Jul 29 2011

Vegetarian food in Siem Reap

Published by at 2:45 am under Food & drink

Unlike India, it’s not easy in Cambodia to find a sympathetic ear if you’re a vegetarian. Instead, you will be confronted with everything ranging from open disbelief, to dark mutterings that the barang is clearly mad, to acts of rebellion with secret sprinklings of shrimp or bacon bits. And sometimes the struggle is not even that overt. So much of Cambodian food is laced with prahok or fish sauce that it can seem like there’s no escaping it.

Fresh, tasty, and right next door to the Cambodian barbecue if you're considering a lapse...

One expat, who’s been a vegetarian since she was six, and has lived in countries all over Asia and Africa, only discovered since she came to Cambodia that she clearly has an allergy to shellfish. Everywhere she goes when she’s outside of the main urban centres in Cambodia, she repeats the same phrases: “Khnum nyam banlae(I eat vegetables), At nyam saich(I don’t eat meat), and At nyam trey(I don’t eat fish), and still her food is frequently sprinkled with little bits of something that once had eyes.

“It’s not on purpose,” she says. “It’s just that often, I think it may not be realised that the sachets of flavouring that come with the noodle packets can contain meat.” It is not impossible however, and she has frequently tucked into delicious plates of fried noodles with reams of healthy greens, onion and carrots.

Back in the urban centres, a vegetarian’s lot is altogether a better one. In Siem Reap, a number of restaurants are exclusively vegetarian, and some veggie-friendly ones whose dishes come highly recommended. Top of the list is Chamkar on The Passage. According to our veggie expat, the food here is “bloody scrumptious”, and she recommends in particular the pumpkin curry. The restaurant is quite small and discreet compared to the bustling on the rest of The Passage, and also sells organic wines, and a green tea latte.

At the top of The Passage and to the left, facing Blue Pumpkin, there is Little India. This north and south Indian cuisine restaurant has been quietly doing its thing for 12 years now, one of the longest running restaurants in Siem Reap. Five years ago they expanded, taking over two shopfronts, and acquired in the process a second kitchen. The owner took the opportunity to devote one kitchen entirely to vegetarian food so that it could meet the exacting standards of even the strictest vegetarians.

The Singing Tree is another hit with those who would rather wear nothing than Lady Gaga’s notorious Argentinean meat dress. This is a bright and colourful streetside café that is also vegan friendly, as with the two establishments above. Salads, burgers, quiches, sandwiches and grills are complemented by a good range of juices and shakes. There is now space upstairs and off the street, for those who like it a little quieter.

Not necessarily vegetarian restaurants, a number of other places still come highly recommended for either having a broad availability of vegetarian food, or only a few, but really-really good, dishes. Among these are Cuisine Wat Damnak, although you have to call ahead as the weekly changing set menu tends to have a strong fish focus. You will be richly rewarded if you do, and although our vegetarian couldn’t necessarily describe what she ate as she didn’t recognize all of the vegetables in the five different taster dishes that the chef prepared, the verdict was that it was absolutely amazing.

Tigre de Papier also has some impressive veggie dishes, including pizzas, salads and vegetarian bakes, and Il Forno rated a special mention thanks to its Parmigiana Melanzane, an aubergine bake. Their pizzas are also delicious.

The Passage, Pub Street Area
T: (092) 733 150

Little India
2 Thnou Street, Old Market Area
T: (012) 652 398

Singing Tree
Alley West, Old Market Area

Cuisine Wat Damnak
Behind Wat Damnak Pagoda, between Psa Dey Hoy Market and Angkor High School
T:  (077) 347 762

Tigre de Papier
Pub Street

Il Forno
The Lane (off Pub Street)
T: (092) 238 914

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11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Vegetarian food in Siem Reap”

  1. Kristinaon 29 Jul 2011 at 4:17 am

    I ate at Chamkar last year and it was excellent. I don’t eat vegetarian all the time, but this was one of those meals where meat was not missed. They have really great smoothies too. I’ll have to try Little India next year. There’s also an excellent Burmese place on Wat Bo Road with a lot of vegetarian options.

  2. Nikkion 30 Jul 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Unfortunately, the Burmese restaurant has now closed.

    But I’m sad to hear of no mention of VitKing House Restaurant on the Angkor High School Road just next to the Southeast Asian University. It’s a Chinese vegetarian restaurant that is very popular with the university students. They use a lot of straw mushrooms in place of meat. The mushroom shiskabob skewers are out of sight. However, it’s not vegan. If you eat there often enough you can get a VIP card that entitles you to a 10% discount for a year.

    Another worthy mention of vegetarian food is the Ivy 2 Guesthouse. In addition to having vegetarian dishes on its main menu, it also has an exclusive vegetarian menu. I don’t think I’ve seen haloumi cheese offered anywhere else in Siem Reap. And their Ivy Mashed Potatoes are out of sight!

  3. selladuraion 15 Aug 2011 at 9:57 am

    good one

  4. Vanjaon 02 Nov 2011 at 9:11 am

    My favorite veggie place in Siem Reap is Peace Cafe (it’s located on St. 26, near the river). I love their salads, pasta and they have good choice of excellent drinks (juices, smoothies). I enjoyed afternoons and evenings in their lovely garden, although mosquitoes were annoying sometimes.
    I’ve tried one of Indian restaurants (can’t remember whether it was Chamkar or Little India), but didn’t really like the food there.
    I do regret, that I didn’t try Ivy 2 Guesthouse. Well, hopefully I will visit Cambodia and Siem Reap again :)

  5. Wozzeron 16 Dec 2011 at 5:26 am

    Next time you’re doing the rounds – have a look into Ivy 2 Guest House – It has a complete (and very creative) vegetarian menu.

    I think in days gone by, the Ivy was one of the first Western-owned restaurants in Siem Reap and was dedicated to Vegetarian dishes.

    They now have two completely separate cuisines – veggie and good ‘ol meat dishes!

  6. Carolineon 11 Jun 2012 at 4:26 am

    Mama restaurant just up the road from Common Grounds cafe has an outstanding no holds barred on the cheese $6 eggplant parmegiana which is not breaded which is great for me as I have a gluten allergy, making Vitking my nightmare. They also have a porciccini mushroom risotto and a safffron risotto w dead cheap wine. This place is set up like a deli but the food quality makes it well worth the find and its excellent value. The creme caramel is the best I’ve ever had and it was a steal at $2. They have homemade yogurt here in glass jars. Obviously not vegan. Also veggies beware, knor powdered chicken stock and MSG reign supreme in Cambodia. Its in everything and I mean everything. If u do get them to understand u (ot kenor, ot veejay), yes a mix of looks of confusion, crimes again nature, and great amusement will follow, just be sure to tell them not to replace it w a cup of salt and your “no flavour” food will arrive. Also in my despair over Irrawadi (the Burmese resto) closing, I will try the Burmese food at the Mandalay Inn near old market.

  7. […] all-in it would be churlish to quibble. One word of warning: the set menu does not really cater for vegetarians, and although the a la carte menu has a slightly better selection of meat-free options, non-meat […]

  8. […] the flavours of all the ingredients you are eating. Fish and seafood are important ingredients, and vegetarian dishes also feature […]

  9. […] of chicken, pork, beef, fish, shrimp, vegetables or tofu making it a good place for picky eaters, vegetarians and carnivores to eat side by side. The only caveat for vegetarians is that there’s a strong […]

  10. […] well as offering some of Siem Reap’s tastiest vegetarian fare — such as sushi, burgers and vegetarian takes on various Khmer classics — Peace Cafe […]

  11. Gunaavatara dasaon 15 Jul 2013 at 3:48 am

    Dear Mr. and Mrs.

    we welcome all of you to visit our Hare Krishna vegetarian, at C3 Borey Premprey Siem Riep.

    a vegetarian food being cook by vegetarian people,
    good for your body, mind and soul

    contact number; Kumudaksa dasa (0972801649)

    Thank you

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