Traveling from north to south Cambodia, Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, we had a taste not only of Cambodian life but also their cuisine. As an added bonus we even got to experience some other elements of Cambodia that certainly were not on the to do list, such as the Intensive Care Unit of a clinic in Phnom Penh (there are cats) and many a police station in Sihanoukville (watch out for those motorbike Cowboys, they’ll snatch your handbag and bring you with them if necessary!).
Despite the crime, corruption and poor health system, Cambodia is miles ahead of developed countries with their restaurants and cafes that have more on the menu than something to fill your belly. They’ve got social justice and societal responsibility in every meal and aren’t afraid to let you know. In fact, these social restaurants are majorly differentiated by their change making business models. Here are 3 of my favorite social eateries that I was lucky enough to visit during my time traveling through Cambodia:
Daughters is a hugely successful NGO in Cambodia that began in 2007 when women and young girls were rescued from the sex trafficking industry in the red light district of Phnom Penh. The women were rehabilitated through art, music, counseling and educational classes to help them have a second chance in life and in joining society as determined, newly skilled and educated citizens. Daughters of Cambodia is not only a café and restaurant, training and employing the local women, but also a boutique with handmade Fairtrade products as well as a beauty salon.
I spent a few hours here, speaking to the women and asking them how long they had been with Daughters, if they were happy, with many only having recently arrived, but everyone with a smile on their face. The beauty of this NGO is that the women are trained so well within their chosen path, that they later find jobs working in nice restaurants, hotels, bigger beauty salons and clothing factories, earning higher wages to care for themselves and often their children. The NGO is sustainable and profitable, and their services are spot on. I had a delicious lunch and smoothie and received amazing customer service across all three of their projects. Next time I’m in Phnom Penh I’ll definitely be returning here!
Much like daughters of Cambodia, Banteay Srey is a project with the aim of rehabilitating women through offering them a kinder path in life. Perched on the banks of the Kampot river, deep into the jungle, this project has a vegetarian restaurant, juice bar, yoga classes and massage parlor. You can also get henna tattoos done!
Myself and Grainne had an amazing day here which began with an hour and a half of intense yoga. This would probably have been more relaxing if I had ever done even 5 minutes of yoga before in my life but I made it to the end anyways. We then had interesting massages that began with a technique called brushing, followed by a peaceful lunch right on the river. The menu is very creative so even non-vegetarians will be satisfied with the choice. As for the juices, perfection! I could easily stay a few weeks here. Banteay Srey is strictly for the ladies. Sorry boys, no yoga for you.
We discovered this restaurant on TripAdvisor and were pleasantly surprised by the beautiful building and decor. I don’t think I’ve ever dined somewhere with such attentive staff as Sandam, with the restaurant functioning under a student and teacher system. The restaurant helps to provide training and education to street children. An unfortunate reality in Cambodia is that many parents cannot provide for their children, forcing them to work throughout the day, causing them to miss out on school and getting an education, limiting their future prospects. Often, children don’t even have a parent in their lives and will sell postcards and other trinkets during the day and sleep on the streets at night. This is how the restaurant began, as the founders came across a group of young children sleeping on the beach at night. Sandan not only works with the children, but also their parents when possible, providing them with fairly paid jobs, mainly in creating clothes and other home wear items that can all be purchased at the restaurant. I had a delicious pumpkin curry here, wrapped up in banana leaf. Sandan specializes in traditional Cambodian dishes.