Bay Area Eats: Nyum Bai Cambodian cuisine
When I visited Cambodia almost 10 years ago during my round-the-world trip, I actually found that I was not a fan of the food at all - a surprising conclusion for someone who loves to explore new cuisines. I wrote about how my favorite restaurant in Siem Reap was the KFC here, and wrote about it in one of my "worst of" roundups here. My main complaint was that the food was simply too sweet for me.
After I left Cambodia, I only had Cambodian once again in New Zealand during the same trip (review here), and not surprisingly I didn't come near it again.
I made a quick two-day trip to Bay Area, and met up with a friend who is quite the foodie and always "in the know" about developments in the food scene. She mentioned that she was interested in trying this restaurant, Nyum Bai located right next to the Fruitvale BART station, and even though it was a Cambodian restaurant I decided to give it a go.
The restaurant has a cheerful and bright interior, and also an outdoor eating space.
Prices are a bit elevated, and with $5 non-traditional drinks like matcha latte and cold brew coffee, you can tell that the target audience is a hipster audience, demanding of a certain level of "authenticity" (whatever that means), yet wanting pretty digs, their usual drinks, and a descriptive menu to go along with it.
Funny enough, my friend confessed to me that she also was not a fan of Cambodian food based on her own trip to the country! I had thought that my mother and I were the only ones who didn't grow to like the cuisine, so I felt rather validated that my friend, whose taste I respect a lot, agreed with me.
This would certainly be an adventure!
Our first dish was the Amok - steamed fish soufflé. I always try the steamed fish soufflé when I see it, because I will always remember one time - on Thai Airways Economy Class of all places! - that I had a most delicious steamed fish soufflé. This was good, but, unsurprisingly, a bit sweet for me. Still, the texture was soft and luscious, and that part I liked.
Next out came the Kuy Teav Phnom Penh - what some people compare to Vietnamese pho. The clear broth was also a bit sweet for me.
Last was the Machoo Kroeung Soup: short ribs with water spinach, curry leaves, eggplant soup. This turned out to be my favorite, probably because it was least sweet and had the most complex yet balanced flavor of sweet, savory, and sour! The pork was also fall-off-the-bone tender, and the water spinach a welcome dose of vegetables.
So that was my first retry of Cambodian cuisine in almost 10 years. While most of the dishes were still a bit too sweet for my taste, I still enjoyed the meal with a mix of preparations and flavors. Besides that, the setting was pretty and the service friendly. As my friend said, maybe this version of Cambodian food isn't exactly like the food we ate in Cambodia because it's been adapted to our Western/hipster tastes - and perhaps precisely for that reason we like it more.
3340 E 12th St, Ste. 11
Oakland, CA 94601