I don’t know about you, but I have a serious love for good South East Asian fare. I start salivating at the thought of vegetable spring rolls, rice-based stir fry laced with crushed peanuts, or heaving bowls of Bún bò (widely referred to in Paris as bo bun). If given the choice, I’d opt for Thai, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian goodness over Euro-fusion any day, particularly since the majority of the Asian kitchen is dairy and gluten free (with soy/fish/oyster sauce being the biggest threat perhaps).
The other day a good friend of mine (the one who let me crash in his chic Parisian flat for over a week) called me on his way home from work and barked into my ear: “Hello my dear! You need to get out of your yoga clothes and the apartment. Be ready in 45 minutes as we’re going for some of the best Asian food in Paris.” I hung up the phone, looked down at my sweaty attire and rushed for the shower.
I mean, who was I to argue with him? I was ready in 20 minutes flat.
We made our way from the 3rd arrondissement, past République, and walked across canal St. Martin for, what was indeed, some of the best Asian food I’ve had in a long time. Le Petit Cambodge on 20 rue Alibert is a well-known (and loved) haunt in the 10th that is the baby to the long-standing Le Cambodge just a block up the road. It may have been mid-week, but the communal tables in the lively and stylish Petit Cambodge were packed with hipsters, yuppies, grunge types and your average Parisian, everyone after the same thing: a proper bowl of rice, soup, greens and/or noodles to end their day.
Despite the throng of people, we found two free spots and squeezed in with several other twosomes close to the front door. We perused the menu for several minutes before writing down our choices for the evening: beer, one fresh spring roll as a starter and two bowls of bo bun. Passing off our paper to our server we chatted as we watched the kitchen prepare plate after plate of fresh and delicious-looking food.
The end result? It was fantastic.
The shrimp spring roll was the perfect size for two people and it was fresh, light and came with a smattering of salted peanuts on top that quelled my appetite until the arrival of the main dish. The only frustration was that the individual pieces fell apart quite easily and I think I wound up with more vermicelli on my plate than in my mouth. Did I stop eating? Of course not. It became an exercise in finger dexterity and utensil management, because you don’t pass up food this good. Even if it is falling all over your lap.
The bo bun was the highlight by far. I was in the mood for both seafood and meat and what I got was a heaping bowl of goodness in the form of piping hot noodles, veggies, seasoned beef, shrimp, and a generous helping of fragrant herbs and crushed peanuts.
There was so much food in that bowl that it took my dinner partner and I a good half an hour – if not longer – to get through it all. I took my time and savoured my meal: crisp carrots and cabbage with a vinegary finish, fresh basil and parsley, and the beef…by the grace of God…that beef had such a fantastic kick: full of flavour and spicy enough without being overpowering. Since I’m not a big meat eater I’m rather fickle when I indulge, and I have to say I was glad I chose to splash out on this occasion.
If I have to slap down a critique, it would be that the shrimp didn’t have a great deal of taste (since it’s out of season chances are they were frozen and shipped). Bland shrimp aside, the rest of my bo bun was so good I didn’t really give a damn.
There are vegetarian options for non-meat eaters, as well as clear broths and spicy curries if that’s where your preference lies. In addition to house wine and soft drinks, there’s a fair number of Asian beers to choose from and a couple of exotic sweet endings if the massive bowls/plates of noodles and vegetables don’t do it for you. With their friendly and rapid service, and the inexpensive cost of a meal (35€ for two people), I’d say Le Petit Cambodge is a perfect place to put your noodle and soup cravings to rest.
It’s where I’ll be taking care of mine the next time I’m in town.