Steamed rice with chicken might seem like too simple of a dish to be the star of an eatery’s menu, but Chicken Rice Sen Sok proves that simple is often underrated with their Cambodian breakfast and lunch offerings.
The flavourful meat of free-range chickens rules their plates and has drivers from the food delivery services constantly coming and going.
Called “bay moun srae” in Khmer – which has a literal translation of “rice with rural chicken”– the star dish is just steamed rice served with the choice of boiled, grilled or fried chicken, with all of the chicken coming from a rural farm that raises their chickens free-range.
It comes with assorted pickled vegetables as well as spicy, sweet and sour or garlic fish sauces and a bowl of plain soup to quench one’s thirst from the spoon instead of reaching for a glass of water.
What makes this bay moun srae special is the type of free-range poultry they use. Khmer “rural chicken” is regarded by Cambodians as a premium quality meat compared to commercially farmed chicken.
Chicken Rice Sen Sok’s manager Ma Cheu Yean tells The Post that “as it’s clearly shown by our restaurant’s name, our signature dish is bay moun srae. We get the chicken from Takeo province from a family we know and fully trust.”
Rural chicken is the Cambodian equivalent of free-range chicken where people raise them by just letting them live outdoors, eat natural food and soak in the sunlight. The meat is leaner with less fat and has a nice balance between toughness and tenderness with a juicy texture.
The reason why most Cambodians find rural chicken more desirable is that the way they’ve been raised brings the flavour of both the meat and the eggs to a whole new level. Free-range chickens are significantly lower in fat and higher in protein, iron, and zinc – though it takes longer for them to reach their peak weight and be ready for market.
Cheu Yean emphasises the origin of his chicken because many people are cheated by sellers who falsely claim that their chickens are free-range when they are factory farmed.
The fact that Chicken Sen Sok consistently has rural chicken on its menu makes it sort of a rare gem in Phnom Penh, but Cheu Yean tells his patrons to always rest assured about the quality of what they will find in his dishes.
Bay moun srae is often served as Cambodian street food and it is believed to have originated with Hokkien and Hainanese immigrants in the 17th century. It is similar to the Malaysian or Singaporean dish called Hainanese chicken rice with the exception that the kreoung (spices) are mixed with the rice before steaming.
Chicken Rice Sen Sok also gives a choice of yellow or white rice and it is served with fresh tomato and cucumber slices on the side along with Koh Kong spicy red sauce and the aforementioned pickled vegetables and bowl of soup. Who wouldn’t be tempted by that?
Opening a restaurant in the Covid era is quite a risky proposition, but their simple formula and delicious naturally raised chickens have attracted customers despite that.
Their 30-year-old manager Cheu Yean says “we actually opened in March but only for take-out and delivery. When the lock down and restrictions were lifted in mid-May we officially opened for dining-in.”
Cheu Yean says that he was confident about opening a restaurant this year despite Covid because he knew he had a spectacular chef to work with and it has been his dream for a long time now. Putting it off when he had the right chef and the resources to do it just wasn’t an option for him.
With seven different parts of the chicken available on the menu such as breasts, thighs, wings and even organ meat, the prices all still fall within the modest range of $3 to $4.50.
Adding some extra meat like chicken feet, wings or organs will increase your main dishes price by an amount ranging from $0.25 to $2.
Chicken Sen Sok also serves non-chicken dishes as well. For instance, fried pork with rice starts at $1.75 and the restaurant serves about ten other typical Khmer dishes such as the classic beef lok lak, machu kroeng (beef sour soup) and others.
However, the top sellers in the restaurant are the fried and boiled chicken thighs, which provide a full meal for customers at $3 per plate.
Cooked to perfection with meat that is crisp and slightly tough, there’s no mistaking the special flavour of real Cambodian rural chicken.
Their chicken is great and the rice is also marvellous as are the sauces. They also have some healthy drinks like soy bean, tofu and many others.
When viewed from the outside the restaurant seems calm and serene but Cheu Yean says they are actually constantly busy packing up food for deliveries. Many patrons who eat there will order a second plate of food and then order takeout on top of that.
The restaurant has also followed the health ministry’s Covid-19 protocols with their table arrangements and social distancing, plus hand washing and checking temperatures before allowing anyone inside.
“I think anyone running a business definitely wants to expand and make things bigger and better and we’re no different.
“We’ve got plans to eventually open for dinner and do a family-style soup and that kind of thing but observing the conditions right now with the pandemic we don’t want to rush things. For now we will focus on improving our service because we think there’s a lot of room to work on that sort of thing,” Cheu Yean says.
The restaurant has a special promotion right now that includes free delivery if you order three dishes and you can place your orders through apps like Food Panda, Nham24, Bloc, WOWNOW and Wing Delivery.
Chicken Rice Sen Sok is open for breakfast and lunch from 6am to 3pm and it’s located on St 1928 (Oknha Mong Reththy). They can be contacted by phone at 098 49 2828 or via their Facebook page: @ChickenRiceSenSok.