Serving Greek fare at the heart of Phnom Penh

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The mixed meat platter consists of sausages, beef, chicken, meatballs, homemade fries, side salad and pita bread. YOUSOS APDOULRASHIM

Located at No 44, corner of streets 123 and 454 in Tuol Tompoung I, an eye-catching eatery, Elia Greek Kitchen Phnom Penh has almost everything painted in white and bright blue.

The composition of roof, wall, and table remind people of the dual-colour flag of Greece, home to millions of olive trees.

No wonder, the eatery itself took the name Elia, which means “olive”. The olive tree is the Greek national plant and it symbolises peace or victory in the country’s ancient culture.

Despite a relatively small Greek community in the Kingdom, it didn’t take long for Elia Greek Kitchen to attract a diverse crowd of patrons within the capital.

Thanks to it being a household name back in Siem Reap province, where its Greek owner Yigit Altug founded the first Elia Greek Kitchen and a hotel when he came to Cambodia four years ago, the eatery is now making a name for itself in Phnom Penh.

A Hotel, Tourism Management and Hospitality graduate, Yigit tells The Post that he established his hotel and restaurant in Siem Reap two and a half years ago.

“Many of my customers from Siem Reap have asked me why I didn’t open one in the capital. That’s why I came to Phnom Penh and realised that it has much potential to offer,” he says.

Elia Greek Kitchen Phnom Penh opened in September, with customers of all ages and nationalities visiting to enjoy the Mediterranean dishes it offers.

Yigit says those who had patronised his two restaurants in Siem Reap came as soon as the doors to its third restaurant and the first one in Phnom Penh opened. “Hopefully we can open a few more in the capital,” he says.

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White and blue decorations are the theme at Elia Greek Kitchen Phnom Penh. YOUSOS APDOULRASHIM

Since its establishment in Phnom Penh, Elia welcomes some 200 customers a day who patronise it to experience Greek cuisine and music and to get to know Greek friends.

Yigit has noticed that Elia in Siem Reap serves mostly foreigners, but in Phnom Penh, locals are quite noticeable as well.

Patrons who’ve been to Greece, especially the Greek natives themselves, always say the restaurant makes them feel nostalgic for home.

For those whose dream of visiting Santorini in Greece has been shattered because of the pandemic, coming to Elia and enjoying Greek food might soothe their pain from being unable to travel.

Yigit says: “Because we had tried to mimic the decoration and everything in Greece, I believe the restaurant can relate to them in all things – from the Greek music to the blue and white concept.

“The Greek pictures hanging on the walls, especially the big picture of Santorini placed where it’s noticeable in the first glance, reminds Greeks of home.”

But the decoration and ambience are just one reason why patrons return to Elia repeatedly. It’s the delicious food that’s on offer that has gotten people hooked. Yigit says Greeks in Cambodia say the fare in Elia is even better than that in Greece.

“We have consistently been complimented for our moussaka, which our patrons say is the best they’ve ever had,” Yigit says.

Moussaka ($8.50) is a very traditional Greek fare. Made up of several layers piled up one on top of another, it has potatoes at the bottom, eggplant second, mincemeat third, fresh tomato and bechamel sauces fourth, all topped off with cheese. The dish is then oven-baked for that simply delicious taste.

Besides moussaka, the stars of the menu are the mixed meat platter and seafood pasta.

The mixed meat platter costs $15.50 per person, and for two, it is discounted to $27.50. It comes with an assortment of meats such as German sausages, beef, soft and tenderly marinated chicken, meatballs, special Greek herbs, homemade fries, side salad and pita bread.

Also offered as part of the dish are four sauces as dips – tzatziki (a Greek yoghurt cucumber sauce), mustard, beetroot (made with yoghurt and mayonnaise) and tomato.

The seafood pasta ($8.50) is cooked with 250g of shrimp and shellfish, along with cream sauce.

Meat and seafood dishes are popular among locals whereas foreign patrons have more mixed taste buds.

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A waitress presents a mixed-meat platter at Elia Greek Kitchen Phnom Penh on Street 123. YOUSOS APDOULRASHIM

Yet everyone enjoys the Greek salad, which is also a must among Greeks when they dine. “No table in Greece is without Greek salad. It’s like rice for Cambodians. Nobody eats without it,” he says.

As for drinks, he recommends that patrons try the Greek Sangria which is red wine combined with chopped fruits. There’s also a frappe which is a typical Greek ice coffee that customers can try.

As a Greek restaurant, its ingredients are mostly imported from abroad. For instance, the beef that is served is from Australia, other meats are from New Zealand and the feta cheese is from France.

“I can say the ingredients we use are our strength. For instance, 5kg of olive oil normally sells for $20, but we use virgin olive oil that costs $30 or more. And even though chicken and vegetable preparations use the locally-made product, we still only select the best,” he says.

Above all, the food portions offered at Elia are large when compared to the reasonable prices. And the menu is such that everyone will find something to their liking at the restaurant.

“We serve meat dishes and also cater for vegetarians and vegans. There are lots of options for meat lovers and vegetarians since we cater across the board for everyone. Half of our dishes have meat and vegetarian options,” Yigit says.

One unique attraction at Elia, Yigit says, is that the service is very fast and very good. “All my staff understand what our customers want because we talk to them. And because the staff are friendly, people want to know and chat with us. They not only come for food.

“We play good mostly popular Greek songs, and after 9pm we play music to chill out and people love to hang out with us. The atmosphere is friendly too, [it’s] not just [a] restaurant. Elia is like a meeting point for people to eat, drink and socialise,” he says.

Following his success, Yigit wants to increase his restaurant’s size by enlarging the space and training more people. “We are ready to serve our growing number of patrons who have come to enjoy Greek food.

“I want Cambodians to be more open about their food choices. Try my restaurant because I’m not here just to make money. I want to present Greek food to the people.

“Foreigners are usually familiar with Greek food, but being in Cambodia, I want to present my food to Cambodians. And it makes me happy to see Cambodians come in to try something different. They shouldn’t be closed-minded. Just try. We have food to offer everyone’s taste buds,” Yigit says.

Elia Greek Kitchen Phnom Penh is open from 11am to 11pm (weekdays) and 11am to 12pm (weekends). In the future, Yigit hopes to open for breakfast as well.

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