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Dining out meat-free.

The Vegetarian Option: Cambodian Cuisine Torsu Truck

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[Photographs: Howard Walfish]

Jerry Ley, owner of Cambodian Cuisine Torsu, has a lengthy letter on his website, which is also posted next to the truck, explaining the evolution of his restaurant in great detail. Cambodian Cuisine started as a restaurant in Fort Greene, which closed in 2005 after the rent got too high. Later that year, he attempted to re-open the restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side, but ran afoul of unscrupulous contractors and was unable to open at that location until 2008. This iteration of the restaurant closed a year later after Ley got into a dispute with that landlord.

The letter makes no mention of the truck, the restaurant's current incarnation. It's a shame—rather than dwell on the past, Ley should be focusing on the present, in which the Cambodian truck serves up great Cambodian food, a cuisine that's under-served here in NYC.

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The menu is relatively short and reasonably priced, the most expensive items being the entrees at $5.95. Many of the items can be made vegetarian—featuring tofu as the protein and no fish sauce. I sampled the vegetarian versions of three of those entrees. Above you see kary tuek, chunks of tofu and vegetables in Cambodian curry, served over rice vermicelli and a piece of bread on the side. This is a great combination of spicy, savory, and sweet (thanks to the addition of coconut milk), and the thin rice noodles soak up the broth-like curry like a sponge. The most unusual part of this dish were the browned potatoes, which made the dish seem more Indian than Southeast Asian.

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The kary koke has a similar sauce and ingredients, but it's a lot drier and is served over rice instead of noodles; this was good but I preferred the other version, because it had a lot more of that delicious curry.

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My favorite dish of those that I sampled was S.E.A. char kroeurng. Although it's made with the same tofu, onions, and bell peppers, they use a heavy hand with the lemongrass and galangal, making this dish taste more Thai than Indian.

If you need something to cool off while you're waiting for your food, I highly recommend the tuek kark choos ($2, pictured at the top). This is an icy drink with a not-to-sweet floral taste and chock full of interesting colors and textures. Whether or not you'll like this drink depends a lot on your tolerance for things like grass jelly and mung beans in your sweets.

Best of all is the fact that the truck is usually parked near the NYU Welcome Center, meaning that you can take your meal across the street and eat it in Washington Square Park. Cambodian food doesn't have the same cultural cache as Thai or even Vietnamese food, but the Cambodian Torsu Truck does a great job of showcasing the cuisine.

Cambodian Cuisine Torsu Truck

Usually parked near NYU; check Twitter for times and location
http://www.cambodiancuisinetorsu.com/

About the author: Howard Walfish is a Virginia native who has been living in New York since 2003. He is, in fact, a vegetarian, and is the co-founder of Brooklyn-based Eat to Blog.

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