My first taste of Battambang

    It happens on Broadway Street, Oakland. Dishes with names so hard to pronounce, ingredients and tastes so similar to Vietnamese food. I learn of the second largest city of Cambodia, smaller only than Phnom Penh. I share my first simple Cambodian dinner, complete with a salad, a meat, and a dessert.

    Here’s a little language snippet: to Vietnamese people, salad is called “gỏi” |ghoy| in the South and “nộm” |nom| in the North. To my surprise, “nhorm” is its romanized name in Cambodia. Listening to the other customers at Battambang, Mudpie comments that Khmer and Vietnamese sound similar, to which I first protest, but perhaps it holds a grain of truth after all.

    Here we have nhorm lahong. If there’s any salad that never goes wrong, it must be this green papaya salad of Southeast Asia. Delicate, raw, and soaking fruit shreds retain nothing but a tightening chew, the sweet lime dressing sends a quiet smell of fish extract. Battambang’s batch is a drop more watery than Dara’s som tum/tam mak hoong, on the plus side there’s plenty of sauce to make rice go quickly down the pipe.

    To make rice go even quicker comes sach chrouk aing. I don’t think I’ll be able to handle a full Khmer sentence of words like these, but now that I’ve known pork is sach chrouk and grilled is aing, I can survive in Cambodia ;-). Long version: sliced pork marinated with lemongrass, charbroiled, served with sweet lime nuoc mam and boiled cabbage on the side. Short version: godly.

    Like at most family operated Asian restaurants, the check will be brought out before you can order dessert, but we don’t let that stop us from ending our dinner on a sweet note. The dessert menu stands next to the salt, pepper, sweeteners, and a slender vase of real orchids.

    I ask our hostess to recommend either amuk knor or chake ktiss, and with no delay she says “Amuk knor for sure”. I then ask if it’s whole jackfruit or just some kind of paste or flavoring, and I must sound pretty stupid, the whole jackfruit is huge, at least as big as a 30lb turkey, but she (and you?) knows what I mean. Amuk knor is a kind of coconut milk custard with jackfruit slices, all steamed in a banana leaf cup. It breathes tropical and countryside, warm and mild. We scrape every corner of the leaf.

    (I can only guess that chake ktiss is similar to chè chuối chưng).

    Address: Battambang Restaurant
    850 Broadway Street,
    Oakland, CA 94501
    (510) 839-8815

    Battambang’s menu online
    Money matter: $24.70 a dinner for two.

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    2 comments to My first taste of Battambang

    • I think nem (the sour meat, not the northern eggroll) is a Khmer word, too.

      But yeah, even though Khmer isn’t a tonal language, its phonemes and lilt sounds so much like Southern Vietnamese that I keep getting startled by passing conversations when I was in Cambodia.

    • Mai

      That’s interesting. I wonder how much of it is originally Vietnamese and adopted into Khmer, and vice versa.

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