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Malis: Angkor’s New Temple

Khmer Times Share:
The new Siem Reap restaurant from the outside. Supplied

Amid the beautiful temples of the Angkorian empire, one is often left to ponder what other great art was produced during this period and what an elaborate cuisine they must have enjoyed. Alas, we know little about the cuisine, with few records and little knowledge of what went on in the kitchens of the world’s largest pre-industrial age city.  
When Cambodia gained independence from the French in 1953 it enjoyed a brief period of optimism and cultural expression, and with the royal family now in Phnom Penh the city became a celebrated center for the arts that saw the emergence of a new and distinctly Cambodian royal cuisine. Yet much of our knowledge of this would be lost in the ensuing Khmer Rouge genocide. 
When Malis restaurant, Phnom Penh’s first Cambodian fine dining restaurant, opened in 2006, it was not merely a matter of opening the doors and rolling out the classics. Master Chef Luu Meng had to rediscover and redefine a lost cuisine and restore a nation’s respect in its finest foods.  
Ten successful years later the Thalias Group has decided to open its second Malis restaurant in Siem Reap. The new, white and silver building on the riverside is a monolithic structure inspired by the Prasat Kravan, a 10th century Angkorian temple south of the Srah Srang Baray. From the outside it has the imposing air of a palace or a state building; inside it is all food temple, a statement and an offering of Cambodian cuisine and hospitality restored and recreated. 
Luu Meng and Malis Siem Reap manager Sao Moun Daung spent many months scouring the landscape and villages around Siem Reap collecting ideas and artifacts, and the result is majestic charm with Cambodian warmth and personality.   
Unlike in Phnom Penh, the majority of customers are tourists, explains Sao Moun. Because of this, the approach here has to be slightly altered to explain the food to diners, to help them navigate the cuisine to their liking and to share with them the stories behind the dishes. 
Our first dish is the Royal Mak Mee ($9), a cold dish of crispy fried noodles topped with pan-fried sliced pork, marinated in Kroeng and fragrant lemongrass, and slowly cooked in coconut milk. It is prepared table-side and while the server prepares the dish she tells us that the recipe was presented to Malis as a gift from the Royal Palace. Next we have grilled pork ribs in a Siem Reap honey and Guinness sauce ($11); the meat is juicy and tender with lovely charry flavors and the sauce is ridiculously good. 
We also share a local duck dish ($25), with the duck coming from a local village tracked down by chef Meng and cooked slowly using lemongrass and served with red rice. This is not the fat duck of the farm but a lean gamey bird that is kept moist and tender and given lovely complexity by the lemongrass–a revelation. 
Finally, we finish with a delightful selection of Khmer desserts ($3.50 each); there is palm fruit in a coconut broth, an interesting Kampot pepper crème brulee and an exquisite jasmine ice cream.     
Chef Luu Meng, ably assisted by Chef Eng Im in Siem Reap, is creating some of Cambodia’s finest cuisine, one that he proudly proclaims a “living”, evolving cuisine. It is a cuisine that has re-emerged to reclaim its former glory and is now set to impress the rest of the world. 
Malis is located on Pokambor Avenue, Siem Reap. +855(0)15 824 888

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