back on their life and smiles upon the things they didn’t eat. You know what to do!

Joyce Chua

About Joyce Chua

I’m fascinated by food and its impact on culture, especially in an increasingly globalized world. I love how Vancouver’s multicultural food scene opens doors to history, culture, and understanding. Here’s to a life of eating and learning!

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