Best Vegan Food in Cambodia – a recipe from the chef!

Finding good vegan food while traveling in developing countries appears to be a bit easier than ever before! With growing interest in veganism, more restaurants are advertising vegan options to attract travelers. Although meat is often used sparingly in many Southeast Asian cuisine and vegetable dishes are abundant, there’s no guarantee that you can find vegan suitable meals when you step into a Cambodian restaurant. If you are a pure vegan, don’t forget fish sauce and shrimp paste are wildly used in many vegetable dishes in Southeast Asia.

During my last 3 days in Cambodia, I ate in 3 very different styles of vegan restaurants that were all fantastic. The first and most notable one was Chamkar Vegetarian Restaurant in Siem Reap. The food, the setting and the hospitality were all fabulous. Since this is not a TripAdvisor review, I will only focus on the great food that I discovered. Once I learned that  the owner/chef, Nicolas, is French it became clear that French cooking techniques were infused into his dishes. The attention to detail that I love in French cuisine was on full display with the presentation of food as well. They claimed to use locally sourced fresh ingredients such as fresh coconut and I could truly taste the difference. The authenticity of the Khmer cooking with a French twist would be my best description of the food at Chamkar.  We had several dishes: Ratana’s spring rolls, Wedding day dip, Mad Eggplant Lovers (Grilled eggplant and loofah in coconut milk sauce and holy basil), Rediscovering Tofu (Stuffed tofu), and Chocolate cake with ice cream, drizzled with dark chocolate sauce. It’s impossible to pick one favorite dish but the one I would cook at home is the classic Cambodia dish, Mad Eggplant Lovers, which is so fitting for my daughter and me. Nicolas was kind enough to share his recipe (see below) with me when I asked so I hope you will enjoy it too. 

The second restaurant was Masala Dosa Street Kitchen, in Phnom Penh, serving a variety of nutritious dosa. Mmm….Indian street food in Cambodia, how odd, right? Surprisingly, this was a hit! The menu offers many international fusion flavors, such as Szechuan Dosa and Tom Yum Dosa. I chose to try the Eryngii mushroom & coconut cream dosa and it did not disappoint. Dosas are made with lentils & rice, naturally fermented, so no starch, no gluten, high protein and low fat. According to the owner, with roots in India, his mission is to create the healthiest food possible based on Ayurvedic principles. I highly recommend trying this restaurant for an extremely heathy and inexpensive meal.

Eryngii mushroom & coconut cream dosa

The third restaurant was Vibe Cafe, serving high caliber vegan food that you might find in California. It is definitely not a cultural experience but a welcome treat if you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time. For a brief moment, I forgot I was in Phnom Penh until I looked out the widow and saw the poverty on the back streets of the cafe. The food and drinks are all freshly crafted creatively and super yummy but be prepared to open your wallet just a tiny bit wilder. I had the Nourish Sandwich there because I was really missing some wholemeal bread after eating white rice and rice noodles daily for the past couple weeks. The sandwich had a beetroot hummus spread, filled with roasted pumpkin and almond feta, which created a tasty combination of flavors that made me wonder why anyone would need meat or cheese in their sandwich. If you want to try some of the recipes, you can find Vibe Cafe’s cookbook on Amazon.com.

Nourish Sandwich

I was truly inspired by the food I had in these 3 restaurants and can’t wait to expand my vegan cooking repertoire when I get home in a couple weeks.

Grilled Eggplant and loofah in coconut milk sauce and holy Basil

Ingredients for 1 serving

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1/8 Onion

1 tsp Chili paste

1 tsp Palm sugar 1

Salt to taste

1/2 Tbsp Soy sauce

100 ml Coconut milk

1 Eggplant

50 g Loofah (may substitute with zucchini)

1 handful Bean sprout

1 handful Holy Basil leaf

1 handful Long parsley

1 Tbsp Fried Shallot

1 Tbsp Toasted Coconut

Instructions

STEP 1

First toast the dried coconut in a pan on low heat. Stir it constantly in order to prevent burning. Stop fire when the color is getting golden brown.

STEP2

Put the eggplant on the grill ( BBQ or gas) for 5 min turn over after 2 min. Remove from fire when the skin is slightly burned. Cool down for a while.

Meanwhile prepare the other vegetables. Chop onion finely. Peel the loofah and cut in slice.

STEP 3

Heat vegetable oil in a pan then fry onion for 1 min. Add loofah, chilli paste, palm sugar and stir again, then add coconut milk and salt. Peel the eggplant and cut into bite size then add eggplant, bean sprout and stir 30 seconds (add little water if too thick). At the end, stir in Holy basil for few second 

Remove the pan from the heat, transfer to a plate and serve immediately topped with deep fried shallot, shredded long parsley and toasted coconut.


A Wellness Itinerary in Bangkok

Is it possible to achieve wellness in this polluted city with constant traffic congestion? I am up for the challenge! Wellness can be found in many places and the key is to plan your activities around the city’s cultural attractions. I set out for my day of wellness focusing on the highlights of the city so I can see the sights and experience the culture at the same time.

Bangkok is known for its street food! There’s a huge selection for cheap, some healthy and some not so much. Around the corner from my hotel, there were fruit carts and BBQ meat stands. Nothing is more refreshing than the delicious locally grown mango, all peeled and sliced for only 70 baht (approximately $2.30US). I grabbed a box of mango and walked a few steps to this adorable little dumpling shop, Feng Zhu Pork Shop & Co., run by mom, pop, bro and sis. This savory breakfast is nutrient-dense, high in protein, low is simple carb and sugar which is far better for your blood sugar than breakfast cereal, toast, or pastries. Ten little bite-size treats were only 160 Baht (approximately $5.30US). This beats the continental breakfast for $17US at my hotel in more ways than just my pocket book.

Dumplings from Feng Zhu Pork Shop & Co.

After I filled my tummy, it was time to head out for some exercise. Bangkok streets are far from walkable. Sidewalks, if any, are packed with street vendors and often have little puddles of filthy water that you may accidentally step into if not careful. A better way to travel is on the Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok, dividing the city into the east and west banks. The east banks are where some of the world’s most beguiling temples are located. There are 34 piers that ply this 21 km route. Once you figure out which pier to catch your boat, it’s easy to hop on a boat that will take you close to your destination. For a fare of 15 baht (approximately $0.50US), you can enjoy the view of the city and all the local life along the river banks rather than sit in traffic when you travel by car.

There are more than 400 temples in Bangkok so visiting one is a must. The grounds of the Thai temples and palaces are usually enormous so better be prepared to do some serious walking. I took a boat from pier 3 to pier 8 which brought me right to the entry gate of Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), located on the west bank. Given the beauty of the architecture and the fine craftsmanship, it’s not surprising that Wat Arun is considered by many as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. The 70 meters high prang (spire) by the Chao Phraya is one of Bangkok’s world-famous landmarks. It is beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain placed delicately into intricate patterns. Climbing the very steep stairs on the central prang is a sure way to increase your heart rate. At the highest point you can see the winding Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace and Wat Pho on the opposite east bank.

Wat Arun

After getting in 5,000 steps walking the grounds of Wat Arun, it was time to get some lunch before clocking the remaining 5,000, towards my wellness goal of 10,000+ steps a day. Besides, it was time to get out of this 92 degree temperature before I got dehydrated. To find a cooler spot, I rode the boat back down the river to ICONSIAM, an ultimate shopping destination on bank of Chao Phraya River. As expected by the flashy exterior, this vast complex is filled with high end designer shops. But what sets ICONSIAM apart from the other shopping centers is an area called SookSiam which brings the best of Thailand’s provinces into one “village”. There is no better place to try Thai street food than in this clean, air-conditioned mall. The authenticity of the experience was impressive, not only in the food but in the decor as well. I grabbed a bowl of Thai curry for 80 baht (approximately $2.65 US) and ate it squatting down at the miniature table and chair. With 5,650,000 sq ft of shopping space, I decided this is a great place to get in my remaining steps.

After unbelievable sensory overload, it was time to wind down with a traditional Thai massage. Rather than visiting the spa in the hotel, I opted for one of the many local massage spas. Magic Hands Massage is the nicest of the 6 massage spas on Si Phraya Road. The setup of these spas are all very similar – a row of very comfy reclining chairs for foot massages and massage mats for body massages. For 300 baht (approx. $10US), I had one of the best and most rigorous massages in my life. My body hasn’t felt so loose and limber in months.

It was a fun day, packed with sightseeing and good eats. All that’s left to complete a day of wellness is a good night sleep!