Dining Out For Less in Beach Town Cambodia

When I moved to Sihanoukville in Cambodia in 2007, there were only a few international restaurants to choose from. But this little beach town is on the up and these days I have more choices than I know what to do with.

Sihanoukville is home to expats from all over the world, many of them have opened restaurants and cafes. On any given evening, I have Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Greek or French cuisine to choose from…and all on a budget of $10 a day.

Most of Sihanoukville’s restaurants are located around Ochheuteal Beach. The restaurants on the beach are the place to go for $4 barbecue and $1 beers. The bonus is being able to watch the sun set over the water from your beachside table.

When I’m in the mood for international cuisine I wander away from the beachfront. Maybe Later, a Mexican restaurant popular with expats, is one of my favourite spots. It’s colourful and lively—and the food is fantastic.

When my son, Justin, and his girlfriend, Anna, visited me last year, this was where we headed. We feasted on nachos, enchiladas and tacos. We also drank two Margaritas each. When the bill came, Justin was amazed.

“$47!” he said, “Just three of the drinks would have cost us that much in Australia!”

Special occasions aside, I stick pretty close to my dining out budget of $10 a day. On that money I can go to Artisan Cafe for a cappuccino and pastry every afternoon. The cafe is run by a French pastry chef, so his pastries are world class. My cappuccino costs $1.50. I take my pick from cookies, pastries and cake, costing from $1.25 to $2.50.

Artisan Cafe is just one of about half a dozen upmarket cafes in town. It’s my favourite, but I sometimes meet friends at Cafe Eno on Serendipity Road or Twin Lotus on Ekareach Street, the main street in town. Then there’s the Ocean Box Cafe on the outskirts of town. The Cambodian owners made it out of two shipping containers. Young Cambodians hang out there, nursing iced coffees or smoothies for hours.

I dine out most evenings. My current favourite restaurant is on Victory Hill. Raphael’s Tavern is run by an Italian man who makes his own pasta and sauces. For $5 I can buy the best lasagna or pasta I’ve ever tasted. Throw in another $2.50 and I get a glass of excellent Italian wine with my meal. A beer here will set you back $1.

Sometimes I get a craving for Indian food. Kamasutra is run by an Indian man who knows how to cater to Western tastes. A curry, chapatis and Indian chai (tea, cardamom, milk and sugar) costs around $6. When I’m hungry, I might add a dollar to the bill and get garlic naan instead of chapatis.

If you’ve been doing the sums, you’ve probably figured out I can sometimes go over-budget. When I do, I’ll save the next day by paying a visit to a little Cambodian restaurant on the Hill called Pat’s Place. For $2 I can get a plate of spaghetti or grilled fish, salad and potatoes. It isn’t fancy, but Pat’s been cooking for expats for years and knows how to make good, wholesome Western food. It’s homely and friendly and Pat’s homemade seafood and chicken spaghetti sauces are delicious.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a wonderful Japanese restaurant here and a Russian woman runs a little restaurant on the Hill. She cooks all kinds of European dishes, her spinach and ricotta gnocchi is especially good. She had to talk me into trying it because I’ve never liked gnocchi. I do now.

So far I’ve just covered the restaurants I go to regularly. There’s also a great Greek restaurant near Ochheuteal Beach, an upscale Italian restaurant near the Golden Lions traffic circle and two or three great hamburger restaurants. Oh, and King Fried Chicken, they have a hydroponic garden and sell some of the best salads in town.

With all these options it’s hard to believe that when I first moved to Sihanoukville there were only three restaurants to choose from. The growing number of expats discovering this hidden gem have helped shape the international food scene here and it’s a welcome change. But happily the prices have stayed the same.

Back at home I’d have been lucky to dine out a few times a month on my budget. Here, it’s a daily occurrence. Life is good. I’m staying.

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