This post is about Southeast Asian cuisine but it’s not what you’re expecting.
Yes, we ate some great meals during our recent trip to Southeast Asia, like at this outdoor market in Laos and a riverside fish lunch in Vietnam.
We saw exotic foods like these fried insects.
We learned to cook Pad Thai, red curry and other traditional Thai dishes.
And we saw bountiful markets, like this one in Ho Chi Minh City.
But those are all things you’d expect in a post about Southeast Asian cuisine.
Well, how about craft beer in Cambodia?
That’s what my friend, Mitch, and I discovered at Prince Brewing in the capital city, Phnom Penh. Their modern brewpub beside Wat Botum Park was a revelation, offering IPAs, Belgian wheat, porter, lager and other beers.
Their taps and cans had beautiful designs. They had a pool table and a foosball table. Their menu offered everything from burgers to fried snake fish. Outside in the park, local teenagers danced to rap music on a boom box.
It was definitely not what we were expecting in Cambodia.
It was only slightly stranger than the craft beer place we tried a few days earlier in Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. That’s Mitch with the owner of Shanti, a bar specializing in Vietnamese craft bottles.
Unfortunately, the owner told us he was about to close his business because he could not compete with neighboring bars selling cheaper mainstream beers. We tried some of those, too, in Vietnam and elsewhere, and he was right: They were fine but not as distinctive as the ones at his bar or in Phnom Penh.
I hope Prince Brewing proves more successful than Shanti. Craft beer is still too expensive for most customers in this part of the world but its emergence felt to me like a frothy symbol of changing times, even though I don’t usually drink much beer.
As an American who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, I’d associated Vietnam and Cambodia with war and genocide, not with IPAs. I was glad to update my perspective.
If I go back, though, I’m still not asking for the fried insects.