Fill up and help out
If you are what you eat, then it’s hard to beat the opportunity to tuck into delicious, healthy food at the same time as supporting a worthwhile cause. Perhaps the way to Cambodia’s heart is through your stomach. Siem Reap has at least four NGO cafés and restaurants, though there’s bound to be more tucked away, and more on the way to the busy overall scene as well.
The idea works because it fosters enterprise and helps to erode the NGO-generated culture of dependence that has long threatened to crush Cambodia. The restaurants and the associated NGOs below are all completely different, although the main criterion we used was that the NGOs are wholly above board, and doing really serious work on behalf of their beneficiaries. For some reason, NGOs can get sloppy when dealing with the public. We looked for care being taken with health and safety.
On Ta Pruhl Road, the best, and oldest, is Sala Baï, a hospitality training school for disadvantaged children from the villages around Siem Reap. Training about 100 students a year in different aspects of front of house, waiting tables, cooking and housekeeping, Sala Baï has a proud record of finding work for every single one of its 700 graduates, who soon out-earn their peers. They are rightly proud too of the smart, open-fronted training restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day during the students’ term times. The food is thoughtfully prepared, beautifully presented and in the several times we’ve visited, always delicious. There is a regularly changing Khmer or Western set menu to choose from, usually at about $8 for three courses, or à la carte. There is also a small training hotel, with six rooms, upstairs from the restaurant. Wine and beer are available. All profits go towards the children’s training.
If you’re American, stepping into Common Grounds will be like stepping into a teleporter. Gone with the heat and the dust, in with the AC, free WiFi, newspapers, glass cabinets filled with cakes and pastries, and lots and lots of coffee. This all-day café also serves food-food, though mostly people come for the coffee and cakes. This outlet supports the US-registered NGO People for Care & Learning, which has a number of projects within Cambodia.
Beside Old Market, Joe To Go started off being all about the coffee, hence the name, but also has a reasonably extensive menu of soups, salads, sandwiches, Khmer and Western dishes. A chicken salad there recently was sadly very light on the chicken, though serving a sour cream dip with the fries was as close to exculpatory as it is possible to get. Only almost though.
The organisation supported is Global Child, a genuinely excellent NGO that supports street working children in Siem Reap. The staff and children here are incredibly motivated and work hard to give the children every possibility to build their futures. Upstairs from the restaurant is a small boutique shop, Beau Fou (‘wonderfully crazy’, in French), which has a range of clothes, accessories and furnishings from other NGOs and social enterprises that are based in Siem Reap.
Going further east, at the very southern end of Wat Bo Road, is Green Star, which was set up last year to help support the Green Gecko, another genuinely excellent NGO that works with street children in Siem Reap. This is much more Khmer style, with simple décor and dishes including snake and frogs’ legs if you’re feeling up to it. They also serve staples such as a good chicken and cashew, noodles and grilled beef with lime and pepper (an insanely good Khmer speciality).
155 Taphul Road, Siem Reap
T: (063) 963 329
#719-721 Street 14, Siem Reap
Joe to Go
Street 9, Old Market Area, Siem Reap
Wat Damnak, Siem Reap
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Siem Reap