Phnom Penh VEGAN Guide:
Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh has been to hell and back. Once ‘The Pearl Of Asia’ Phnom Penh is rebuilding itself into modern city filled with surprises. One of those surprises is the amount of vegetarian restaurants that are popping up around the city. Traditionally Khmer food is not very vegetarian or vegan friendly so having access to fully veg restaurants is a welcome surprise. In comparison with other countries that I have visited with a similar climate I found there was a lack of fruit available on the road or in ‘mini marts’ around town. I was spoiled in India having fresh fruit on every corner or bus stop I suppose. There are a few markets located in the city centre but I found prices fairly high and banana’s to be very unripe. I have however developed a healthy obsession for sugar cane juice which is available almost everywhere in to go cups outfitted in small carry bags. Here are some of restaurants we had the chance to visit in our two weeks spent in Phnom Penh.
1. The Vegetarian:
We arrived in Phnom Penh from an overnight bus from Ho Chi Minh City. A 6 hour drive somehow turned into waiting the majority of the night for the border to open in the morning and finally arrived in Phnom Penh around 13 hours later. Don’t even get me started about the fact the pictures of the bus we were shown when we booked were nothing like the ‘sleeper’ bus we were on. Not anticipating the long drive we were not as prepared with snacks as we usually are. Not pointing any fingers (cough, Colin) had also placed our bag of the small amount of food we had within the pile of 30 large backpacks and was never seen again until we arrived and unpacked all passengers bags. Upon arrival we were a bit thrown off and needed some good food to feed our hunger. We headed straight down the street we were staying on to find The Vegetarian. The menu is tediously large and many dishes lack explanation such as ‘buddha vegetable delight’ or ‘vegetarian special’. The prices are low-moderate ranging from $2-$3 for most mains. Smoothies and juice are also in the same price range as meals. We visited a few times and in total got to try the Thai fresh rolls, Amok curry, bbq tofu, papaya/mango salad, Japanese udon soup, tofu hot pot and rice. The portion sizes could be a bit bigger for the price but over all the food is healthy and good. We ordered brown rice but both found it to be undercooked and quite hard. Overall the place is tasty, clean, and geared towards westerners with a few traditional dishes to try. Note: only cash accepted
When looking for places to eat we usually follow the crowds of locals in order to get good prices and authentic cuisine. Evergreen is a good mix of locals and foreigners depending on the day. The menu is simple focused on a few rice dishes and noodles in soup or fried. It is not the typical health focused western oriented vegan restaurant you see popping up along the backpacker trail but has many vegan options including many mock meats. There are some dishes with visible egg in them and a few that use egg noodles but the staff speak english and can leave egg out. We tried stir-fried rice noodles and pat thai. Neither were amazing nor terrible.
After spending part of the day at the Russian Market we had walked up a serious hunger. We had marked Vitking (2 locations) on the map earlier and headed there due to its location. The crowd was all locals so we knew it should be good. The prices were about on par with The Vegetarian $2-$4. As the waiter politely (awkwardly) stood at our table until we flipped through all the pages and came to a decision on what we were going to order we decided on spaghetti and steamed mushroom dumplings. We were brought complimentary iced green tea which was very floral and delicate. Colin’s pasta was not our favourite thing, large chunks of onion and tomato were steamed with the noodles and an oil sauce on top. The dumplings were small but a good snack and tasted strangely very meaty. Note: The sizzler dishes (fried noodles, tofu, or vegetable etc) on hot plates looked like a better choice to order once we saw everyone’s dishes coming out.
4. Phnom Penh Night Market:
I love markets of all type. Night markets are always a fun social night out to experience and interact with many locals and tourists alike. We headed straight for the food stalls at the back to have a walk around and see if we could find anything veggie. There is a coconut ice cream stall that serves coconut ice cream in a few forms and looks delicious. I of course got a sugar cane juice to walk around and explore the market with. There were some noodle dishes and fried vegetables mixed among the meat dishes but we are a bit picky these days and Prefer to eat at fully vegetarian kitchen so our food is not cooked with meat grease, although definitely not possible 100% of time when travelling and experiencing local food including street food!
5. Pink Elephant
Located along the riverside part of a strip of small restaurant fronts that declare their specialty is ‘happy pizza’. I remember first reading about happy pizza in the Lonely Planet and thought it must be a pun rather than the truth. To give you a hint the restaurant located next door is called Happy Herb Pizza. Apparently specializing in marijuana infused pizza’s. While I cant vouch either way what I can tell you is that they are able to do a decent thin crust vegan pizza when you remove the cheese. We ordered a medium ($6.50) and it was a bit small but a nice change.
6. Surn Yi:
As a budget backpacker, Surin Yi was exactly what we needed. The dishes are between $.75-3 and the menu is very extensive. The waitress was able to point to some things that were vegan (note: the mushroom dishes are apparently 'mock meat' and contain eggs) We got a vegetable soup which was surprisngly good and not oily at all which I had found many before to be. We also ordered a sizzler plate which was good value.
7. Vego Salad Bar:
Even just the words 'salad bar' make my mouth water. In europe I was in love with the many make your own style salad bars. Unfortunately in asia we have not seen many but have enjoyed very tastey food instead! I was feeling quite heavy from all the coconut curries and decided it was time for a good salad. When travelling we usually stay away from places that are completely marketed to tourists because the prices are often more than 4x the price of local vegan places. Vego offers a salad base plus 4 free toppings for $4.95.
typically on happycow.com I browse by vegetarian or vegan only. I usually don't bother browsing the 'vegetarian friendly' as all resturants really can be vegetarian friendly and we would rather meat free cooking utensils and kitchen prep stations. While walking downtown off Sihanoukville street the sign Duplex caught my eye. I must have recognized it from the Happy Cow page. We waltzed in and took a look at the menu. Although the places serves meat dishes I was surprised to see so many raw vegan and vegan dishes! They had everything from vegan burgers to a raw cauliflower rice dish. Very impressive! Prices were expensive for local standards, about $4-6.
9. Dosa Corner:
If you have been to south India you know how exciting it is to find a good authentic Masala Dosa. South Indian food is great because its so flavourful and vegan friendly. We first read about the Dosa Corner in Lonely Planet and found it beside Vego Salad Bar. We ate lunch there and found the portion size very good. The prices again were a bit high, especially comparing it to a Dosa in India but the food was tasty. We ordered two Masala Dosas and an order of Idli. The Idli was not good value and I dont reccomend spending the $2 on them.
10. Cafe Soliel:
Standard menu, similar to The Vegetarian. Staff was knowledable about veganism and we enjoyed a green curry and papaya salad (notice the trend? haha!)
Other places to visit that we never made it to but checked out.
11. The ARTillery: many raw options and vegan options clearly marked. Prices a bit high for portion size but good for a healthy treat.