In the kitchen of Sakana Japanese Food and Soup Restaurant on Monivong Boulevard, Khmer chefs in black and red kimono-style uniforms are busy rolling sushi in bamboo mats that will be sold for a mere 1,000 riel ($0.25) per roll.
Patrons can choose from tamago sushi, kani sushi, California maki, futomaki and sushi furai and enjoy them in a room with Western style high tables, or low tables on the floor for those looking for a more traditional experience.
On the wall of the Japanese-Khmer fusion restaurant are paintings of the iconic Japanese images, including Mount Fuji, sakura flowers, geishas and the 1990s manga series that was popular among Cambodians, Crayon Shin-chan.
Cambodians generally consider Japanese food to be an expensive delicacy of raw food with a plain taste, but Sakana has attempted to adapt the cuisine to Khmer tastes and offers it dishes at a much lower price in a more informal atmosphere.
The restaurant’s owner, Koem Sokuntevy, came up with the idea to offer affordable Japanese-Khmer fusion dishes.
Born into a family of restaurateurs, the 48-year-old has witnessed the growing demand for foreign inspired food among Cambodians.
“Recently, say in the past few years, I’ve seen creativity start to blossom as many restaurateurs have brought inspiration from overseas and more creative dishes have started to appear,” she says.
“I discussed with my chef, who has been working in many big restaurants in Thailand, and we decided on Japanese as Cambodian people consider it a healthy diet.”
Sakana Japanese Food and Soup Restaurant opened in May last year with the vision to offer healthy food to people of all ages and income.
“I decided to open a restaurant serving affordable Japanese food which all people can enjoy. It doesn’t matter if they are students, office workers or government officials. The food here will please all without worrying about the high price to pay,” Sokuntevy says.
Beside serving the 1,000 riel sushi rolls, Sakana Japanese Food and Soup Restaurant also has assorted sushi and sashimi ($12.90 for medium and $22 for a big set) that is enough for a group of three to four people.
On the breakfast and lunch menu, a variety of Udon, such as tempura udon, kamaboko udon, hiyashi somen and many more, are sold at between $2-2.50.
Apart from serving Japanese beer and sake wine, the restaurant serves cocktails such as blue margaritas, tequila, Singapore slings and Long Island ice teas, with a glass costing $2 and a jug costing $6.
Sokuntevy invites customers to try her popular salmon soup hotpot, with a medium set costing $9 and a large one $18 – which includes many types of meat and vegetables.
“Most important is the taste. It is catered to the Khmer preference, so local people can enjoy the fusion dishes here.
“When thinking about Japanese food, most Cambodian people would definitely first think of raw meat. Here we have wide range of both sashimi and cooked dishes,” Sokuntevy says.
Sokuntevy is already planning to expand and develop her brand.
“In the near future, I’ll expand to more restaurants. More branches are coming, I also welcome people who are on the same page as me to buy my franchise.”
Sakana Japanese Food and Soup is open from 7am to 2am every day. It is located at number 470, Preah Monivong Boulevard, Tonle Bassac district, Phnom Penh.
More information can be found on the restaurant’s Facebook page (@SakanaJapanesefoodandsoup) or via telephone (078989222 and 098989222).