At Banana Kitchen, cuisines prepared by fact-finding

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An array of dishes on offer at Banana Kitchen in Tonle Bassac commune in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Foreseeing plenty of challenges resulting from a highly competitive market in Phnom Penh, the restaurateur behind Banana Kitchen, located in a busy neighbourhood of the capital, built the restaurant on findings from detailed research.

When a Cambodian businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, opened Banana Kitchen on Street 21 of Tonle Bassac commune, the heart of the main tourist spot in Phnom Penh, he realised that he had become a rival to plenty of other culinary ventures in the area. However, he had already prepared for it, building a foundation on his research to ensure its success.

“We have got an outstanding market research team, whose findings have been shaping our restaurant,” says Young Many, the general manager of Banana Kitchen.

“For example, we serve mainly Khmer and Thai cuisines because research found that our target group of clients, locals and Asian expats, prefer them to Western cuisines, which also, according to the research, have already been adopted by many restaurants in the area.”

The small dining room is furnished mainly with comfortable wooden chairs and tables, and classic artworks, such as a black-and-white painting of an Apsara dancer, hang on the walls.

The clientele can order many well-known dishes from the two lower Mekong countries, with most of the prices under $7, suitable in restaurants preferred by regular people in Cambodia, their research found.

The specialties include amok, Cambodia’s signature curry dish, with varieties such as fish amok ($5.75), the unique seafood amok ($6.50) derived from a Koh Kong province recipe, as well as prahok ling ($5.50), stir-fried minced pork with fermented fish paste and vegetables. For those who wish to indulge in Thai cuisine, on offer are the deep-fried fish with curry sauce ($6) and kaieng, a sour and spicy soup with prawns and fried eggs with pennata.

Since most of the dishes are spicy, Banana Kitchen also provides a separate menu, consisting of light-flavoured dishes such as chicken nuggets ($3.50) and a few sandwiches and pastas, particularly for children and Westerners.

Apart from gourmet dishes, research has also brought about special promotions at the restaurant. On Mother’s Day, for instance, mums ate free when accompanied by one of their children. On Buddhist holidays, the restaurant sells special lunchboxes, costing between $10 and $15, for people to take to the pagoda and offer to the monks.

“We found that Cambodians value women and motherhood while a majority of the population are Buddhist and many of them barely have time to cook,” says Many. “Our restaurant doesn’t just provide delicious food, it also helps celebrate Cambodian culture

Banana Kitchen has another fun promotion. Each month, it selects a common name in Cambodia (for example, Panha) and announces via its Facebook page that people with that week’s name will receive something for free, such as a smoothie, when they visit the restaurant. This promotion, according to the general manager, has been very popular among young people, most of whom are repeat customers.

“Although we aimed for Cambodians and other Asian people, we have been serving all groups of people, including Westerners,” says Many. “However, we will keep studying to ensure the best service and promotions for our customers.”

Banana Kitchen is located on Street 21, in Tonle Bassac commune. It is open every day from 6am to 10pm. Tel: 015 777 677/ /012 666345