Siem Reap is a modern, developed city, catering to the thousands of tourists that come to witness the wonders of the Angkor temples. However, the province is one of the poorest in Cambodia.
Don’t be lead into thinking that there is little you can do to directly impact the lives of the locals in a positive way. By dining at one of the many charitable restaurants operating in Siem Reap, you will be supporting their free education and vocational training programmes, which aim to help alleviate poverty.
Only a 10 minute tuk-tuk ride away from town is Le Jardin des Délices, a training restaurant located at the renowned École d’Hôtellerie et de Tourisme Paul Dubrule, which offers vocational hospitality training to around 300 Cambodians each year. Enjoy Asian and Western set menus prepared and served by culinary students and their teachers. Dine alfresco overlooking their luscious tropical garden.
On the outskirts of Siem Reap is Sala Bai Hotel & Restaurant School created by the French NGO “Agir Pour Le Cambodge” in October 2002. Each year the school trains – free of charge – more than 100 young disadvantaged Cambodians. with a priority given to girls (70%). They help to give underprivileged locals a leg up in the hospitality industry via free professional training. There are various à la carte options as well as Asian and Western set menus, which change every two weeks and cost from just $12 for starter, main and dessert.
Haven has also been training disadvantaged young adults valuable work skills at their restaurant, which moved to a tranquil garden location in the Wat Damnak area just over a year ago. Popular Cambodian, Asian and Western dishes, and some yummy fusions, feature on the carefully constructed menu, including the chef’s signature fish fillet with green mango, and the top-rated Khmer curry and Haven pumpkin burger.
Spoons in the Wat Damnak area is a training café for students of local nonprofit Everything’s Gonna Be OK (EGBOK), which provides culinary skills and job placement in the hospitality industry for young Cambodians. Dig in to an assortment of Cambodian cuisine classics, from street food items such as “num krok” (crispy coconut cream and spring onion dumplings) to home-style dishes like whole mackerel served grilled and deboned alongside coconut tamarind rice.
A few blocks north on Street 25 is Butterflies Garden Restaurant, which is run inside of a beautiful traditional wooden house. Scrumptious Asian and Western food is on offer starting at just $1.50 from chefs trained at the Shinta Mani and Sala Bai training schools, with 20% of profits going to the staff and 10% donated to local charities. Inside the restaurant you’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful butterflies and the exotic garden, with a children’s play area.
Heading into the town centre, you’ll find Common Grounds Café, a social enterprise that provides on-the-job training to men and women from impoverished areas. 100% of the café’s profits go towards funding development programs of its parent non-profit organisation People For Care & Learning. Tuck into a wholesome western fare such as a breakfast sandwich with bacon or a cheesy steak sandwich, or enjoy the local favourite, beef loc lac and rice. You’ll also be rewarded with a free soft drink for food purchases over $4.
New Leaf Eatery, on Olive Street opposite the Angkor Trade Centre, has been serving a fine mix of Cambodian and international cuisine since 2013, with 80% of the profits donated to local educational projects and charities, and 20% given to its Cambodian employees. Popular plates include smoked chili cashew chicken, fish amok and pork schnitzel with sweet potato mash.
For the sweet-toothed amongst you, there are two establishments serving up all manner of delectable desserts whilst offering free training, education and support to local women.
Bayon Pastry School along Taphul Street includes a coffee shop, where you pick up sweet treats such as lime meringue pie, mango mousse, banana, chocolate or financier cake, and viennoiseries like croissants and raisin rolls. Bloom Café, opposite the Provincial Eye Hospital, has a wide selection of gourmet cupcakes, cake pops, parfaits and cookies, with custom cakes available for special events. And their chocolate salted caramel cupcake and New York cheesecake can simply be described as “to die for”.