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Tom Yum Kung, take two

Deep fried ribs and tom yum gai
Deep fried ribs and tom yum gai. Eli Meixler

Tom Yum Kung, take two

Tom Yum Kung on Street 278 has for a while been my regular go-to for a Thai fix. It’s not amazing food, but following the closure earlier this year of Ayutthaya, which was great, and Banyan, which was pretty good, it was the next best cheap Thai place in Phnom Penh. The shuttering of its competitors may have been good for Tom Yung Kung’s business, because last month the owners opened a second premises in Street 432, west of Russian Market, Tom Yum Kung Jasmine.

My girlfriend – whose quarter Thai heritage demands that she eat food from her grandfather’s homeland at least three times a week – a couple of friends and I headed over there on Monday evening to see if the new iteration was an improvement on the old.

In terms of looks, the two restaurants are very different. The much bigger original has a rustic barn-like feel while the new one is set in a Chinese shopfront-style building with white tiles on the floor and reaching halfway up the walls.

It’s generally much nicer, with dark stained wooden tables and chairs and pretty red flower-shaped shades hanging from the roof, leaving the room dimly lit. But as in the older restaurant, the waitresses are busy watching a television playing Thai soaps.

The menu is identical to the old place and I ordered our regular dishes, which were all much the same. The som tam (which we had without crab or shrimp and was $1.75) was juicy, nicely balanced with plenty of peanuts and adequately spicy. I thought the ribs ($3.25), which don’t have a lot of meat on them, were overdone and chewy. My girlfriend loved them.

The chicken tom yum ($4.25) – heavy with mushrooms, onion, chillis, lemongrass and galangal – was a bit watery but not bad. One of my friends complained that his red chicken curry ($3.50) lacked heat and the other said her paneang curry ($3.25) was drier than she was used to, although both were tasty nonetheless.

Tom Yum Kung isn’t outstanding, and neither is its new offspring. But they’re good value, and with the lack of exceptional Thai restaurants in Phnom Penh there isn’t a lot of choice. If you live around the Russian Market, Tom Yung Kung Jasmine is probably your best Thai option. But change is hard. Though there is little difference taste-wise, I think the original has more character and will probably stick with it.

Tom Yum Kung Jasmine branch is located at #59B St. 432. Head to tomyumkung-restaurant.com for their online menu and call 012 343 381 for bookings and reservations.

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