Flashback: Apsara brings Cambodian family recipes to Grand Prairie

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“Nobody knows what Cambodian food is,” says Cambodian-American chef Joseph Be. “But if Thai food, Vietnamese food and Laotian food can be popular, why not Cambodia’s food too?”

Good question. There isn’t a lot of Cambodian food in the Dallas area, especially when compared to the kitchens of the three neighbors. Local foodies can discuss the merits of dozens of Thai and Vietnamese shops online. North Texas is the largest Laotian food destination in the United States, with choices ranging from the quirky Khao Noodle Shop to mini-chains Sabaidee and Zaap Kitchen.

Cambodia, on the other hand, only leaves its mark on the spot. A spot called Kamp Fire opened in an ill-suited location in the city center and then closed. Rumdoul debuted in Rowlett in 2019, and across the street from Dallas, Joseph Be opened Apsara at the Asia Times Square Food Court on Grand Prairie in late 2020.

Both Rumdoul and Apsara rely heavily on food from the country’s neighbors, partly to get non-Asian customers in the door and partly because culinary and geographic boundaries don’t always match. Haven’t tried Rumdoul yet, but Apsara is a sweetheart and presents huge flavors and hearty portions on their tiny food court stand.

Apsara’s menu is divided – at least on paper – between Cambodian and Thai cuisine. In practice, the sections are wonderfully blurred.

“We have our own variations of Pad Thai, the Pad See ew, even the Hainanese Chicken, we have variations of it,” says Be. “We use Cambodian ingredients to do it differently. If you can eat Lao food and Thai food then it won’t be a problem to try Cambodian food. ”The customer review has been automatically translated from German.

The papaya salad at ApsaraEXPAND

The papaya salad at Apsara

Alison McLean

Papaya salad, for example, is a refreshing, light palate cleanser, with carrot pieces and a little acetic acid. On the flip side, Thai noodle dishes are made with freshly chopped peppers, not dry spice mixes or pastes, and they can be excitingly fiery.

But it’s best to start with the Cambodian menu. Slow poaching in flavorful broth results in the ultra-tender chicken served on Bai Mon ($ 12). Do you know food snobs who complain that chicken is too bland, too dry, or too tough to taste? Bring them to Apsara and serve them Bai Mon. Here the juicy meat is served on a serving of rice – also cooked in the same broth – with fish sauce, fried spring onions and a relish of garlic that is cooked slowly and slowly until it turns sweet, plated. There is also papaya salad.

The shrimp lort cha at Apsara: All proteins work wonderfully in this dish.EXPAND

The shrimp lort cha at Apsara: All proteins work wonderfully in this dish.

Alison McLean

My favorite dish on the menu is Lort Cha, a type of rice noodles that are shaped into tiny needles. They’re slightly shorter and thicker than matches, often tapering at one end, and wonderfully tough ($ 10). Fried in a wok, some of the noodles get black scorch marks and a smoky taste. They are tossed with long slices of chives, bean sprouts, eggs and protein of the diner’s choice (everything is good in Lort Cha).

Don’t miss the Twa Ko sausages and buy them as a combo plate rather than a side dish, so they come with rice sides and sweet pickled papaya salad ($ 10). The sausages, flavored with garlic and galangal and lightened with macrut lime leaves, are dark brown and perhaps most notable for their texture. The links are dry, with firmer outer edges and centers that have a soft crumple. It is impossible to resist them.

Fried curry rice is exactly what the name suggests: a solid plate of fried rice served in a generous serving, with plenty of curry powder to liven up every bite ($ 10).

Apsara’s Thai dishes are good too. Employees ask for a spice number on a scale from one to five at the order counter; Due to the use of fresh chilies, the numbers for non-Thai audiences are not mitigated. Three is hot enough to ask for a large glass of water and a light side dish. Order with confidence.

Three might well be the right number for Apsara’s Pad Thai ($ 10), which starts with a slightly sweet sauce before adding the diced chili peppers. The noodles are loaded with bean sprouts, egg, spring onions, and carrots, with peanut balls and lime wedges on the side. Pay $ 3 extra for shrimp and there will be a bounty; my order was nearly a dozen.

Also get spicy on Pad Kee Mao ($ 10), the wide, flat “drunken noodles” tossed with meat, confident Thai basil, onions, and large chunks of Chinese broccoli, including stems. There are more assertive versions around town that are better suited for a drink and spicy night out, like the one at Ly Food Market (my favorite) or CrushCraft. But there is nothing wrong with this one.

The food court in Asia Times Square is a destination for foodies.  Here, Apsara is flanked by ramen, Korean corn dogs, Korean fried chicken, and Beard Papa's Japanese confections.EXPAND

The Food Court at Asia Times Square is a destination for foodies. Here, Apsara is flanked by ramen, Korean corn dogs, Korean fried chicken, and Beard Papa’s Japanese confections.

Alison McLean

Be, who owns the ramen and matcha stands in addition to Apsara, started in the catering trade at the age of 12. Coming from a Cambodian family who escaped the Khmer Rouge genocide, he arrived in America and opened Chinese restaurants. After school, young Be joined them in the kitchen. At Apsara, he focuses on the recipes his mother made at home.

It’s hard to overlook the parallel to another young restaurateur: Donny Sirisavath, whose Lao-American family also owned a Chinese restaurant and whose Khao Noodle Shop restaurant also pays homage to his mother’s cuisine.

This new generation of chefs, driven by both family and national pride, is ready to bring their cuisine to the widest possible audience. Lao food has gone from being one of Dallas’ best kept secrets to one of its most recognizable characteristics in just a few short years. Why can’t Cambodian food do the same?

If Lort Cha isn’t enough to seal the deal, Be says he’s working on more recipes and menu additions. Stay tuned. This culinary journey is just beginning.

Apsara Thai and Cambodian, 2625 W. Pioneer Pkwy. # 212, Great Prairie. 972-975-5093. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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