Anthony Bourdain in Phnom Penh:
2 Spots Where Tony Ate
When it comes to exploring Southeast Asia, there’s no shortage of incredible places to visit. Cambodia is one which – despite a dark history – has become wildly popular on social media, inspiring visitors to come and learn more about this part of a diverse and delicious region.
Anthony Bourdain visited Phnom Penh twice, first to film season 1 (episode 5) of A Cook’s Tour and again a decade later to film season 7 (episode 2) of No Reservations. These are his only two visits to this part of Cambodia, though he does visit other parts of the country – and certainly samples a lot during both of his trips.
If you’re planning a trip to Cambodia and intend to spend any time in the capital city of Phnom Penh, you’re going to need to enjoy a meal or two. Let this post guide you to the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Phnom Penh, and inspire you to find your own culinary path through the country.
Want to watch the episodes where Anthony Bourdain visits Phnom Penh?
The A Cook’s Tour episode is available on Amazon (for free!), and the No Reservations episode is available on Amazon, Hulu, and Apple TV.
Psar Thmei (Central Market)
Phnom Penh’s Centra Market, called Psar Thmei, is where Anthony Bourdain spends much of his time, both during A Cook’s Tour and ten years later filming No Reservations. In the latter episode, he notices that much has changed since his first visit. There are newer, nicer buildings around the market. People dress more fashionably. And the quality of food has improved.
But let’s start with what he ate first in the year 2000. Tony began the adventure with a light snack: dried crickets: “it’s a cross between French fries and jerky.”
He buys an entire durian, despite the “powerful” odor it emits. He carves the large fruit open with a knife and digs in. He’s surprised with how much he enjoys the taste despite the smell, saying “It’s actually really good.”
Later in the episode, Bourdain returns with his good friend Phillipe. Together they enjoy fried hens, darkish jello, and tripe. None of the treats are much to Tony’s liking, but he eats them anyway, “for entertainment purposes.”
Ten years later, Tony returns to the market a wiser man. He acknowledges that when he first visited Cambodia, it had recently gone through a devastating war. He initially came for ‘all the wrong reasons’ and wants to do Cambodia justice the second time around.
His first meal in this second go is a bowl of Kuyteav. It’s a Phở-like soup with chicken, pork balls, greens, and noodles. “Just when you think you’re dying of exhaustion, a bowl of spicy noodles saves the day,” Bourdain remarks.
After an insightful adventure around Cambodia, Tony returns to Phnom Penh to conclude the episode of No Reservations. But first he must indulge in some “Happy Pizza.” While it resembles a typical New York-style pizza, it’s known as “happy” for a specific reason: a special herb is added to the pie… it’ll leave you high and hungry for more. Ya dig?
Though most of his shows prohibited drug consumption on screen, we know from his time in Amsterdam that Tony has no problem partaking – especially when it’s a culinary institution like Cambodia’s Happy pizza. After a few bites and a bit of time, Bourdain feels dazed but he continues to eat it… “What was I sayin, man?”
(While he doesn’t share the specific place he ate, Happy Paradise Pizza is the spot that comes up when you search for this dish in Phnom Penh, so it’s a safe bet for where to go.)
Phnom Penh Food Tours to Try
Though Tony didn’t visit many spots in Phnom Penh, there are other flavors to sample and enjoy. Here are a few Phnom Penh food tours that carry the essence of Bourdain’s spirit of adventure:
After returning to Cambodia for a second time, Tony realizes how special the country is. His eyes are more open than the first time around. He described the country as “magic” and one of those places you cannot simply summarize, but one you must experience – a place you should “breathe in.”
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in Phnom Penh or the foods he ate? Let me know in the comments.