Souped-Up Eateries Make Inroads With Phnom Penh Diners

Steam rises from the electric hot pot and wafts into Hang Sobaya’s face as he scoops meat, broth and vegetables into a bowl at the Master Su­kisoup restaurant on Czecho­slo­va­kie Road.

“It has a very good taste and it’s cheap also,” the 30-year-old trading company di­rector says.

He comes two or three times a week, and he’s not alone.

Pirat Chow­a­th­ean, manager of the restaurant, says about 300 customers arrive daily to the do-it-yourself soup shop, which has prompted its Thai parent company, Texas Sukisoup, to open a second restaurant on Monivong Boul­evard, and possibly two more by the end of the year.

Since it opened nearly a year ago, the restaurant’s popularity has spawned several imitators, which join the traditional Cam­bodian soup restaurants.

At Master Sukisoup, diners choose from a list of about 50 items to toss in the broth boiling on the table.

Noodles, mushrooms, and slices of meat, fish and vegetables are basic fare, while pig intestines and pig heart can be tossed into the mix as well. A bowl of spicy dipping sauce also is provided.

Diners also can toss in a variety of balls: beef balls, fish balls, crab balls, shrimp balls and a popular se­lection called “mil­­lionaire balls,” which, Pir­at assures, is made from pork.

The Suki­soup concept is popular in Thailand, where the company runs a chain of 30 shops known as Texas Sukisoup, Pirat says, adding that the name of the US state was borrowed “just for the English name.”

Sukiyaki, the popular Japanese dish, is also just a borrowed word. It’s nowhere to be seen on the menu.

“The name is Japanese, but the food is a mix of Chinese and Thai,” Pirat says.

Ly Seng Khong, who runs the two restaurants in a joint venture with Texas Sukisoup, says he’s not worried about expanding the chain in the current economic climate. A firm decision on more shops will be made after the scheduled July 26 elections, he said.

“Many Cambodians like soup, and the Cambodian restaurants [specializing in soup] are always popular,” he said. About 50 percent of the clientele are foreigners, he added.

Rath Sovann, a 38-year-old moto-taxi driver trying sukisoup for the first time, said: “It’s good. The soup is typically Asian, not European, so I could eat it every day.”

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