Cambodia Part 2: Eating Ethically

On quiet days in the office, my favourite thing to do is travel planning. Even travel planning for fantasy holidays that never end up happening. Some may see this as “bludging” or “faffing about” but I see it as an important motivational activity – its widely recognised that planning your next holiday (fake or real) as one of the best ways to fight off the office blues

So leading up to Cambodia, I spent a lot of time on TripAdvisor. And CNNGo. And Conde Naste. And Guardian Travel. But despite my extensive research, it became very clear very quickly that there really isn’t much to do in Phnom Penh. Except EAT that is! 

The food scene in Phnom Penh isn’t exactly Paris, but there are quite a few nice restaurants (mostly run by foreigners) and I was really really excited about the idea of eating large quantities of delicious food at a fraction of the price I’m used to paying for eating out. 

My top two choices (thanks, TripAdvisor) and the only two restaurants on my list that we ended up going to were Romdeng and Friends. Both are run by the same NGO. It didn’t hit me that choosing two restaurants run by the same organisation in the precious little time we had in Phnom Penh was a strange decision until… 

At Romdeng

Matt: So why did you pick this place? 
Heather: It’s run by an NGO that provides vocational training to street kids – who staff the restaurant. And it got really good reviews on TripAdvisor
Matt: Cool. 

At Friends

Matt: So why did you pick this place? 
Heather: It got really good reviews on Trip Advisor. Also, it’s run by an NGO that provides vocational training to street kids. 
Matt: *laughs* You mean, the same people who own Romdeng? 
Heather: …. yup. 
Matt: Wow – of all the places we could have eaten dinner! Are you on a mission to single-handedly fund this organisation? 
Heather: *defensive* Look, if we’re going to spend money on food – we may as well know that its going to a good cause! 

And it is a good cause. Friends is one of many organisations in Cambodia that is dedicated to training, supporting and providing work for at-risk youth. Other examples are Bloom Cafe, staffed by women who have survived trafficking and Seeing Hands, a massage centre operated by blind masseurs. With tourism being one of the biggest and fastest growing industries in Cambodia, these organisations are doing a wonderful job at giving opportunities to young people who would otherwise be limited to the very few choices that poverty and marginalisation offer. The best thing is that these projects are designed to become self-sustaining.  

No, actually, the best thing is the DELICIOUS DELICIOUS FOOD! 

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Walking into Romdeng, the first thought I have is “Uh-oh, this is going to be expensive”. The pretty courtyard dining area was a bit “too nice” and the place was packed with western tourists. Fortunately, “expensive” in Cambodia is less than $10pp, and sure, we could have fed an entire village with the $50 we spend on lunch for 6, but can’t say it wasn’t worth it. 

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Crispy rice noodle salad with sweet potato spring rolls 

ImageBraised duck and Chinese vegetables 

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Fried chicken with pepper and lime sauce 

After a week-long diet of bread rolls, instant noodles, and poorly made home-cooked stir fries and pastas – our taste buds didn’t really know how to handle this beautifully prepared meal. But we demolished everything and the only negative thing I could say about our lunch was that our big Korean bellies were left a little unsatisfied by the Cambodian portion sizes. 

Matt and I visited Friends a few days later, which has a dubious “Tapas Menu”. Since the dishes at Romdeng where a bit fusion-y, I tried to identify the most Cambodian items on offer.  And by that, I mean I chose whatever had “Cambodian” or “Khmer” in its name. 

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Cambodian Chicken Curry 

This I think is the deluxe version of what I ate at the village. SO GOOD!! 

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Grilled Mekong Fish Fillet with Khmer Style Salsa Verde 

YEP this tasted as good as it looks. One of the best things we ate! 

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And because my boy loves mango… Stir fry chicken with mango and cashew nuts 

The “tapas” size dishes are actually a great a idea because you can have a variety of different dishes and at $3.50 each, you could order the entire menu if you wanted. Apart from the horrific Passionfruit and Watermelon Freeze that just taste like sour, sour ice, Friends was a really lovely dinner. 

So if you’re ever in Phnom Penh, I can’t recommend Romdeng and Friends highly enough.  With such great food to commend it – you’ll be supporting a wonderful cause without even realising. 

Friends the Restaurant
#215 Street 13, Phnom Penh

Romdeng
#74 Street 174, Phnom Penh

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