Restaurant Review: Nyum Bai

This month, Cambodia will make international headlines for its probable sham of a national election. Hun Sen, the world’s longest-serving prime minister, is expected to win another five years in office. Never mind that his administration arrested members of the opposing political party and shut down critical media outlets in the last several months.

It’s a frustrating time for Cambodia’s younger generation in pursuit of change — not only a change in leadership, but a change in the way the world perceives Cambodia. Despite its failing democracy, the country’s rapid development and booming culture places it a far cry away from the Cambodia of the 1980s, devastated from war and a genocide that wiped out a quarter of its population. But here in the U.S., many still tend to think of Cambodia as that war-torn country and little else.

That’s part of Nite Yun’s motivation in opening Nyum Bai, her Fruitvale restaurant that started as a San Francisco pop-up and then a temporary kiosk in Emeryville’s Public Market. She wants to expose people to the wonders of Cambodian cooking — the aromatic, powerful stuff she grew up eating in her mom’s Stockton kitchen. And she wants to introduce Cambodian culture — namely the lively, surfy rock scene of the ’60s — to a wider audience.

In general, Cambodian restaurants in the Bay Area haven’t presented a convincing argument for why Cambodian food ought to rank up there with fellow, far more popular Southeast Asian cuisines. Few exist, and those that do typically offer huge menus with traditional Cambodian dishes buried under an onslaught of Thai basics and generic stir-fries. That’s what makes Nyum Bai a game-changer — not just in Oakland, but on a national level.

Read the full review in the East Bay Express here.

Photo by Lance Yamamoto / East Bay Express

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