Weekly Vegetarian Find: Chamkar House Vegetarian Restaurant

Vegetarians rejoice, Siem Reap has multiple vegetarian restaurants just for you! Chamkar House Vegetarian Restaurant is one such restaurant with two branches, one on Alley W near the Night Market and the other on National Road 6. I frequented both branches during my stay.

Chamkar House Vegetarian Restaurant on National Road 6

My first night in Siem Reap I ate dinner at the branch near the Night Market. Situated in an alley, it can take some searching to find Chamkar Restaurant but the hunt is worth it. I ordered the Wedding Day Dip and the Cambodian Pumpkin Melody. Packed full of peanuts and with a base of coconut and mushroom, the Wedding Dip tastes like a vegetarian version of satay and is a must-try for peanut butter fans. The Pumpkin Melody combines yellow coconut curry with sweet pineapple, hearty pumpkin, crunchy peanuts, and minty basil. Both dishes were flavorful, yet comforting and were complimented with nutritionally dense brown rice, a treat in the land of white rice.

IMG_1416Cambodian Pumpkin Melody and the remains of the Wedding Day Dip

The newer location has open-air seating, a spacious foyer, nature-inspired décor, and an organic garden in which it grows many of the vegetables on its menu. Instead of a traditional bread basket, diners receive complimentary sweet chili popcorn. After devouring the sticky starter, I tried the Crispy Veggies as an appetizer, consisting of lightly fried vegetables including the usual suspects – carrot, squash, bell pepper, and onion – and a few surprises – ginger, sweet basil leaf, baby corn, and Frangipani flower. I was surprised that a restaurant which cited the Slow Food International Association on its menu listed tempura as an appetizer, but the vegetables tasted garden-fresh despite being fried. For my main course, I sampled the Truly Rooty, crunchy cassava fritters with fruit sauce and mango chutney on the side. While I liked the mango chutney, the fritters themselves lacked flavor.

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Crispy Veggies

Be warned, multiple fried dishes are not for the faint of heart. I struggled to finish the fritters after having eaten the tempura. Not to worry as Chamkar has an extensive menu. I look forward to checking out its other offerings, for example the vegetarian Biting Amok, Monsoon Salad with yam, mushrooms, rice noodles, and tofu, or signature Rediscovering Tofu with pumpkin, curry, and toasted peanuts. In touristy Siem Reap, Chamkar House Vegetarian Restaurant is a solid option for vegans, vegetarians, and foodies.

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Truly Rooty

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Puttering around Phnom Penh: A Guide to Cambodia’s Capital City

Many travelers will tell you to skip Phnom Penh, but it was one of my favorite places to stay while in Cambodia and a place I can easily imagine living for a few years. While backpackers decry the city as dirty and hectic, I found the city to be much less chaotic than other Asian metropolises. With a population of 2.2 million people, Phnom Penh is a small and manageable city; it has far fewer residents than Bangkok (14.6 million), Ho Chi Minh (9 million), and even Washington D.C. (6 million). I enjoyed wandering around town, going on self-guided food tours of the city, exercising along the riverside, and unwinding at the cinema.

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What to See
Travelers interested in the history of Cambodia can pay a visit to the National Museum of Cambodia which houses the country’s largest collection of Khmer art and artifacts, including countless statues of Hindu and Buddhist divinities which survived the ransacking of temples by tomb raiders. You can learn about the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge and bear witness to victims’ sufferings by seeing Choueng Ek (the Killing Fields) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (formerly the S-21 Prison) and hiring a guide or an audio guide.

Disturbing images from the Killing Fields 

Architecture buffs and the spiritually-minded should check out Phnom Penh’s many wats, or temples, in addition to the Royal Palace. While Wat Phnom is the most famous pagoda, I was taken with the vast temple complex of Wat Botum Vatey and the sun setting over Wat Ounalom.

Images of Wat Botum Vatey and Wat Ounalom

The Royal Palace, the residence of King Norodom Sihamoni, resembles the Grand Palace in Bangkok but with a tenth of the tourists.

Images of the Royal Palace

For prime people watching, take a stroll down the historic riverside of Sisowath Quay at dusk or stop by Royal Palace Park or Wat Bottom Park at night. Cambodian families, monks, and tourists alike often gather in parks during the weekends and evenings to converse and picnic, while vendors sell food, toys, and balloons, resulting in a carnival-like atmosphere wonderful to observe. Active travelers can utilize the free outdoor exercise equipment, join a game of soccer or doeurt sai, or participate in an aerobics class.

Monks chatting and a vendor selling food in Royal Palace Park

Lest I forget, make sure to take advantage of the green spaces (a rarity in Southeast Asia!) surrounding the Independence Monument and Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

Images of the Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, Golden Bird Statue, and Independence Monument

Where to Stay
I almost chose to stay at the party hostel behemoth, Mad Monkey, but I opted to stay at the much more peaceful Envoy Hostel instead. Although the hostel was on the quieter side, I found it easy to meet other travelers. The dorm beds were comfortable, the air conditioning was a godsend, and the communal kitchen was an unexpected treat in Southeast Asia.

Where to Eat
St 63 Restaurant & Hostel has an extensive selection of appetizing Cambodian and Western dishes, as well as cocktails and mocktails. I liked the vegetarian pumpkin curry and vegetarian spring rolls so much that I ate at St 63 two nights in a row! Brunch enthusiasts can dine at Java Café while gazing at the current exhibition by Marine Ky. I happily devoured the monthly special, an Avocado and Smoked Salmon Stack, along with a Café Freddo there one Sunday morning. Offering a choice of burritos, quesadillas, bowls, and soft tacos with a selection of toppings, and sides of chips and guacamole and rice and beans, Cocina Cartel is, for all intents and purposes, a Cambodian version of Chipotle. Its glass noodle salad with tofu, sesame sauce, and lettuce and spicy watermelon smoothie make Sesame Noodle Bar a great lunch option for vegetarians. Lined with rows of fresh vegetables, freshly caught fish flopping on blocks, and dried foodstuffs, Kandal Market is my go-to spot for fresh fruit and fruit shakes. Lastly, ice cream lovers should check out Toto Ice Cream & Dessert Café. Try the soursop and mango-passion fruit flavors.

Images clockwise from left to right: Sesame Noodle Bar and Cocina Cartel

Where to Relax
Due to lenient copyright restrictions, Phnom Penh and other Cambodian cities have small movie houses which screen the newest films, host daily movie marathons, and rent private movie rooms for a much cheaper price than official movie theaters. You can even download movies to your phone or hard drive! I visited The Flicks Community Movie Houses multiple times while in Phnom Penh to catch the 2016 Oscar-nominated films. If you’re looking for the big box movie experience combined with the thrill of a theme-park ride, check out the 4D movies (3D movie + wind + water + movement) playing at Aeon Mall.

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Image of Cambodia Supreme Court

 

Tadasana in Every Asana

In the yoga world, we often say “Tadasana in every asana” because Mountain Pose is the basis of every standing posture, and many seated postures as well. Tadasana is one of my favorite asanas (postures) because it brings the body into correct alignment. During my yoga teacher training, I became keenly aware of the fact that I do not hold my body properly or walk in a straight line. Consequently, I, like many other people I know, have misaligned hips and shoulders. Practicing Tadasana I have the opportunity to balance my ankles, knees, hips, torso, and shoulders, while activating muscles from my head down to my toes. I apply the same movement principles in Tadasana to enter mindfully into other postures like Virabhadrasana (Warrior), Parsva Virabhadrasana (Side Warrior), and Vrksasana (Tree), or while standing at home, at the office, or in a line.

To learn more about the importance of Tadasana, its benefits, and instructions for getting into the pose, read more.

 

Weekly Vegetarian Find: Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant

Set amidst green plants, purple flowering trees, and a lush garden, Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant is a peaceful oasis in the noisy and dusty city of Siem Reap. Banllé caters to both vegetarians and vegans, but is known to have satisfied many a meat eater as well.

Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant prepares all of its dishes without fish sauce and many of its dishes without eggs or dairy.  It orders free-range eggs from local farmers and grows spinach, morning glory, lettuce, eggplant, cucumber, and other vegetables in its organic garden.

Images clockwise from left: outdoor seating at Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant, Mushroom and Spinach Tart, and Banllé’s organic garden

I tried Banllé’s Green Apple Smoothie, Mushroom and Spinach Tart, Oven Roasted Eggplant with Gruyere, and Lime Pie. Consisting of green apple, cucumber, mint, and ginger, the green smoothie was sweet and refreshing. I was slightly disappointed by the mushroom tart’s runny consistency, cakey crust, and small number of mushrooms; the tart seemed to consist mainly of sautéed onions. On the other hand, Banllé’s roasted eggplant was outstanding. Flavored with sesame, soy sauce, and olive oil, and covered with scallions, sundried tomatoes, and a liberal helping of melted cheese, it was one of the most succulent eggplant dishes that I have tasted during my travels in Southeast Asia. I ended my meal with the Lime Ice Cream Pie, which achieved the perfect balance of tartness and sweetness. Frozen and cool, it was a great antidote to the Angkor heat.

Images clockwise from left: Lime Pie, outdoor seating and patio of Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant

With its verdant scenery and comfortable couches, Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant is a lovely place to pass a quiet afternoon. The food is nutritious and flavorsome and the servers are attentive and friendly. I will definitely eat there again the next time I am in Siem Reap.

Weekly Wedding: Cambodian Celebrations

I am by no means an expert on Cambodian weddings, but during my time living and traveling in Cambodia I saw many a multicolored tent rigged on a street in anticipation of a marriage. Cambodian Buddhist weddings, like Indian Hindu weddings, are multi-day affairs with numerous ceremonies and parties. They often begin early in the morning with religious rites and end late at night with dinner, dancing, and sometimes even karaoke! While in Sihanoukville, I often woke to the sound of monks chanting blessings at 5 AM after having stayed up until 2 AM the previous night because of the music blaring from the wedding down the street.

As a foreigner, it’s not unusual to get invited to Cambodian celebrations. Turning down an invitation to a wedding can be tricky, especially when a guest grabs your hand and drags you into the fray!

I filmed the videos below of a Cambodian wedding outside my house after dancing through the celebrations to reach the door of my house. I’m not sure how to dance to Khmer music, but I quickly learned that dancing in a circle is the key.

Cambodian uncles get down at the wedding occurring right outside the gate of my house

While Cambodian uncles dance to traditional songs, the youngsters go crazy listening to the latest electronic beats!

I hope you get to experience a Khmer wedding during your next trip to Cambodia!

 

 

Angkor Body Building Association and Café

I discovered ABBA Café on my last trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. Located across the river from the Angkor Night Market, ABBA Café is a rooftop lounge and restaurant. With its hanging lanterns, stylish décor, and romantic atmosphere, ABBA would be an ideal spot to go for a date or to relax and enjoy a cool rooftop breeze after a long and hot day touring Angkor Wat.

ABBA’s menu comprises a small number of dishes from Cambodia, Korea, Japan, and Italy. While only four of the dishes are marked as vegetarian, the kitchen is more than willing to modify its other items to accommodate vegans, vegetarians, and other people with dietary restrictions. I appreciated the servers’ consideration in asking if I ate fish sauce and cheese before delivering my order to the cooks.

In honor of International Women’s Day, ABBA was offering a free fresh fruit cocktail to every one of its women diners. Since I don’t drink alcohol, they graciously provided me with a Passion Fruit Shake which arrived frozen, tangy, and sweet.

I ordered the Fried Spring Rolls and Lasagna Vegetable for my appetizer and entrée. The spring rolls were nothing special, but the lasagna was a flavorful fusion of Italian and Asian cuisines which combined vegetables typical of Cambodian food like cucumber, carrot, and Thai eggplant were mixed with Italian staples such as creamy tomato sauce, zucchini, red and green peppers, and Parmesan cheese. Topped with al dente lasagna sheets, the pasta had a satisfying crunch.

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Image of Sam Bonan, Mr. Angkor 2014, via Angkor Bodybuilding Association

I conversed at length with one of the managers and learned that ABBA is not a reference to the Swedish pop band, but is an acronym for the Angkor Bodybuilding Association, which is headed by the café’s owner, Rocky Lee. ABBA’s goal is to promote bodybuilding in Cambodia in order to boost fitness, health care, diet, and discipline among locals (an ideal spot for a fitness blogger to dine!). To this end, ABBA hosts an annual bodybuilding competition. Thirty percent of ABBA Café’s revenues go to support ABBA and charitable undertakings. In the past, the Café has directed funds to Angkor Hospital for Children, Jayavarman  VII Children’s Hospital, water and sanitation projects, rural schools, and healthcare schemes.

Images of ABBA school charity event via Angkor Bodybuilding Association

I had an enchanting evening at ABBA Café. The dishes were very reasonably priced given the fine food, genial waiters, swanky setting, and attention to detail. If you’re in Siem Reap, be sure to stop by and support Angkor Bodybuilding Association and Café.

 

Featured image of ABBA Café via TripAdvisor

 

 

 

A Vegetarian Guide to Cambodian Cuisine

Before traveling to Cambodia, I had never experienced Khmer cuisine. Over the past two months, I have tried an array of Khmer foods and found their combination of sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami tastes incredibly pleasing to my palate. While the below list is not meant to be exhaustive, it should help you identify dishes which you can eat during your next trip to Cambodia or a Cambodian restaurant.

Amok
Amok trei, or steamed curried fish, is the national dish of Cambodia. Amok differs dramatically depending on where you order it. Named after the banana leaves it was traditionally served in, amok can resemble a red, yellow, or green Thai coconut curry or a casserole with baked or steamed gravy, meat, and vegetables. While fish was historically the main ingredient, most places now offer a choice of chicken, pork, fish, or vegetables. Other ingredients include coconut curry and kroeung, meaning spices and herbs. Typical spices used in Cambodian cooking include lemon grass, lime, galangal, turmeric, garlic, shallots, and dried red chilies, though amok usually substitutes Kaffir lime leaves for turmeric.

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Photo of pumpkin amok

Somlar Kari (Khmer Curry)
Somlar kari, translated as Khmer Curry, is a hearty curry full of vegetables, such as carrot, sweet potato, onion, eggplant, and long beans, and is flavored with kroeung spices. It tastes similarly to a Thai coconut curry but with fewer chilies. While Khmer Curry was customarily served with rice vermicelli noodles or a fresh baguette to celebrate occasions like weddings, it can now be found at most restaurants with English menus where it is accompanied by jasmine rice. Strict vegetarians and vegans should ask the chef to prepare the dish without fish sauce.

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Photo of Khmer curry

Somlar Machu (Sour Soup)
Somlar machu refers to an entire class of thin but refreshing sour soups. Somlar machu trei, also known as somlar machu Khmer Krom, contains a freshwater fish such as catfish, tomato, pineapple, and basil. Lotus root, okra, morning glory, water spinach, bamboo shoots, Asian rhubarb, and bean sprouts often make an appearance as well. Tamarind, lemongrass, Kaffir lime, lemon or lime juice, prahok (fermented fish paste) give the soup its sour and citrusy notes, while ginger and garlic round out the flavor. Ask the kitchen to prepare the soup without fish and prahok if you do not eat seafood.

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Photo of sour soup via Katiya Korner

Salads
Khmer cuisine has a number of salads starring green mango, green papaya, pomelo, banana flower, shrimp, or beef as the main ingredient. Other ingredients comprise long beans, dried fish or shrimp, tomatoes, eggplant, peanuts, lemongrass, cilantro, and basil. The dressing contains shallots, garlic, galalangal, red chilies, prahok, palm sugar, and lime juice. As with other Khmer dishes, vegans and vegetarians should ask the cook to prepare the dish without seafood and fish sauce. Some people may find banana blossom salad dry because of the flower’s texture, but I like the combination of the bitter petals with sweet-and-sour tamarind. My personal favorites are the green mango and green papaya salads. I’m often tempted to drink the sweet and zesty dressing with a spoon or scoop it into my mouth with a spoonful of rice!

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Photo of green papaya salad

Mee Katang (Stir-fried Noodles)
No Asian cuisine would be complete without a noodle dish. Mee katang, meaning Cantonese-style noodles, originates from the Chinese community in Cambodia, and is related to Chow Fun in China and Rad Na in Thailand. Wide rice noodles are stir fried with oyster or soy sauce, sugar, eggs (optional), meat (optional), and vegetables such as carrots, Chinese kale or broccoli, mushrooms, and baby corn. Mee katang is a cheap and delicious meal any time of the day!

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Photo of mee katang via Viet-Thai Restaurant

Khmer Coffee
Move over Thai iced coffee! While many of us associate iced coffee served with condensed milk with Thai cuisine, I only spotted two places serving iced coffee during my month in Thailand. Coffee with sweet milk, or Khmer coffee, is ubiquitous in Cambodia and can be prepared hot or cold. For someone like me who detests black coffee but loves coffee ice cream, Khmer coffee is the perfect pick me up!

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Photo of iced Khmer coffee by Vi via Raising Hammocks & Running Amok

Key Khmer Phrases

I have listed some useful Khmer phrases for vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians below with the Khmer words spelled phonetically. The third phrase is a bit challenging, but anyone who has heard the famous quotation from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “You don’t eat meat? That’s ok, I make lamb,” knows that often, especially when encountering other food cultures, it is necessary to specify exactly what types of meat you don’t eat. If you can’t memorize it, just learn the first phrase and remember that you can always point and shake your head. Bon appétit!

Khmer Phrase English Translation
K-nyom nyam boo. I am vegan/vegetarian.
K-nyom mun nyam sai. I do not eat meat.
K-nyom mun nyam sai mon, sai ko, sai chrook, aha krung ss mot, pong mon, ri tuk dos ko. I do not eat chicken, beef, pork, seafood, eggs, or dairy.
Som mun dak pr hok. Please don’t put fish sauce.