How about a food status update? Longtime browers of this series of web-pages will surely recall my praising of Battambang, Cambodia’s riverside cafe “Mey Mey One of a Kind Shop” in last year’s Battambang roundup. Said shop was singled out for praise due to its friendly proprieters, generous portions, decent taste, and, well… total lack of competition.
Cambodia is a place where food is generally subpar rice and a charred, gristly piece of meat, usually some smaller animal. All of the food seems to be inferior, from the mealy, puny, misshapen fruit for sale at highly-inflated prices in the produce market, to the already-melted ice cream bars and nonexistant dairy foods. There are two possible reasons I can discern:
1. Cambodia’s agricultural land is naturally cursed and produces nothing but withered and unpalatable crops, which are in turn sold for high costs due to the inherent paucity of said foodstuffs.
2. Like the India of yesteryear, good things are grown, but only for export.
In any case, Cambodian food sucks.
So, I was glad to see that Mey-Mey’s is still going strong. I was again served a large helping of spaghetti-esque noodles in a peppery sauce; the price actually went down from 6,000r ($1.50) last time to 5,000r ($1.25), though last time I was given two dipping sauces. The teenage girl who works there told me “Big plate! Old customer,” though I seemed to have the same-sized portions as everyone else. It was still quite decent (excellent by Cambodian standards) and “Creamy Coconut Shake (special to Battambang)” still excellent. I’ve tried the noodle dishes elsewhere in town and find them to be nothing more than edible, and the coconut shake a bit heavy on the crushed ice, but Mey Mey does it right.
When last dining at Mey Mey’s, I took the set-up to be a mother-daughter operation. On this visit, further family members were visible, including an animated and highly flamboyant father figure who called out to prospective diners, and a surly son who stirred the wok with a deep-seated rage.
On arrival, I was the only diner. Eventually some French, who appeared doubtful about life in general, consented to eating there after coming back four times and re-examining the laminated menu. There also appeared a number of toothless, beer-bellied locals who zoomed up on motorcycles and engaged in good-natured banter. One of the locals had a black cowboy hat on, and another wore a French football jersey. Finally, a bald and lanky tourist took a seat, stipulating that he only wanted “BEER”, proclaiming thusly with perhaps more force than needed.
WHAT HAS CHANGED: Prices went down, whole family cooking now, no street-beggars, fewer mosquito bites.
BONUS: There are about a half-dozen stray cats of all different colors and markings (including black and calico) that scurry around the area.
I’m happy to report that the real vegetarian restaurant in Battambang, VEGGIE HOUSE (formerly BATTAMBANG VEGETARIAN HOUSE) is still going and better than ever– what’s more, they’re now open for lunch and dinner and serving excellent (if not hearty) food. The prices have gone up slightly on some items, and the shop has moved one door down (though I wouldn’t have known it if they hadn’t told me), but the big news is they are now open for lunch and dinner: previously, they closed at 11am and often ran out of food before that time. The breakfast menu has a few new types of soup (3,500r-4000r, i.e., $1, including “Long Life Noodle”– not sure what that is), and the lunch/dinner menu (11am to 7pm) includes banh mi-type sandwiches and some rice dishes. Dumplings (1,000r each: 25 cents), which on my last visit were lacklustre, I now found to be excellent, especially the ‘shalty’ ones, which are filled with TVP-like morsels. The dumplings are popular and they run out fast, but if you warn ’em in advance, they’ll make extra for you. The dumplings are also quite convenient for bus trips, as the bus stations are right across the street.
Thank goodness for the ethnic Chinese in SE Asia! (They also watch Chinese television in “Veggie House”; CCTV plays while you eat.) Enjoy the free tea, free water, kind and gentle service, and great prices while you can. Iced milk coffee (50 cents) too!