Vegan restaurants for tourists
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 and their prices ridiculously expensive: I know the price of the raw material from the market. For backpackers, nomads and the like, such places are only good for a treat once in a while. 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 some of these places claim to be giving part of their profits to the local community to promote fair trade. Yet, their prices are too overpriced compared to most other places in Asia.
My experience in a little restaurant in Pub street was very negative; I was served canned mushrooms in a country where they have the most delicious mushrooms possible! If you are into good and nutritious food stay away from pub street and the various pizzerias where the ingredients are very likely to be preserved rather than fresh. To stay healthy, eat the local cuisine: it’s delicious and affordable!
Buy local fresh and affordable food
If you want cheap and healthy food, go to the little restaurants by the market where you are sure that your food is very fresh and explain that you can’t eat any fish, meat, eggs or fish sauce. They will cook it for you at a very reasonable price. The cheapest solution is to buy the food already cooked and placed in big pots (they have different people in the morning and afternoon). Now, there are a few fresh markets in Siem Reap, obviously the most expensive is the one close to Pub Street. If you feel ready for an adventure, rent a bicycle and explore the fresh markets: you’ll find a lot of goodies including freshly made coconut milk (I drink it straight without cooking it and I’m still alive and kicking -that is if you’ve been in Asia for a while and you immune system is strong enough).
Fresh markets vs supermarkets
Because of the rising requests, nowadays you can find fresh vegetables even inside the few supermarkets and mini market in the city. The difference is that when you go to the fresh market you can bring your own bag and AVOID USING PLASTIC. While in supermarkets everything has been wrapped up in plastic and polyester trays so you are contributing to polluting the very fragile environment which has reached an almost unmanageable level (See my article Cambodian Angels).
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.
Volunteering in Cambodia
There are many people in Cambodia who have lost their limbs because they stood on a mine: a fate 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 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.
Respect the local customs and people
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:
Bread and Organic Brown Rice
You can find baguettes at almost any market just like in Laos but the quality of the wheat is dubious; as you know cheap white wheat flour contains bleach and other chemicals. The same goes for the shops and restaurants, check the type of bread before getting anything. The safest is brown bread which you occasionally find at outrageous prices. 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 brown rice and even white rice where no chemicals and fertilizers have been used (at the central market near Pub Street). If you want to make your own bread, you will have to hunt for organic wheat which in Siem Reap is almost impossible to find but they are flooded with cheap and highly chemical flours (that’s why you should watch out when you buy bread here). Eventually, you can order the flour through one of the few supermarkets but expect to pay a rather expensive price!
Cycling to Angkor Wat
No money? No problem? The route from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat is really nice and if you want to make the best out of your visit to the temples, just rent a bike for the day.
Read about my own experience here Cycling to Angkor Wat.
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