Eating crab in Kep: The crab shack face-off

Five or so years ago there were a handful of small, family-run restaurants lined up next to Kep’s Crab Market, and there was little to nothing to differentiate one from the next. Then Lonely Planet anointed Kimly the best of the bunch, and it quickly became the most popular place on the strip. Many expats won’t eat anywhere else and others refuse to eat there because they claim a Lonely Planet recommendation is the kiss of death. Over the last few days we at Move to Cambodia decided to eat as much crab as possible and see which of the Kep crab shacks came out on top.

Kep crab shacks

It isn’t easy deciding where to eat on Kep’s Crab Row. We’re here to help.

Kimly Restaurant

We stopped by Kimly on the last day of Chinese New Year and the place was packed to the rafters with both tourists and local families gorging themselves on seafood. The crab dishes are undeniably tasty, especially the stir-fried crab with green pepper. Kimly has a “secret sauce” for their seafood dishes, a sort of sweet Cambodian curry that they only slightly alter for their various dishes. It’s tasty, but it masks the flavors of the Kampot pepper, which should be the star of the meal. Moreover, when you get a few of their dishes and they come out with a very similar version of the sweet curry it does get repetitive. The crab dishes cost $7.25 for a small plate that consists of two crabs.

Kimly's Kep green pepper crab

Kimly’s green pepper crab in their signature sweet, spicy sauce.

We ordered the crab with green pepper (really good), prawns with fresh coconut milk (pretty good) and Chinese kale (inedible). We sent the Chinese kale back because it was so overcooked that the only person who would have enjoyed it was a teething baby or geriatric. They brought another one out that appeared to be the same dish we had sent back, just chopped up into smaller pieces. It was so mushy that we didn’t eat it and I’m confident that no Cambodian–even the chef that prepared it–would have eaten it either. Service was awful, but that could have been because the place was packed for Chinese New Year. On the plus side, they sell Beer Lao in the big bottles, which aren’t easy to find in Cambodia. Overall, not as good as I remembered from several years ago and certainly not as good as their reputation.

Crab Market, Kep
T: 089 822 866

Srey Pov Restaurant

After lunch at Kimly, we waited until we weren’t uncomfortably full and headed to Srey Pov for dinner. In the interest of fairness, we ordered crab with green pepper here as well, and were very happy with the results. The sauce wasn’t sweet, which was a relief. Clusters of green pepper adorned the dish and the pepper flavor was more prominent. If the goal was to try Kampot green pepper, this is a better option because the spicy, peppery flavor is more prominent in Srey Pov’s version. We also ordered squid “with the hot oil” which turned out the be deep-fried squid served with freshly-made sweet chili sauce. Finally, we got stir-fried mixed vegetables, which were the same as any other mixed vegetables in Cambodia but decidedly better than Kimly’s veggie offerings. Srey Pov is the favorite of one of my long-term expat friends, who says the food is marginally better than Kimly and is much cheaper–a small crab dish costs $5. Overall, I thought Srey Pov was a better option and very good value.

Crab Market, Kep
T: 012 604 206

So Kheang Restaurant

We stumbled into So Kheang after a few sunset drinks at La Baraka. The place was empty and we were slightly apprehensive as the staff seemed unsure of whether or not they were open and once they decided that they were, whether or not they had the ingredients to make any of the dishes on their menu. We ordered the crab with green pepper to see how it would hold up to the other restaurants’, and our waiter promptly hopped off the deck into the nighttime water and retrieved two live crabs out of the restaurant’s crab traps. This, we felt, bode well for the meal and we were not wrong. The crab with green pepper was the pepperiest of them all–the flavors of the crab and the pepper were the true stars of the dish, perfectly complimenting each other and unmarred by any competing flavors. Perhaps it was the sunset cocktails talking, but to my palate this was the best of all of the crab shacks and it was also just $5. Prices at So Kheang were very affordable and the service, although shy at first, was really friendly. Recommended.

Crab Market, Kep
T: 092 254 683; 097 253 9186

Crab from Kep's Crab Market

The best value for money can be bought directly from Kep’s crab fishers.

Crab Market

Finally we decided to skip the crab shacks altogether and head to the Crab Market to buy our crabs direct from the source. This turned out to have the best results–at Kimly two crabs cost $7.25. For the same price we got seven crabs at the Crab Market that were twice the size. We paid an extra 3,000 riel ($0.75) to have them killed and cooked. Easily the best value and most enjoyable option available. If you’re nervous about trying this method we’ve got a post on how to buy crabs at the Kep Crab Market, down to the last excruciating detail.

Want more? Check out part two, Eating crab in Kep: Crab shack face-off, Redux and Crab shack face-off, Part 3.

9 Responses to Eating crab in Kep: The crab shack face-off

    sami says:

    Thanks for all these info.
    Any update to this. I am going tomorrow to Kep just for the Crabs

      Maybe you can give us some updates. I tried Srey Pov recently and it was as good as usual. Have fun!

        sami says:

        Ok I went to the crab market first. the prices were starting from $8 per KG upto $12 per kg I am not sure of these prices were tourists prices or were also for locals.. the price changes depending on the type of crab, and I felt like all seller are having similar prices, so dont worry much which seller you are dealing with.
        The thing that confused me was which crabs to chose? Are the bigger one of better quality more premium ones? They were also blue crabs …also of different sizes…
        Ended up choosing the largest crab I have found in the market (black in color, but they turned to the usual reddish color we know the crabs of) . It was about 0.7 Kgs and costs about $8. with cooking.
        Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it, because the sauce was too sweet and overpowered any taste from the crab. I really wanted to like it, but I was disappointed, the price was not encouraging neither, you are in a place just next where they are fishing for all these, you would expect better prices.
        So I headed to Srey Pov restaurant, what a relief from the crowd and small spaces at the market,I got a nice sea view and a very quiet restaurant, but the same thing with the sauce, maybe it is a little less sweet than the one in the market, but still it was sweet and overpowering the crabs taste. I paid about the same price of what I paid in the market for a very similar quantity i think. in the restaurant they called the “Small meal” but I think it was quite similar the quantity of crabs I had in the crab market!
        I don’t think I will have the chance to come again to this part of the world, but if I do I will make sure to tell them no sugar or anything non pepper related is added. I am ok with lemon / salt ofcourse, but NO SUGAR!
        For now I am enjyoing the few days I still have in Cambodia, and I am spending them in the beautiful town of Kampong Cham! Thanks for this underrated town recommendation.

          I’m sorry that you didn’t like them! What type of sauce did you get? Did you try them with the pepper sauce? Everything in Cambodia is pretty sweet, but the pepper one isn’t.

            sami says:

            it was the pepper sauce, with these fresh green peppers, but could not feel the green pepper taste unless I chew them.
            the sauce was sweet (ok maybe not too sweet) and covering the crab taste.
            Maybe I would like them more with just a little lemon, salt, and green pepper.

    Cory says:

    Had the crab fried with green pepper sauce today at Kimly’s; pretty good but definitely masked the pepper a bit too much (I ended up just poppimg peppercorns into my mouth after a while), and the sauce was DROWNING in butter. Some might like that, but too rich for my taste.

      sami says:

      similar experience here. at the market and another restaurant next to yours.
      my SEA experience with sea food has always been disappointing, and always overpowered with some sauces.

    June says:

    Hi Lina, thanks for this great post! I’m in Kep now for 2 weeks and after reading your recommendations I went to So Kheang at lunchtime today to try the Kampot pepper crab. Delish, absolutely great, loved it! Thanks! June

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