Cambodia's first Lebanese restaurant is serving up Middle Eastern flavours, but finding ingredients in local markets has proven a challenge
Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Le Cedre restaurant, Phnom Penh’s first establishment to offer Lebanese fare.
SETTING up a business in a foreign country is always a big challenge, but when it came to the Le Cedre restaurant in Phnom Penh, the owners faced the daunting task of running a restaurant in a country with limited ingredients, and with a workforce that had no experience preparing the menu.
But the owners of Cambodia's first Lebanese restaurant said the business has been a great success, and they have expanded to two locations.
Le Cedre's first outlet opened 16 months ago, and the owners say their three-month-old second location on the riverside is a success. The eatery attracts a multinational clientele, including Asians and Middle Easterners.
"Anytime you go to another country, you must be adaptable....We were the first restaurant of its kind here, so we have had to be smart," said Ihab Mattar, the floor manager.
For Le Cedre, that has meant sourcing almost all of its ingredients directly from Lebanon and training the previously inexperienced staff on all the ins and outs of Lebanese cuisine.
Mattar said that only the restaurant's vegetables can be sourced locally. "You have to use exactly the right ingredients for Lebanese food, otherwise you will notice the difference," said the Beirut native.
But even with the challenges they face, Mattar, a trained chef, said the food on offer at Le Cedre could well be the most authentic Lebanese fare east of Beirut.
"We have a lot of Lebanese and Syrian visitors who are quite surprised by how close it is to the real thing back home," he said.
Lebanon's world famous cuisine is made from ingredients that include chickpeas, garlic, and aubergine. Some of the most well-known dishes are baba ghanoush made from pureed aubergine, Tahini made from pureed sesame, and hummus, made of chickpeas, garlic and olive oil.
For the staff of 45 at Le Cedre, preparing Lebanese food is nothing like making Cambodian dishes.
"[Lebanese food] is totally different. I had never seen most of the ingredients like chickpeas or lentils before I worked here," said Cambodian supervisor Doda Rady.
"[Lebanese food] is more difficult to make than Cambodian food - it takes a long time. Chickpeas take three or four hours to prepare."
Lebanese food lacks the spicy tang of Cambodian cuisine, which the staff at the restaurant said takes getting used to.
"Some dishes I like, and some I don't ... Cambodians like meat, chicken, and pork and rice," said Doda Rady.
But the Cambodian staff's successes at preparing Lebanese fare has not been matched by a knowledge of Arabic, Lebanon's native tongue.
"We have to speak in English at work - I have tried to learn some Arabic, but I think it sounds strange" one waiter quipped.