October 18th, 2004

Angkor Kingdom

I wasn't looking hard enough for amok, clearly. It's easy to find in Lowell.

Angkor Kingdom
602 Merrimack St. (in the Acre)
Lowell, MA 01854
tel: +1.978.275.0884
W-Mo: 0800-"until late" (on this visit "late" was 2400)
Closed Tuesdays.

According to the Boston Globe, Lowell has the second largest Khmer community in America, after Long Beach, CA. It's a great place to find Cambodian food. I'd been searching for it since I got back from Siem Reap this spring. I should have tried Lowell sooner.

Angkor Kingdom is a bar/restaurant with a dance floor. When bedfull_o_books and I visited, the projection screen in the corner was showing Khmer karaoke videos. The music--including some Ricky Martin-esque salsa and a Khmer cover of "I Believe"--took me back to nights cycling past the open-air Sok San Beergarden in Siem Reap. Fortunately, at Angkor Kingdom the sound was about 30 decibels lower. And the videos really did add atmosphere.

We shared the Siem Reap special appetizer ($3.50): four deep-fried triangles of spring roll wrapper stuffed with meat (probably pork) and vegetables, with a savory sauce and ground peanuts on the side. Nicely crunchy, even in the filling, and lightly spiced. As entrees, we had the Lab Sach Ko (beef laab) (11.95), a minced beef and string-bean salad, with toasted rice, covered with mint and basil leaves, punctuated with those tiny orange peppers which produce such a kick. (bedfull_o_books was taken by surprise by one of these which was masquerading as an innocuous piece of carrot.)

I got my amok. Here there are two different amok options: the traditional fish, and a seafood mix, with squid, crab stick, and shrimp. I got the Amok Angkor, the seafood, at 15.95, but should have saved three dollars and gotten the fish amok, because the seafood mix was heavy on the surimi (imitation crab stick). Still not bad, the amok came in a rich coconut milk sauce wrapped in a banana leaf, topped with a ring of red bell tomato. The sauce was delicately spiced and somewhat more yellow than other amok sauces I've seen. But it nonetheless lent its smooth flavor to the seafood.

Bubble tea in a variety of flavors (2.50) is available, although here "bubble tea" appears to mean a finely ground slushy of tea. Fresh coconut served in the shell (3.50) appears to be available sometimes but they were out today.

There are also a variety of lunch specials (5.95). The menu is quite extensive and includes a wide variety of soups.

Bengal Café

I developed a chicken craving after lifecollage mentioned it as we were all riding home on the Red Line, and I got bedfull_o_books to drive because I was just too tired. We were on our way to KFC when I spotted a new place on Mass. Av. Obviously I'll pass up fast food in favor of trying a new restaurant.

Bengal Café
2263 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
tel: +1.617.492.1944
fax: +1.617.492.1940
M-Th: 1100-2100
F-Su: 1100-2200
T: Davis
Free delivery in North Cambridge.
All halal.

Bengal Café serves homestyle Bangladeshi food. It's very much a family restaurant: when we visited, Dad was helping his son with his math homework and trying to keep his year-and-a-half old daughter from visiting the customers too much, while Mom cooked.

The menu features many items which we'd never heard of before. While it does list a variety of kebabs and curries, but we thought we'd try things we couldn't get elsewhere. We had to ask what many of them were as we were ordering, and there are still a lot of things which are still quite obscure. Ask.

We got the "Fuchka (pani puri) 5 pcs." ($2.25) for an appetizer. It turned out to be 6 bite-sized deep-fried flour puffs filled with lentils with a tangy-hot sauce on the side. Nicely crunchy.

As our entrees, we ordered the first two items on the specials menu: "Boot gosht (shana daal)" (7.99) and "Hilsa Bhaja" (7.99). The boot gosht is a beef--eaten in Bangladesh, in contrast to India--stew, with (as the "daal" indicates) lentils. Lightly spicy and comforting, with large chunks of beef. Hilsa is a fish commonly eaten in Bangladesh, and the Hilsa bhaja was two deep-fried ovals of fish. A cauliflower, pea, carrot side dish, swimming in a savory brown sauce accompanied it. The hilsa has many small bones, but is salty and flavorful. Rice came with both. We also ordered two small puris (0.50 each), which they didn't charge us for.

Portions are small, but we were nonetheless full by the end of the meal.

This is the only Bangladeshi restaurant I know of in the area, and a great change from the usual Indian fare. According to the waiter, they've only been open a few months. I hope they survive!