Constructed in 1937, Central Market or known as Psar Thmei is one of the must-see attractions of Phnom Penh with it’s iconic art-deco dome. Originally the market consisted of the dome and 4 wings that jutted out from it, over the years the space in between the wings were filled with vendors plying their wares.
In 2009, the French Development Agency gave it a badly needed 4 million dollar facelift where the tin roof stalls in between the wings were torn out and replaced with more permanent structures. One huge improvement to the market was the new food stalls located on the west side of the market. I generally don’t like eating in markets in Phnom Penh as they tend to be a bit dark and dingy for my sensibilities but after experiencing the stalls at Central Market, I think I could make one exception. Considering how busy the market was, I think the renovations were a complete success.
The variety of food at the market is staggering, catering to both locals and tourists. Bryse and I first started our journey at a snack stall where we ordered some great fried spring rolls stuffed with tarot (1,000 Riel each) and deep fried vegetables covered with fish paste (4,000 Riel for a set).
By that time, we had some company in the form of Bryse’s family that came on over to visit. Bryse’s brothers are foodies, so they were definitely into checking out the local fare. The problem was finding a table large enough to sit the 6 of us!
Luckily, we found one and all it cost was ordering a couple of dishes from the stall that the table belonged to. One of the best things about eating at the markets in Cambodia is that you can pretty much order from any stall in the area and it will be delivered to where you are sitting. Just make sure to order something from the stall that you are sitting in.
We sat at a cafeteria style food stall and ordered fried tofu stuffed with minced pork in a tomato sauce (5,000 Riel) and braised pork belly and bamboo shoot in a coconut caramel sauce (5,000 Riel). This is fare I was very familiar with as my grandmother used to make me these dishes when I was a kid. More on this later.
The tofu was pretty amazing but the pork dish was overpowered by the bamboo shoots which I really dislike. During the ordering, I started listening to the stall owners around and realized that most of the stall owners were speaking in Vietnamese which kinda explained the two dishes I had just ordered.
After everyone got their orders, we dug in. A couple of noodle soups, with chicken and beef, some stir-fried noodles and some banh hoi served with pork sausages rounded out the orders. None of the dishes cost more than 8,000 Riel and everyone had a great time sampling some Khmer dishes.
After we finished, I asked Keith (Bryse’s younger brother) if he wanted to try a Khmer dessert. He was definitely game so we walked over to the jelly stand and had a bit of fun ordering some of the slurpy stuff.
Oodles and oodles of tapioca awaited us while we pointed to what we wanted in our dessert bowls. A little bit of simple syrup, coconut milk and shaved ice completed the concoction (We both shied away from the sweetened condensed milk). I assume he liked it as he finished the whole bowl! I certainly did.
Psar Thmei means New Market in Khmer. It’s strange that the name has stuck with a building that was built over 70 years ago but with the new renovations, it has certainly breathed in new life in the iconic building.
Some more photos from the day: