The Chef: Lakhana In The Restaurant: Reathrey Sekong The Animal: Pork The Dish: Phnom Penh Noodle Soup
The dish pictured above may look like pho, but it won't take a true pho-lover more than a few bites to realize there are quite a few differences between this Cambodian noodle soup the similar Vietnamese dish.
Phnom Penh Noodle Soup takes its name from largest and capital city of Cambodia, which is located in the southern part of the country. Much of Khmer, or Cambodian, cuisine overlaps with Thai food, but Phnom Penh Noodle Soup is actually of Cambodian-Chinese origin. The Vietnamese have since adopted it and made it their own and if you've ever had "Hu Tieu Nam Vang" then you may already have tasted this dish. Nam Vang is the Vietnamese name for Phnom Penh.
For some unfortunate reason, Khmer cuisine has continued to be overshadowed by Thai and even Vietnamese food. The good news is that if you've had either of those cuisines, Khmer cuisine won't be that much of a stretch. The bad -- or at least unfortunate -- news is that there's only one restaurant serving Cambodian food in Phoenix.
That restaurant is Reathrey Sekong, though you might only know it under its former name, Sekong by Night. The restaurant opened in central Phoenix in 2011 but changed names -- well, sort of. "Reathrey Sekong" actually means "Sekong By Night."
If you order the restaurant's Phnom Penh Noodle Soup you'll get a bowl of noodles, soup, and meats, as well as a side of cilantro, bean sprouts, and lime, like you would with pho.
The dish has plenty to offer offal lovers: the soup is contains ground pork and tail-on shrimp, but highlights more interesting cuts including pork intestines, liver, and heart. We particularly enjoy the chewy bits of intestines, which offer a nice contrast of texture to the chewy, white rice noodles.
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The slices pork heart may resemble beef if you're not paying close attention, though you'll probably recognize them by the rich red color and tell-tale vertical marbling. Thanks to being soaked in broth, they're more tender and also offer a mild flavor of iron that's make this a good starting point of offal newbies.
And speaking of the broth, it's where you're most likely to notice the difference between Phnom Penh Noodle Soup and pho. It's lighter but more fragrant than pho broth and is made with chicken and pork rather than beef. There's also no star anise, a common spice used when making pho, in this dish. The broth's wonderful smell comes courtesy of the roasted garlic that gets added in to the dish at the end of preparation. The mild flavor of the roasted garlic imparts a bit of sweetness to the soup that works nicely with the rich umami flavor of the broth.
For pho fans, Phnom Penh Noodle Soup is definitely worth a try. Particularity during the summer months when a lighter broth may be a welcome change.