On Oct. 23, Cambodian food was added to Buffalo's collective menu, with the opening of Yey's Cafe in University Heights.
At 3225 Main St., formerly Grateful Grind, diners can order at the counter and wait for their food.
Cambodian food is similar to Thai cuisine in some ways, but that's all I knew going in. The idea of Cambodian food might seem unusual, but the bowl-building style for one of its signature dishes ought to seem familiar.
I started my bowl with jasmine rice, with rice noodles or greens the other choices. Beef marinated in Cambodian spice paste was my protein, a $1 upcharge, to $9.95 (picture at top of article).
Able to pick five vegetable toppings, I asked for fried shallots, salted soybeans, cabbage, pickled daikon radish and carrots, and cilantro. For sauces, there's tuk trey, tangy-sweet fish sauce similar to Thai and Vietnamese versions, and pepper lime, which is a smoky-sour blast of black pepper and fresh lime juice.
Given a splash of each sauce, a stir, and a bite, and I was a fan of Cambodian food. The kreung paste - pounded out of lemongrass, lime leaves, ginger-like galangal, and spices - gave the beef a distinct Southeast Asian flavor. And the sauces - especially the galvanic citrus jolt of the pepper lime - kept it interesting.
That beef also shows up as an option for the num pang, a sandwich that could fairly be described as a Cambodian version of the classic Vietnamese sub, banh mi. Available in beef or glazed pork belly ($9.95), chicken or house-made seitan ($8.95), the sriracha mayonnaise, cucumber, pickled daikon radish and carrot, and cilantro, echoes standard banh mi setups.
The pork belly version offered thicky, chewy slabs of pork crisped at the edges. Khmer slaw came with it, a jumble of fresh cabbage, carrot, red pepper, cilantro and fried shallots that was a light sauce-free crunch zone.
A half-dozen chicken wings ($7.95), floured and fried before a dunk in soothing red coconut curry, arrived on a bed of chopped cabbage, for an effective bridge between Cambodian and Buffalo styles.
Another Cambodian dish to try is babaw ($7.95), rice porridge topped with chicken or tofu, salted soybeans, bean sprouts, fried garlic, and cilantro. It was smaller and heavier than the rice bowl, but its warmth was soothing, and could be made even hotter with the application of a Cambodian-American hot sauce collection.
The porridge itself was surprisingly satisfying for a vegan affair, and a tofu topping would have made it an animal-free ensemble.
If you're a fan of Southeast Asian food, a vegan or vegetarian, you should see what Yey's Cafe's version of Cambodian cuisine can do to hit the spot.
The restaurant has set its grand opening for noon on Nov. 10.
Soft opening hours: 2 p.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Phone: 834-0980.
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