Spotlight on Cuisine Wat Damnak: Best Siem Reap Restaurant

One way to understand the people and a place is through the food.

By exploring the local flavors, one appreciates the destination at a deeper level.

Cambodian cuisine surprised us on our quest for the authentic foods in Cambodia.

In Siem Reap, we were immediately intrigued when we heard about chef Joannès Rivière, of Cuisine Wat Damnak. Using fresh ingredients sourced from all over Siem Reap, he blends authentic Cambodian flavors with creative French culinary techniques.

Our Airbnb host, Dalia, an expat in Siem Reap raved about the restaurant and convinced us to dine there. The issue was that we hadn’t made reservations in advance and it was during the busy Christmas and New Year period.

Fortunately, Dalia was able to creatively get us a reservation. We could not miss the opportunity to experience creative Cambodian cuisine, recently named The Best Restaurant in Cambodia in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.

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Ta Phrom at Angkor Wat Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestTa Phrom ,the famous Angkor Wat temple where Tomb Raider was filmed

In the food scene, Cuisine Wat Damnak is the first Cambodian restaurant to land on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant. It is run by executive chef Joannès Rivière and his wife Carole Salmon since April 2011.

The restaurant is housed in a traditional Cambodian wooden house in the Southeast part of town, near Wat Damnak. In Siem Reap, neighborhoods are named after a Wat or temple.

So, the restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak is named after the temple in the neighborhood where it is located. Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple which is worth a detour. Feel free to visit the quiet pagoda and check out the Center of Khmer studies before your dinner.

Restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestCuisine Wat Damnak is in a charming wooden house (photo credit: Cuisine Wat Damnak)
Wat Damnak near Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestWat Damnak temple in Siem Reap (photo credit: Jonathan Rotondo -mccord)

Now, let’s explore the local flavors at Cuisine Wat Damnak.

The Menu at Siem Reap Restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak

The restaurant offers two tasting menus which change every two weeks. Chef Joannès uses locally sourced produce and unique ingredients. He aims to showcase Cambodian products cooked in a creative way.

Once seated in the cosy restaurant, you be given the menu for the week, which is a two page booklet. There are only two options. One five-course menu for $27 USD and one 6-course menu for $31 USD.

Inside restaurant Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestThe low lighting at Wat Damnak creates an intimate environment

While the 5-course menu offers plenty, we couldn’t resist getting the full 6 course-menu at one of the best Asian Restaurants in the world.

How often do you have the chance to taste locally sourced “Mekong langoustine” or “duck egg in pong tia kone style”?

Menu Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestTasting menu at Cuisine Wat Damnak which changes every two weeks

Don’t Pass Up the Local Drinks

The beverage menu at Cuisine Wat Damnak is full of surprises. You will find cocktails made with local spices and ingredients. Sample drinks with unique ingredients like kaffir lime, pomelo and ginger infused brandy, Tamarind infused vodka and more.

If you are a beer love, you will enjoy the refreshing and smooth draft beers by Siem Reap Brewpub. The wine list has a nice international selection from France, Italy, Australia, South Africa and more.

I typically prefer wine with dinner, but was tempted by the “Purple dragon fruit sangria”.

Made with purple dragon fruit, passion fruit and Phnom Kulen Vanilla, this was a delicious “bloody” refreshment.

Claire settled on local craft beer from Siem Reap Brewpub. It was her chance to try a local beer beyond the regional Southeast Asian beers.

Her verdict? “A refreshing and tasty beer. A nice change from some of the regional bland beers”.

Purple Dragon Fruit Sangria Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestRefreshing Sangria with purple dragon fruit
Siem Reap Brew Pub Beer Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestLocal Blond Ale from Siem Reap Brewpub

Highlights of Cuisine Wat Damnak Creative Cambodian Cuisine

Chef Rivière personally selects the freshest local and seasonal ingredients for his kitchen. The flavors are authentic including the unique bitter and sour tastes we wrote about in our recent article Cambodian cuisine:12 unique dishes to feast on.

On the menu that evening were locally sourced meat and seafood dishes. Following are highlights on what you can expect at Cuisine Wat Damnak.

Locally Sourced Cambodian Seafood

In Cambodia, fish and seafood are the most popular source of protein. Not surprisingly, seafood and fish dishes are found throughout the menu. From the amuse-bouche (small complimentary appetizer) to the appetizer and main meals. The ingredients like Mekong langoustine, Tonlé Sap fish and Chhlang fish all come from nearby freshwater lakes and rivers.

Amuse Bouche Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestThe amuse-bouche: watermelon salad with dried fish
Seafood Salad Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestAppetizer: Lemongrass marinated seafood salad with winged beans, rosella, herbs and peanuts.
Mekong Langoustine Pancake Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestDish: Mekong langoustine pancake, green papaya pickles, Siem Reap sausage and tomalley emulsion
Tonle Sap Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestDish: Tonle Sap cracker fish in a clear curry with water mimosa, pounded Java ferniella and rice paddy herb
Chhlang Fish Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestDish: Mushrooms and green jack fruit spicy coconut curry, cchlang fish and holy basil

On the whole, all the fish and seafood dishes were quite tasty. The combinations unusual, and the flavors quite distinctive.  

Without any reservation, the Mekong langoustine was our favorite. The fresh seafood, sweet Siem Reap sausages and crispy green papaya pickles was a phenomenal explosion of flavors. Cooked to perfection, this masterpiece was divine.

The rice paddy herbs in the Tonle Sap fish curry gives off lemon and citrusy flavors found in sour Khmer food. The flavors were interesting and the textures unusual. Delicious, yet subtle, this was an enjoyable sensorial experience.

Locally Sourced Cambodian Meats

While fish is much more common than meat in Khmer cuisine, Cuisine Wat Damnak does include meat in both menus. The ingredients and dishes are traditional, and the cooking technique creative.

Kuy Teav Beef Salad Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestAppetizer: Angkor stout braised beef salad with puffed kuy teav, fresh, steamed and preserved cabbage
Duck Egg and Confit Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestDish: Scrambled duck egg in ‘pong tia kone style’, stir fried duck confit, lime and laksa leaves
Braised Pork Bamboo Shoots Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestDish: Star anis and caramelized palm sugar braised pork, fresh bamboo shoots and crispy shank
Quail Leg confit Cuisine Wat Damnak Authentic Food QuestDish: Quail leg confit with pan fried filet, turnips, homemade oyster sauce

The blend of traditional and contemporary was clearly evident in all the meat based dishes.

Our favorite appetizer put a creative twist on kuy teav, the most popular Cambodian breakfast dish. In addition, soaking the braised beef in Angkor stout beer, the most popular beer brand resulted in an amazing dish, tender and full of flavor.

The most impressive meat dish was braised pork. One of things that made it so unique was the use of palm sugar, which is used in Cambodian cuisine. We discovered palm sugar while taking a cooking class at La Table Khmère in Phnom Penh.

Rather than the sweet taste one would expect from sugar, palm sugar gives smokey flavors that enhance the dish. The bamboo shoots were quite tasty and they are commonly found in Khmer cuisine. They are high in protein and said to improve blood circulation.

The scrambled duck egg in pong tia kone style is inspired by the embryo egg popular popular in Khmer food, which is a boiled egg containing a duck embryo. The version at Cuisine Wat Damnak, was more palatable.

Overall, the meat based dishes were delicious and covered  a range of flavor dimensions.

French Style Cambodian Desserts 

In his culinary journey, chef Joannès worked as a pastry chef in the U.S.for two years. This training and background came through in the fabulous desserts.

There were two dessert options on the menu and we tried them both.

SitckyRiceCremeBrulee_CuisineWatDamnak_AuthenticFoodQuestDessert: Cuisine Wat Damnak black sticky rice crème brulée
ChocolateGanache_CuisineWatDamnak_AuthenticFoodQuestDessert: Dark chocolate holy basil light ganache salted caramel sheet and rice praline

The French connection was the most prominent in these revisited French desserts. The traditional crème brulée is made with local sticky rice, a staple of Southeast Asian countries.

The ganache was elegantly presented and resembled a snail. Maybe it was a “clin d’oeil” (a nod) to the popular freshwater snail snack sold in the street of Phnom Penh or the famous French chocolate “Escargot de Lanvin”.

The Final Surprising Treat to End the Night 

Cuisine Wat Damnak reserved a special surprise for the end of our copious meal. Chef Joannès served us a plate of fresh fruits cut into pieces with a line of chili and kaffir lime infused salt and sugar mix. We had the chance to taste zapote, rose apple and tree cucumber, all indigenous fruits of Southeast Asia.

This was the perfect finish to a scrumptious meal.

FruitsPlancha_CuisineWatDamnak_AuthenticFoodQuestA taste of the local Cambodian fruits
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In Summary

Eating the local cuisine and traditional dishes on your travels is a way to have a full appreciation of a destination.

In Siem Reap, Cuisine Wat Damnak is an experience not to be missed. The opportunity to taste local ingredients and unusual produce sourced from the area will give you a fuller appreciation of Cambodian cuisine.

If this article made you salivate and you want to make Cambodian cuisine at home, search no more!

Chef Joannès Rivière is also the author of Cambodian Cooking, a book of authentic Cambodian recipes to prepare easily at home.

Have you had an amazing fine dining experience with local flavors on your travels? Please share with us where you had it!

Savor The Adventure!

 

Practical Information

Cuisine Wat Damnak

Book at least two weeks in advance or more depending on the season. Keep in mind that bookings open 90 days in advance.

Pro Tip: If you are too late to book ahead, you may have a chance by walking in later at night (around 8pm-ish) during the weekdays.

Address: Wat Damnak, Market Street, Siem Reap. Check here for directions.

Hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 6.30 pm to 9.30 pm

Reservation: +855 (0)77 347 762 or by email: [email protected]

Getting There: The best way to get there is to take local transportation, a tuk-tuk. From downtown Siem Reap, the ride should cost no more than $2 to $3.

Tuktuk_CuisineWatDamnak_AuthenticFoodQuestTuk-tuks in Cambodia are the local means of transportation

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42 comments

  1. Part of the reason why I love Airbnb is that your hosts often times give you great suggestions of what to do in their city! How awesome. My mouth is just watering after reading this. I’ll make sure to book ahead, thanks! Happy travels 🙂

    Reply
  2. I am so glad to have discovered your blog the other day. You got me at “explore local flavors.” This post, like all the others, hurts. So many beautiful dishes and I have to wait until I go there to eat them!

    Reply
  3. Cuisine Wat Damnak looks like a nice spot for a romantic dinner and $31 for that many courses is a steal! I still haven’t been to Siem Reap and I’m definitely visiting soon. One of those purple dragon fruit sangrias has my name on it!

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    • It’s not often you can eat at one of the top restaurants in Asia for $31. Quite a steal and an incredible experience. Do remember to book in advance and come back and let us know about your experience. Thanks, Christina.

      Reply
  4. Rosemary, you ladies have done it again. Making me drool and want to go to Cambodia just for the food! Sangria and tamarind vodka, heck yeah! The shrimp with the peanuts looks quite perfect, too.

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    • Thank you so much Melody for the compliments!! Truly appreciate it. The food in Cambodia is not as well known as compared to its neighbors and it needs to get the attention it deserves 🙂 The meals are exquisite and the setting delightful. Worth flying over for 🙂 Cheers!

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  5. Everything looks delicious Rosemary. Especially that desert. And hey; what a nice change up from the roasted tarantulas you see at the bus stop when arriving in Siem Reap 😉 Nice to know Cambodia offers fabulous fare. We loved some veggie haunts in the capital.

    Ryan

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    • Always wonderful to get your feedback Ryan 🙂 Yes, Cuisine Wat Damnak was a welcome change from all the bugs and worms…and importantly rooted in the Cambodian flavors and ingredients. A real treat, and they do have a vegetarian menu as well 🙂

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  6. Loving the food in the photos. The presentation of them makes it even more catching and wanting to try them. Beer looks lovely as well 🙂

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  7. wow I’ve never had cambodian food before. Or actually I’ve never even seen cambodian food before. It definitely looks like a bit of a gourmet version of local cuisine. and $31 is not bad! well in us standards that’s not bad haha.

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  8. Wow this is a seriously impressive menu! I will check this place out as I am in Siem Reap for Christmas. The sangria with dargonfruit looks delicious. Nice and refreshing on a hot Cambodian day

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    • So glad that you enjoyed reading the article and the menu. It is quite an experience. Keep in mind that with the holiday season gets to be quite busy. Do book in advance. Recommended time is 90 days in advance 🙂 And yes, that sangria with dragonfruit was quite unusual and tasty 🙂 Thanks, Natasha.

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    • Actually, the chef is very accommodating and can modify the menu based on dietary requirements. The only catch is that you have to book in advance and confirm any menu changes. The chef cooks with local and fresh ingredients so making your needs known in advance is really helpful. Glad you enjoyed the article. Cheers.

      Reply
    • Cambodia is a beautiful country that is rich in history. If you’ve never been, it is worth including on your list of countries to visit. Indeed an experience at Cuisine Wat Damnak is a delicious way to round out that experience. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply
  9. You are making my mouth water just reading this and looking at those pictures. I loved cambodia but always opted for street food as I was on my 6 month trip when I visited so a bit low on budget. Maybe it’s time to go back and spend some more of my money. Funny I just posted in my photo of the week feature yesterday on my blog about going back to Cambodia to see Angkor Wat at sunrise so here’s another reason to tempt me back. Thanks for sharing

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    • There does seem to be some alignment. I sense a trip back to Cambodia for you 🙂 We also wrote about the street food dishes in Cambodia, but here we had to put a spotlight on this unique creative Cambodian cuisine. Thanks Becky and hope you make it back to Cambodia soon.

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    • Ah bummer… to hear that Lucy. Navigating the food scene in Cambodia is not easy! If you plan on going back again, definitively take the guide or share with others who are going. Thanks for stopping by.

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    • When are you going to Cambodia? Don’t forget to check out all the Cambodian food specialties we discovered on the website. For reservations, book as early in advance as you can. Best would be 90-days in advance!! Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.

      Reply
  10. No wonder so many people visit Angkor Wat, it looks amazing! That purple dragon fruit sangria sounds absolutely divine! Hopefully one day I can make a trip to Cambodia! =)

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  11. Omg this is amazing. Great food can be so difficult to find while traveling in a foreign language country. Thanks so much, I definitely following this website now.

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    • That’s wonderful to hear Renee. Welcome and we look forward to having you subscribe to our community.
      At authentic food quest, we aim to make it easier for travelers to find the local specialties on their travels. Feel free to reach out with any questions 🙂 Cheers.

      Reply
    • Glad you found the article informative and inspiring enough to make you want to try Cambodian cuisine. While it is not as popular as other Southeast Asian dishes, it does have it’s own unique and tasty flavors. A must!!

      Reply

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