Here’s the thing about Siem Reap. It’s not just temples. Yeah, I know that 700 year old World Heritage Site there, emblematic of Khmer heritage and culture. But you can still celebrate that and avoid waking up at 4am and getting clocked in the head with a selfie stick mounted with an iPad. And for those of us who’ve been there more times than I can count, it’s also not a shabby place for a quick weekend getaway (see last week!). Siem Reap is a base for so many artisans and innovators. Basically, it’s where the cool kids are at, making gorgeous and delicious things and taking Khmer art and cuisine beyond anything.
I kept hearing from friends it was the place to be. And many of these places are in Kandal Village. No, not an actual village. But a couple of blocks that you can eat and shop the heck out of. Plus, these guys are organized like a tiny mafia of entrepreneurs, so naturally they’ve got an accessible map of it all that you can grab on the way in. So when you’re all konked out from the temples, you can spend all your money here.
So on my last weekend in the little city, I wanted to go a little nuts and find all these places.
PS – this little guide is not exhaustive. A weekend is obviously not enough. Next time – this food tour’s on my racket.
Start at Sister Srey in Siem Reap’s central market area – far enough that it that sufficiently avoids the obnoxious backpackers but still easily accessible. This little Aussie-inspired café has built up a following among expats and visitors over the past couple of years and I finally got to check it out. In addition to being a training restaurant, they also serve excellent coffee and affordable casual fare like chicken schnitzel sandwiches and YES, avocado toast for brekkie.
When you actually get to Kandal village, your probably want another coffee. Or maybe that’s just me. Anyways, our coffee Yoda and my buddy Corbett have been waxing poetic about Little Red Fox Espresso for ages. Their creations are beyond solid. I can’t think of another place in Cambodia that can serve a ristretto. Also – Montreal inspired bagels (which are apparently a theme in Siem Reap). And if you’re still hungry in Kandal Village and want something a little more on the vegan side of things, check out Vibe, down the street. We just got one in Phnom Penh and the city is ecstatic about the acai bowls and all the nut milks in the world.
There’s pretty much only one reason I can think of to go to Pub Street. If you haven’t been to Siem Reap before, then let me paint you a picture: fanny packs, drunken frat boys, gap year kids, and a crap ton of vendors shilling the same T-shirt. And fish massage. But I do have to say, this central tourist area has its charm – the little alleys with hidden treasures like Gelato Lab (Phnom Penhers – we’re getting one too!). I don’t think I need to say more. That scoop, above, is a Zabaione. t tasted exactly like one should. And I probably couldn’t find one anywhere else this side of the Mekong.
All of these eats and drinks have been recommendations from my buddy Mike. He has the luck of getting shipped up here a ton, so the man knows his lay of the land. But by far, I am most grateful for this one, even if its namesake was off in Madagascar. Georges Rhumerie was one of the most memorable meals. They start you off with a complimentary shot of their home-infused rum. And what follows is a meal (and series of drinks) inspired by Creole cuisines from the Reunion Islands and Georges’ own home of Madagascar. That means foie gras served alongside chutneys, gratins that seriously pop and the best sausages ever. Finish it off with baba au rhum and you’re fine. A three course meal for two, with beverages will not shatter your wallet at roughly $45. This is Siem Reap’s best secret that I may or may not have ruined. So make reservations.
So one last thing. I like me some good artisanal bread. A starter that’s past through centuries. A good pungent rye. And bagels. Zita and Jana started out on the farmer’s market circuit in Siem Reap and just finally broke their bread with Bang Bang (pronounced like the Khmer numPANG from which it’s derived). Zita makes the bread and Jana’s all about the cakes. Look at those babies! We flew back with a massive loaf of perfect rye and a half dozen of equally yummy bagels (of the New York variety for you purists).
Siem Reap being full of artisans means that you’re going to find things you would never find in Phnom Penh’s drone of occasional repetition. And most of the treasures you do find in the capital are crafted by the wealth of skilled artisans in Siem Reap. Ceramics is an excellent place to start. Before I left, my pal Hillary said I had to check out Louise Labourieres in Kandal Village. Not only did I get to check out her gorgeous goodies, but I got to meet the lady herself (thank you for that recommendation to Bang Bang!). Her collection of gorgeously designed and so well curated of pale pinks and torquoises that pair perfectly with the soft cream of her ceramics.
Then just up a couple of doors is Mademoiselle Thyda. Basically – buy all of your foodie friend gifts here. Everything in this store is regional and beyond Kampot pepper. You’ll discover what’s happening on the spice route in the hilly and indigenous northeast, or tiny organic farms that are just starting to dot the peri-urban areas in Phnom Penh.
And next door (see how convenient Kandal Village is?) is Niko’s Studio. I absolutely adore the French artist’s adornments painted on wooden Buddha carvings. I got to meet Niko herself and learn about how she approaches each piece. She even works in this studio itself so you might even get to see the piece you want crafted in action.
All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use. Cait+Tiff are not liable for prices of long haul flights incurred.