NGOs and charities are part of the Siem Reap landscape, and they perform heaps of invaluable work here. A number of these NGOs run training restaurants in town, creating employment opportunities and empowering locals with training. Needless to say, they also turn out some great meals! These are some of our favourite training restaurants in Siem Reap.
One of Siem Reap’s most famous training restaurants, Marum is run by local NGO Kaliyan Mith, itself part of Friends International. And, quite aptly, the name means ‘tree of life’. There are training students working here as both cooks and waiters, supported by instructors clearly marked out by their t-shirts.
It’s a popular spot, especially in high season, and the pleasant outdoor terrace is complemented by a dining room done out in bright colours – there’s even an on-site shop with souvenirs to take away with you.
As for food, the regularly updated menu boasts a fairly extensive selection of local-inspired and fusion-style dishes, with a particular focus on small plates intended for sharing. We love the prahok k’tis – a dip of minced pork and prawns, made with coconut milk and the Cambodian speciality of fermented fish – that’s served with fresh crudités; also try the stir-fry of red tree ants and beef.
Marum has sister restaurants, all operated under the charitable TREE brand, in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, as well as in Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Ethiopia.
Daily, 11am-10.30pm; B Phum Slokram (between Wat Polanka and the Catholic Church); 017 363 284; www.tree-aliance.org
Haven is a small and intimate training restaurant with popular local and western dishes that mean the place is often fully booked. The restaurant supports an annual intake of local youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds, empowering them with a pragmatic education and work skills, as well accommodation and financial assistance.
Khmer-inspired dishes include lok lak and amok, alongside regional plates like tom yum soup, banana flower salad, and satay. The menu also features European specialities such as schnitzel, and western staples like burgers and sandwiches. The restaurant has recently relocated from central Sok San Road, and is now set in the Wat Damnak neighbourhood.
Monday-Saturday, 11.30am-3pm and 5.30-10pm; Chocolate Road (west of Angkor High School); 078 342 404; www.havencambodia.com
Not strictly a training restaurant, but nonetheless a not-for-profit, NGO-operated enterprise that’s focussed on doing good in education in particular, New Leaf is a relaxed and pleasant café-restaurant with a sideline as a hub for book sales and trades.
This is as good a place to pop in for a coffee or a fruit shake as it is for lunch or dinner – but if you’re here for food, it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed either. New Leaf’s breakfast menu ranges from blueberry pancakes to Khmer pork rice and noodle soup, and local dishes worth trying on the all-day menu include the traditional vs. modern ‘fish amok two ways’, beef lok lak, green mango salad, and Khmer curry. For something familiar and comforting, meanwhile, there’s the steak sandwich, beef burger, or fish and chips.
Daily, 8am-9.30pm; Street 9 (near the Old Market); 063 766 016; www.newleafeatery.com
In operation since 2002, Sala Bai is a long-standing restaurant and hotel combo that does an impressive job of equipping more than 100 students a year with a fully fledged vocational education in hospitality. French NGO Agir pour le Camodge (Act for Cambodia), which runs Sala Bai, also takes commendable care of its graduates once they’ve finished their programme, helping them to find ongoing employment and put all that they’ve learned into practice.
But that would all be for nothing if the food wasn’t worth coming for. Thankfully, it is – this riverside restaurant serves beautifully plated dishes from regularly rotated a la carte or set Asian and western menus. While lunch service is on weekdays only, Sala Bai also opens for breakfast every day of the week, and there’s a small training hotel and spa on site.
Monday-Friday, 7-9am and 12-2pm; Saturday and Sunday, 7.30-9.30am; Wat Svay-Tonle Sap Road; 063 963329; www.salabai.com
Footprints Cafe is the new kid on the block of the social restaurant world. A groovy little cafe and book shop that opened just last year, it’s a quaint spot that attracts lots of expats and locals along with the tourists. The team consists of some of Siem Reap’s most successful social entrepreneurs and seems set to grow quickly with plans to open outlets in many locations. There’s a lovely optimism to the atmosphere in Footprints, and the decor is fresh with strong Cambodian influences.
The kitchen team cooks up fantastic fare and the coffee – made using Feel Good coffee beans – tastes pretty great too! All net profits go back into their community initiatives, and they have a mission to harness the financial power of tourism for the benefit of communities.
Every day 6:30am-10pm except Tuesday 9am-5pm; http://footprintcafes.org/
Where to stay in Siem Reap
Looking for a Siem Reap hotel from which to explore the best of Siem Reap’s restaurants, while also being within easy reach of the famous Angkor Wat temples? Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel is waiting for you – click here to take a look at our relaxing rooms, all with free breakfast and use of our gorgeous swimming pool.
Which of these training restaurants have you visited? Do you have another favourite that we’ve forgotten? Let us know in the comments!
Sala Bai photo by Sala Bai; all other photos by Chris Wotton.