There are a few places in Cambodia where you can eat healthy and nutritious vegan food, however such places seem reserved to tourists rather than aiming at the local population. Somehow, I got the feeling that such places are more of a trend rather than a profound ethical belief, especially those places which sell alcohol; and I don’t mean just beer, they have the most liver-killer cocktails you could possibly imagine. Interestingly, in Cambodia alcohol is cheaper than food and drinking water. A coincidence?
One of the waiters at a very famous local vegetarian cafe which sells all types of alcoholic drinks, made a funny face when I asked her if I could have some garlic in my food. She pointed out that they are Buddhist and they do not use any garlic nor onion in their food. I was left speechless, I actually couldn’t say anything else because she was just one of the staff working there and her knowledge of English was limited but in my mind I felt outraged. What? You are telling me you are following Buddhist guidelines and you sell alcohol? Is garlic more harmful than a substance which is deleterious for your mind, body and soul? Well, garlic is a medicine and a local Cambodian young man told me that it keeps the ghosts away. In Europe, it is traditionally believed that garlic keeps vampires at a distance! I’m not superstitious but don’t touch my garlic!
I must admit though, their food is delicious but as a nomadic person, I definitely cannot afford to have fancy looking food presented in a nouvelle cuisine style. What I mean is, their portions are too small for me. For backpackers, nomads and the like, such places are only good for a treat once in a while because they also appear to be overpriced for the type of food they are selling. It has to be taken into consideration that most of these places are for tourists only so, as I said earlier, they are not real restaurants but restaurants for tourists. For the sake of honesty, I have to say also that these places claim to be giving part of their profits to the local community to promote fair trade. Yet, their prices are overpriced compared to most other places in Asia.
Before getting to Siem Reap, I crossed a very anonymous border in the North and shared a cab all the way down to the city. Most people in Cambodia are farmers and depend on the land for their living with the exception of the few cities where you can see booming businesses for both the locals and the numerous foreigners living here.
To be honest, I feel more comfortable eating in a place where the local people go and not in a fancy restaurant, especially when you become aware that you are doing something rather “elitist” for the local population.
There are many people in Cambodia who have lost their limbs because they stood on a mine. A mistake that can change your life forever. So many people are in a vulnerable situation, I wanted to do some volunteer work while here and I met an experienced volunteer who told me to watch out for scams. Apparently, it has become a business in Cambodia to take tourists or travellers to orphanages where the children are not real orphans, they are just there to touch the heart of the visitors so that they can get donations. Someone not so keen on orphans is obviously behind this type of business. I felt very disgusted by it, it was the same when in Nepal some people were organizing earthquake trips to help the victims but it was actually another scam to spill money out of good hearted tourists. If you want to know more about volunteering in developing countries, please visit this site: Volunteering in Cambodia and elsewhere.
Cambodia is one of the most beautiful places I have seen so far in Asia. The landscape is really breathtaking and the local people are warm hearted, friendly, honest and very generous. This has been my experience so far in budget hotels, local markets, little shops and the places where the local people go.
If you need a guide to eating in Cambodia, I suggest you to read what some of the gurus of veganism have written: Paul and Caryl. This is their website:
At the moment, I’m eating at a few places which offer good and natural food (in Cambodia most food is natural because there are farms everywhere) where I just explain what I can and I cannot eat and they cook it for me. Yes, it’s that easy. A very friendly and helpful Cambodian woman wrote in the local language the type of food that I can have so that, when I happen to go to places where people don’t understand English, I just show my magic piece of paper and everybody knows exactly what I want. If you crave peanut butter and jam as I did, you can find delicious, locally made products with no chemicals added. And the bread? Well, there is a fantastic French bakery in Wat Bo Road where they make real baguettes without using any milk powder or any other nasty chemical stuff, just: wheat flour (white), salt, water and yeast. Brown bread and brown rice are only available in fancy places. However, if you can cook, you can find all sorts of goodies at the market including black and organic rice.
Life is an adventure, explore the unknown and give your best to all!
I’ll be writing more articles about this beautiful country so stay tuned.