September 6, 2014

7 Reasons to Eat Cambodian Food at Khmer Kitchen

Pra_hok Kateeh, a signature Cambodian pork dish
Few food experiences excite us more than when the flavors of a new culture zap our taste buds for the first time. It’s like finding a new toy that you didn't know existed as a kid.

It's happened to us many times, like with Pakistani food from Lahore Kebab House in London and our first crack at Dim Sum in San Francisco. Now we can’t get enough of either.

While Cambodian flavors are similar to Vietnamese and Thai, a twist in the way they use certain vibrant ingredients made our experience at Khmer Kitchen in South Philly an eye opener.

Here are seven reasons why you need to go to Khmer Kitchen, too:

1. To try Cambodian food: The combination of sour and spicy in Cambodian food is something you need to try. We’re no experts on the culture, but learned that the use of fermented fish paste is what largely separates their flavors from other Southeast Asian food. We didn't think the fishy sensation stood out dramatically but it made enough difference to dazzle us with new and exotic flavors.

2. It's dirt cheap: Our group of four ordered enough food for a small army and still only paid $65 total, including tax + tip. This isn't some fast food cheapness either. The food was fresh and made to order with an intricate set of ingredients.

3. Friendly and helpful service: Friends on Twitter and offline gave us several recommendations, but on arrival we were still unsure of what to order. The names and ingredient combinations were so unfamiliar. Our server actually seemed pleased that we didn't know the menu so he could advise on our selections and teach us a little about Cambodian food. He was forthright about their specialties, portion size (family style) and even gave some tricks about how to eat each dish.

Giant green mussels in red curry
Lemongrass beef stir fry

4. Mussels the size of bodybuilders: My oh my, look at the size of those mussels (picture above)! Which way to the beach? Cooked in a red curry sauce that is lick-the-bowl-clean good, the mussels at Khmer Kitchen are a must-order dish.

5. Lemongrass stir fry: Quite possibly my favorite part of the meal, the Cha Kr’ung is Cambodian stir fry with a spicy lemongrass sauce. We ordered ours with beef, but you can also order with chicken. The fresh lemongrass marinade and bed of peppers and onions made it a dish that I just couldn't get enough of.

Fried salt and pepper shrimp
Papaya salad - watch your tongue!

6. Caramelized ground pork: Pra_hok Kateeh is a signature Cambodian dish that uses fish paste (pra_hok) to take it to another level. I’m generally not the first in line to use fish sauce so I'm guessing that somehow blending with a curried sauce turns it into something special. It’s like a Cambodian taco dip that you scoop up with fresh vegetables. See the photo at the top of this post.

7. The shrimp dipping sauce: The lightly battered salt and pepper shrimp appetizer was good, but the coconut curry sauce that comes with it would be perfect for a twist on the Ice Bucket Challenge. Just dump it my face and I’ll lick myself clean. Even when the shrimp was gone, I polished off the rest over rice.

We also ordered the shredded papaya salad - maybe it should be called the forehead-sweat-inducing salad. The medium version was too hot for everyone except me. It’s the kind of hot you get at Han Dynasty when you're head is on fire, but you can't stop eating. So just be warned.

If you're looking for some truly delicious and approachable Southeast Asian fare then be sure to visit Khmer Kitchen in South Philly. It's a spot we'll frequent more in the future.

Khmer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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