For diners looking for an energy-boosting meal and who don’t mind sweating in the tropical climate, the recently opened Khmer Beef Soup restaurant offers a variety of beef and fresh vegetables served hotpot-style along the banks of the Tonle Sap River.
Located near the Ferris wheel on the east side of the river across Chroy Changvar Bridge, the semi-open-air restaurant is surrounded by trees, green grass and a spacious parking lot.
With thatched roofs and walls covered by khun mear leaves – a wild plant which is believed to be found only in Kulen Mountain in Siem Reap – the Khmer Beef Soup restaurant offers a relaxing atmosphere with countryside-inspired architecture and a large open-air terrace.
Lounging on comfortable bright orange seats, diners can enjoy what many Cambodians consider to be an energy-boosting meal.
Rest assured, safeguarding against the pandemic is a priority at the restaurant. Staff members wear masks and the healthy air flow helps mitigate the chance of spreading the virus.
The eatery’s flagship dish is the Khmer beef soup itself, with the bitter gourd soup a popular choice as well. Both are served in a clay pot hotpot-style.
With help from two business partners, the restaurant was opened by 36-year-old chef Hun Ratha, who brought his signature taste and style from his two successful restaurants of the same name in Siem Reap. Diners have revelled in the unique taste.
“In Siem Reap, I first started my business as a street vendor. Many people supported me and it was going so well. Now it’s grown into a big restaurant just like this.
“The concept imitates everything in Siem Reap. I move back and forth monthly but my partners will always be here taking full responsibility to maintain the restaurant’s taste and hygiene practices,” Ratha says.
Being the oldest child in his family, Ratha learned how to cook by whipping up meals for his younger siblings while his parents were busy selling goods at the market. As he grew older, he took a job as a kitchen hand to gain some practical cooking knowledge.
“At first I had no desire in cooking. But as the hotel businesses grew, I took it as an opportunity to work as a kitchen hand. That was the only way I could benefit since I received little education,” he says.
As he rose in the ranks from kitchen hand to chef, he gained invaluable experience, allowing him to build the entire menu for his restaurants from scratch.
“I used to be a chef and worked closely with Chinese chefs. I learned from them and started to make my own style,” Ratha says.
The beef soup is the clear-cut customer favourite and is served with cow bone to give it extra flavour. It may look like traditional Khmer beef soup, but the chef-turned restaurateur has creatively added secret ingredients to make it unique.
He experimented with the recipe until he believed he had the perfect rich taste to suit customers’ palates.
The bitter gourd soup taste might be a little too bitter for some, but for foodies who won’t let bitterness obstruct them from tasting unfamiliar food, they might find they enjoy it. It pairs well with the Bronze featherback, a type of freshwater fish.
One of Ratha’s culinary tricks is to remove MSG from his dishes, a move that won praise from some of his local customers.
The beef soup and the bitter gourd soup cost $12.50 each. They include a pot of soup, fresh meat, veggies and more and can feed up to four people.
For side dishes, moan bok Siem Reap – Siem Reap-style ground chicken with ants ($4) – and American Steak served on a hot stone ($16) are also treasured by many diners.
Moan bok Siem Reap traces its origins to Angkor, where it was served as a typical household dish.
The ground chicken is roasted with ants, mashed together with Khmer fermented fish and eaten with banana flowers. The unique taste has been described as sour, salty and spicy.
American steak on the hot stone is a foreign-inspired dish which can also be found in some local upscale restaurants. Ratha made it affordable so those who usually don’t opt for pricey meals can give it a try. The meat is imported from the US while the vegetables are locally sourced.
Ratha says it makes him happy to see families and friends sitting at his restaurant, socialising and eating together.
“When I was young, my parents often took me to eat hot pot. Years went by and to this day, people still enjoy it.
“That is also one of the reasons I was excited to open this restaurant. It feels like I’m bringing back those memories and creating memories for customers who love to bring their parents or children out to eat,” he says.
Those who visit the restaurant can expect an unspoiled view of the Tonle Sap on a spacious lot which always guarantees a parking spot.
Ratha says if there was one thing he could change about the restaurant, he would like to incorporate technology to streamline the service and make it even better.
“I am thinking of using iPads for orders. But I’m still studying it because I don’t know if it will help my staff work faster. Moreover, they need to be trained, so I will try to improve it little by little.
“Lastly, I just want to show my gratitude to all the customers that have been supporting me all along from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. We will continue to maintain our taste and hygiene practices and if there is something we can improve, we will,” he says.
Khmer Beef Soup restaurant is on the east side of the Tonle Sap. After crossing Chroy Changvar Bridge, turn left at the big roundabout and then turn left again at the first roundabout. The restaurant is open from 4pm to 11pm and can be reached at 016 664 288.