Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Smoked salmon for breakfast...not in Cambodia

File this under first world problems, but I can't get a decent western breakfast in Cambodia. I rarely want one, anyway. I'm not a breakfast person and if I am going to eat breakfast, I'd rather have bai sach chrouk than toast and tea, anyway.

But once every few months I want a breakfast that includes smoked salmon. As I begin my rant, I'd like to say that smoked salmon is available here, at Lucky supermarket. It's $4 for a frozen package that's from Norway and quite good. It contains enough to cover a good six or eight bagels without skimping. Yet for some reason the expat/NGO dumpholes act like this stuff is as rare as a Cambodian orphan without any living parents.

 Over the weekend I went to Metro for brunch. Metro is a place that activates about a dozen pet peeves in me, being a hangout of overpaid expats and the Khmer riche, both of whom have the capacity to break me out in hives. But, they have a pretty good brunch.

I ordered the eggs benedict with smoked salmon and it was beautiful. I can't deny that. But when I took my first bite, I was overwhelmed with the taste of chemicals.

They had spread margarine all over the English muffins, I realized. And not a nice American margarine, this was straight out of some Chinese toothpaste factory. Further inspection revealed that the Hollandaise sauce itself was not made with actual butter, but this same low-quality margarine. To add insult to injury, the two quarter-sized pieces of lox were doused in the stuff, and the meal cost more than 8 times what a nice plate of bai sach chrouk would.

So that was Sunday. Then this morning I was at Java Cafe, another hot spot for NGO workers in biz casual talking loudly on their mobile phones and drinking lattes. I was just there to drop something off, but after having a long conversation with someone about how pointless it is to eat western food in Cambodia,  I gazed longingly at the bagels. Is it too much to hope for a big Jew-y bagel and lox? The answer, unfortunately is yes.

I ordered the bagel with capers and shallots. They brought me a bagel with one slice of salmon on one side of the bagel and no cream cheese. I went and asked for cream cheese, and after a while, was finally given a shmear. It was okay, but the salmon wasn't as nice as the frozen stuff at Lucky, and the niggardly portion wasn't enough to cover both halves of the bagel.

When I went to pay, I found out that I had been charged an extra $1 for said shmear of cream cheese. Same price as a plate of bai sach chrouk and a bowl of soup.

Here's the breakdown:
Bagel, lox and cream cheese - $2.75
Bagel, lox, capers and shallots - $3
cream cheese - $1

So the addition of capers and shallots to the bagel with lox and cream cheese costs $1.25, an increase of 45%. Keep in mind, shallots cost less than 1 cent each here, and capers are available in bulk quantities for less than in the US. And before you tell me how lucky I am to get a bagel for $4, restrain yourself until you've moved to Cambodia and dealt with all that entails.

Why does this bagel bother me so much? Is it just because I am broke and resentful? Perhaps. But the problem with Cambodia is that nothing makes sense. There is no obvious logic to the prices, there is no one to ask and there's no point in trying to find out more.

In trying to figure out why this bagel irritated me so much, I came to the conclusion that I was irked that they bothered to serve it at all. If you're going to make a bagel with lox, do it right. Don't leave out the cream cheese. Don't only put salmon on one side of the bagel. Go big or go home. I'll pay double for a totally delicious onion bagel with cream cheese, onion, capers and lox and I won't complain about the price. But I will complain about the price (and everything else) when I go home unfulfilled.

The moral of this story is if you're going to bother with western breakfasts, the DIY kind are always the best. Otherwise just enjoy that bai sach chrouk I can't stop banging on about.

Café Metro No. 271 St. 148, Phnom Penh
Java Cafe 56 Sihanouk Blvd, Phnom Penh


  1. I had lox on a bagel at Java this summer, and it was proper. Not sure why they changed it...

  2. Not sure what lox is but don't you worry, the sun will shine over Cambodian breakfasts again!

  3. Lox is just the salmon that I like to eat on a bagel...

    Are you going to jump into the Phnom Penh breakfast fray, by any chance?