This week Cambodia was on our plate. We picked Monorom Cambodian Restaurant in Long Beach as our destination and did a little bit of web-surfing to find out what uniquely Cambodian dishes we should look for on their menu. One website gave us a list of 13 essential Cambodian dishes adorned with entertaining descriptions like "Khmer Muslim Beef Curry is what your Cambodian-Jewish grandma would make for holidays".
Monorom means "comfortable, convenient" in Khmer and that is exactly what welcomed us at the small restaurant along with the smiling faces of the staff. We browsed the menu that (thankfully) came with pictures and looked for the few picks we noted from the afore-mentioned webpage.
First came the drinks: The delightfully lavender colored Taro Shake tasted like butter cookies and the creamy
Cambodian Ice Coffee was made with condensed milk. While we sipped our beverages, one of the staff came and sat at a table with a plate of food to eat (since it was once again mid-afternoon and there were no other customers other than us). Watching her we learned the Cambodian way to eat: She held fork in left hand and spoon in her right hand. She then pushed the food back and forth between the two utensils loading up the spoon with the fork. We were surprised she was not using chopsticks.
A medium sized TV played a Cambodian movie (I think) that resembled a Bollywood-like musical. Since the volume was turned off, we did not hear the music, however the dance was very interesting. A large group of beautifully groomed men and women danced gracefully shifting their bodies from side to side very slightly and only moving their hands in small circular motions.
Our orders of Bai Cha Kroeung (Lemon Grass Chicken) and Bai Cha Kahtna (Broccoli w/ Crispy Beef) were served with rice and a savory broth soup. The looks of the dishes definitely resembled the foods we've experienced from Cambodia's neighboring Asian countries - Thailand, Vietnam, China- but the taste was surprisingly mild - not too spicy, not too sweet, not too sour. We discovered that the Cambodian food is tasteful without exaggeration just like their dances.
We were pleased to see a Cambodian family come in for a late lunch, reassuring us that the food we were having was very authentic and not retrofitted to the American tastes.
The next dish was Nom Banh Chok (Khmer Noodle) which is a special celebratory dish that is prepared with bouquets of herbs that is usually served at weddings. One vegetable that was mixed in with the noodles had the layered purple look of red onions and the texture of ginger to the bite but did not taste like either. When our waitress came back to ask how our food was, I took the opportunity to ask her what the vegetable was and once again we were very surprised when she said it was purple banana flowers! She seemed very pleased that we were showing great interest in the food and asking questions. She came back a few minutes later with a picture of the banana flowers on her iPhone.
When we left Monorom, we were comfortably full and pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed this new cuisine. We definitely see more Cambodian food in our future.
See you at our next pan-cuisinal adventure.
(anjoe-in pisaa ao-y baan ch'ngain)