Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - At Phka Slaa, Khmer food for a picky palate



At Phka Slaa, Khmer food for a picky palate

The four main dishes of the lunch set, including tofu with morning glory and a pork rib stew.
The four main dishes of the lunch set, including tofu with morning glory and a pork rib stew. Heng Chivoan

At Phka Slaa, Khmer food for a picky palate

Phka Slaa, a new Khmer restaurant geared towards foodie-foreigners, recently opened its doors in a tourist-friendly area on Street 240. The aim, says South African co-owner Benjamin Thomalla, is to alter Khmer recipes to a foreign palate and present them in a high-class manner – at a reasonable price.

“There are a lot of people who do not experience Cambodian food because they do not want to sit on the blue plastic chairs on the side of the street,” Thomalla says.

An expat himself for about six years and the owner of upscale restaurant Chinese House, Thomalla says Phka Slaa should help overcome foreigners’ reservations about eating local cuisine.

For lunch, Phka Slaa offers a $6 lunch-set with four rotating main dishes, a dessert and white rice, and there is also an a la carte menu. Post Weekend enjoyed the deep-fried pumpkin flowers filled with minced pork, prawn and vermicelli.

The result is a flavourful dumpling-like morsel with a roasted red pepper dip on the side ($4.5). The most expensive item is the whole steamed fish ($11) with num banhchok (a Cambodian wide rice noodle), herbs and tamarind sauce. The dish is well worth the price and can serve two to three.

Food aside, the two-storey restaurant offers an airy and comfortable space with walls decorated with paintings and photographs that commemorate the country’s past. The face of 1960s pop icon Pan Ron looks down on diners.

Head chef Seng Darat, trained by NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant, comes with nearly a decade of kitchen experience and has tweaked his recipes for the tourist-heavy area.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The stylish dining room at Phka Slaa. Heng Chivoan

He reckons that most foreigners want the strong tastes and smells in many Khmer dishes – due to prahok, the iconic fermented fish paste, and the variety of spices used – to be toned down. In doing so, he has substituted a host of ingredients in the original recipes.

“Although we change the recipes, we try to keep the originality as much as possible,” he says. “We use only fresh meats and vegetables, and concentrate very carefully on the cooking process, even the smallest detail.”

Darat is not a purist; he has no compunction about altering the Khmer recipes, and for him, no one element of a cuisine is superior or inferior to another. The key, he says, is finding the right replacements.

“When we omit an ingredient, it is very important to add a similar ingredient. For example, many of our target customers do not like the smell and strong tastes of prahok, so we substitute it with fish sauce instead,” he says.

Phka Slaa Restaurant is located at #15 Street 240 on the corner with Street 19. It is open every day from 10am to 10 pm. Tel: 023 990 652

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen: Stop Russia sanctions

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said sanctions against Russia as a result of its military offensive in Ukraine should be stopped as they have produced no tangible results, and predicted that a global food crisis would ensue in 2023 as a consequence. Speaking to an audience at

  • Chinese tourists 2.0 – Coming anytime soon?

    Regional tourism is grappling with the absence of the prolific travellers and big spenders – the Chinese tourists. Cambodia, which has welcomed over two million Chinese tourists before Covid-19, is reeling from the economic loss despite being the first to fully open last November ‘To put

  • PM reflects on shoe throwing: Free speech or act of violence?

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 17 questioned whether a man who threw a shoe at him while he was in the US was exercising freedom of expression or if it was an act of hostility. Hun Sen was referring to an incident last week when

  • Siem Reap’s Angkor Botanical Garden opens

    The Angkor Botanical Garden was officially opened on May 19 with free entry for both local and international visitors for the first six weeks. The garden was established on a nearly 15ha plot of land in Siem Reap. “After the first six weeks, Angkor Botanical Garden

  • Pub Street on the cards for Battambang

    The Battambang Provincial Authority has announced that it is considering establishing a Pub Street in the area around the heritage buildings in Battambang town in a bid to attract more tourists. Battambang provincial governor Sok Lou told The Post that the establishment of a Pub

  • Hun Sen: Don’t react to hostility

    Prime Minister Hun Sen urged tolerance and thanked members of the Cambodian diaspora for not reacting to the hostility on display towards him by others while he was in the US to attend the May 12-13 ASEAN-US Special Summit in Washington, DC. In an audio