Chasing hipster cafes & clean food in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Vegan tacos at Backyard Cafe 

Vegan tacos at Backyard Cafe 

Ok, so by clean and healthy, I do not mean the air.  Due to thousands of motor bikes, tuk tuks and vehicles on condensed roads, pollution comes with the territory in Phnom Penh.  What I did not expect to find were so many hipster cafe's with clean, raw, vegan and gluten free food options that make you feel like your on a yoga retreat cleanse resort rather than a large city in a third world country.  

Visiting Cambodia has been an incredibly rewarding experience witnessing a country who has had dark times and immense struggles that I cannot pretend to know or understand fully but the locals are full of smiles, engaging and friendly.  When it came to staying healthy during my month here I was not sure what to expect, but was surprised to find so many options catering to those wanting to achieve a healthy lifestyle, in particular their strong focus of raw foods, gluten free and vegan options.  

Worth mentioning Cafes

There are numerous incredible cafes surrounding the city with both great food and coffee.  One of my favorites is the Backyard cafe.  This offered a great environment to work and eat from with a large menu offering the likes of avocado toast, power bowls including vegetarian and meat dishes, salads and incredible smoothie options. The cafe also makes and sells their own natural butters including cashew butter, fermented vegetables and drinks. The ambience is on a quieter street slightly away from the aggressive traffic. 

Another favorite to dine and work from is the Artillery cafe.  Keep in mind, they accept cash only. I learned the hard way.  Their pineapple chicken salad with honey dressing...ahh, amazing. You can't help but feel nourished after eating a meal like this after traveling, exhausted and craving some clean air.  I have listed some more great options at the end of this read, listing some more cafe options that are worth a visit.  All provide a cozy and hipster-esque environment but are relaxed, comfortable and make a great place to meet up with friends, a date or a solo trip to catch up on some reading and work.  

Dining in Phnom Penh for a good cause

Some might wonder why I do not overly mention the amazing local spicy of all spicy dishes while I have been in Southeast Asia.  I do not skip out on local bites but I do have some dietary restrictions that include limited spicy food.  With this said, my philosophy is a balanced lifestyle so I can certainly partake on occasion and I did in Phnom Penh.  One of my favorite evening meals was at Friends the restaurant.  This is not your ordinary restaurant and they are a Tree alliance restaurant.  

The Tree alliance is a global organization that offers training restaurants who provide hands on hospitality training to former street youth and marginalized youths and adults. All profits are invested in the programs supporting the students providing them with confidence, training and skills for a more secure future.   The food is higher end but for a fair price and the tapas style menu offered a variety of dishes like grilled snapper & mango salad, khmer stir fry, burmese chicken curry and palm sugar and cinnamon braised duck. They are also well known for their frozen cocktails.  This restaurant makes for a wonderful ambience with fabulous food and all for a good cause making it one of my favorites for dinner.  

For a more local Cambodian experience, I would venture to Friends sister restaurant known as Romdeng.  They are also a True alliance restaurant supporting local youth and even the silk cushions were made by the students in school for sewing training. I had the chance to meet with Sophia at Tree Alliance and pros who is an teacher/trainer at Romdeng. They are both a part of the structured program to help the local youth in hospitality and restaurant training.  The ambience is perfect for lunch or dinner and there is even a pool which you can swim in while waiting for your dishes to be served.  Speaking of dishes, Romdeng offers a great tasting menu of local favorites including sticky rice cakes, fish amok in banana leaf, duck spring rolls and a healthy protein snack of fried tarantulas.  They are a great source of protein, zinc and folic acid and I promise to try one before I leave Cambodia to practice what I preach.  Tarantulas have grown in popularity since the 1970's where under the Khmer rouge regime food was incredibly scarce and close to 2 million died from malnutrition, starvation, over-worked and executions.  Tarantulas are now considered a delicacy in Cambodia. 

After you polish off your meal I highly recommend grabbing a night cap cocktail at Elephant Bar. This is a sophisticate lounge and cocktail var inside the Raffles hotel and I enjoyed one of the best espresso martinis I have every had anywhere else in the world.  They also carry over 30 different types of gin and have a large wine and beer list.  Drinks are not cheap (think NYC prices) but from 4 pm - 9 pm drinks are half off for happy hour.  Take advantage of this, the cocktails I tried were hand-crafted to perfection so you will want more than one!

During my interview with Romdeng, I kept my word and enjoyed the popular dish of fried tarantulas 

Favorite eats in Phnom Penh

The Backyard Cafe - Good to dine and work from
Artillery Cafe - Good to dine and work from.  Cash$ only and no A/C!
Feel Good cafe - Known as having the best cup of joe in Cambodia
Java Cafe - great place for coffee and a favorite place to work - near the monument
Mere Cafe - Good for coffee and working
Friends the restaurant - Tree alliance resturant offering a tapas style menu.  High end food for great cost. 
Romdeng - Sister restaurant of friends and offers affordable delicious Cambodian dishes including tarantulas
Farm to table
Chinese house - For those craving some contemporary Pan-Asian Pacific cuisine
Lost Room - imported and local food small plates
Elephant Bar - classy cocktail lounge.  Phenomenal espresso martini.  Pricey drinks but half off during happy hour from 4:00 pm - 9:00 pm.  
***  My Phenom Penh Food delivery  - coolest thing since sliced avocado. This is a online order and delivery site on almost every major (and delicious) restaurant in Phnom Penh. I used several times. Delivery time is about 30 -45 minutes and this service comes in handy when you just don't have the energy to tuk tuk for food!