It was our first time in Cambodia and the city we chose to visit was Siem Reap.
We had no idea at the time of booking that the weekend we chose was Khmer New Year! But it turned out to be more of a blessing than anything else.
One of the few restaurants that remained opened throughout the new year celebrations was Malis Restaurant.
Located by the riverside and proudly perched as a stand-alone restaurant, Malis is upscale Khmer dining at its best.
The interior is classy and it reminds me of a country club. The diners here were mostly foreign visitors (who were dressed up) and plenty of businessmen.
Though we were a little underdressed (due to the fact that we decided to walk to the restaurant from our hotel and it resulted in a 15 minute journey in the scorching 40 degree heat), the staff welcomed us and ushered us to our seats, quickly offered us refreshments and made sure we were comfortable. The icy cold towels and shot glasses of lime smoothies were a welcome respite from the relentless sun.
Though the whole place was lit up by natural sunlight and we could see out to the courtyard from our table, the whole restaurant was sufficiently cold and we thoroughly enjoyed the air-conditioning. Siem Reap is just a few degrees hotter than Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, but the locals have certainly found lovely ways to adapt to the heat (like aforementioned usage of cold towels).
We were excited to start our meal at Malis, as it was our first time trying Khmer cuisine. We were told that it would be similar to Thai food, but after having tried it, we have to say Khmer food is almost nothing like Thai food.
We started off with a classic Khmer salad - one that has been adapted from the recipes from the royal palace. Aptly names the Royal Mak Mee ($9.00), this dish is a mixture of local raw vegetables, crispy rice noodles, fried egg strips and a special sauce. It was a dish we can’t compare to any other, because it is so unique. We can see why the king would enjoy this appetiser.
Next, we sampled their bamboo shoot with smoked fish ($8.00), which is a clear soup that is packed with flavours. We aren’t usually fans of bamboo, but this bamboo was cooked to perfection and we easily finished the whole serving.
Then, we tried the green mango salad ($8.00). This is a traditional Khmer dish that you would find in any Khmer restaurant. It is prepared with edible flowers and typically, fish. Fish is a popular protein in many Khmer dishes. The locals are such experts in preparing fish that you will be able to enjoy fish in its various forms here.
Like for example, having fish amok ($8.00 for 3 pieces). Amok is a very local dish that is prepared in many different ways. It is normally slightly spicy, but is packed full of flavour. I would liken it to otak-otak - a local Malaysian dish. It's always nice to see how closely related our Southeast Asian dishes are.
Then we tried their stir fried zucchini, which was a great accompaniment to the meal overall and what a relief it was for us to have something that really reminded us of home. Khmer cuisine and Chinese cuisine (as well as Thai cuisine) share many similarities and it is evident in dishes such as this stir fry.
Finally, for desserts, we tried a platter of their signature desserts. The use of jasmine is very generous here. Jasmine is the main element of their desserts from the creme brulee to the ice cream. We tried two types of creme brulee here as well as their warm porridge-like dessert, topped off with crispy rice.
We were impressed with all the desserts offered here and definitely believed that this was the best meal we had in Siem Reap on our first day. What a way to kickstart the trip!