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Genuine Beijing dumplings go up market in downtown Phnom Penh

By: Bronwyn Sloan Posted: January-01-2006 in
Bronwyn Sloan

Although there is no sign in English, the telltale bamboo steamer baskets in the pristine kitchen front of house immediately alert dim sum fans to the delicious possibility of steamed dumplings, and in fact Beijing Ta Thang Khouv serves little else.

This new dumpling establishment owned by true Beijing expatriates and staffed by Cambodians has been open just a few weeks, but it already has a dedicated clientele of Chinese according to staff, although they also admitted these devotees were not yet arriving in droves, but rather dribs and drabs.

The restaurant serves up a simple menu of 21 dishes with a strong vegetarian representation, and all choices on the menu are illustrated, taking some of the guesswork out of ordering. The décor is simple in true, if slightly up-market Chinese canteen style, with the metal tables and chairs finished with cushions and formica and clean whitewashed walls bereft of fancy decoration. The air-conditioning is set at a comfortable level.

Perhaps the biggest attraction of this establishment is the glass walled kitchen area which allows patrons to see the process of making their meal from their seats. The kitchen area is also visible from the street. There can be little doubt about the hygienic standards of a place where you can watch the chefs through every step of your meal, from rolling out the dumpling wrapper to filling the morsel with ingredients chosen from the large glass fronted refrigerator and placing it in the steamers-and don't laugh, because in Cambodia, a Chinese restaurant with a fridge remains somewhat of a novelty.

A sweet wheat soup for a dollar and a plentiful bowlful of wheat corn soup for $1.50 are interesting variations on the usual fare served up in Phnom Penh's bustling dumpling hub on the streets surrounding Psar Thmei, as are the steamed Chinese pastry filled with zucchini (served in dumpling form) which staff assured my dining partner were completely vegetarian.

However, with dumplings starting at $2 for a plate of the simple steamed pork version and going up to $4 for the shrimp-topped dumplings, Beijing Ta Thang Khouv is significantly pricier than other established dim sum eateries in the capital.

There are some interesting variations on the standard offerings, with beef dumplings and beef roll-ups sitting alongside a creation called multi-vegetarian dumplings in addition to the plain vegetarian. And old favorites like fried dumplings are also prominent on the menu.

We decided to sample tried and true staples of other restaurants in the same field to provide a better comparison. The scallion cake for a dollar arrived as two generous pieces and was rich with very fresh chopped scallions, as well as meat and fine chopped noodles thrown into the mix for good measure. But although the color was exciting, the blend failed to tempt my Cambodian friend, who said it differed from other locally available versions of the dish in smell and texture-something he disliked, but other diners more used to the Beijing style may embrace.

The steamed pork dumplings were plump and fresh with a slightly chewy exterior, and came accompanied by the restaurant's own chili, garlic and soy dip. In our opinion, though, the dumplings didn't have anything to set them apart in flavor from those available in other establishments except for the air-con setting and the experience of seeing the dumplings being crafted before our eyes.

The twelve wait staff, at a ratio of more than one per table, proved friendly and helpful, although they were clearly also only just getting to grips with the menu themselves and it was unclear if any of them spoke good English.

Tea is complimentary, soft drinks are available and alcohol is reasonably priced, although it seems to be a choice of Angkor beer or Anchor beer, with no menu expansion in sight, according to staff.

Beijing Ta Thang Khouv is conveniently located right next to the Ministry of Environment at 50B Sihanouk Boulevard, directly across the road from Hun Sen Park at the eastern end of that street. There is parking available and a security guard at the front of the restaurant to watch your car or motorbike. The menu is the same throughout the day, with breakfast/lunch from 7am to 2pm and the dinner session from 4pm until 9pm. For bookings call 099 627 812 or 099 627 813.

But those wanting to sample a little taste of dumplings Beijing style may want to hurry-chit chat amongst the very under worked staff between dishes on a slow Tuesday night in August was about just how long the restaurant could stay afloat if more people don't start making their way through its doors.

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