RESTAURANTS specialising only in vegetarian dishes are a rarity in Siem Reap. And even more rare are vegetarian restaurants catering especially to Khmer diners.
However, tucked away on Street 7 Makara in Wat Bo Village is one such veggie restaurant. Named Vitking House, it is owned and operated by a young Khmer couple who have filled their garden eatery with tropical bungalows where guests can relax and enjoy the lush, leafy surrounds.
Inside, speakers softly emit the sound of Khmer songs while the fish pond bubbles in the background.
Most of the seating is in little bungalows where you perch yourself upon cushions on the floor. It’s quaint and atmospheric, but the setting also means you’re fair game for the squadrons of mosquitoes buzzing about.
Vitking House owner Sareth told 7Days he designed the restaurant to remind customers about the role of nature in Khmer culture.
“I use Khmer furniture and I use the style of Khmer homes to construct the bungalows because I think it pleases local customers as well as the sentiments of international visitors,” he said.
After taking a seat alongside a decorative pond, we ordered a serving of Chinese noodles recommended by the waitress. The staff speak decent English and are happy to discuss meal choices. In addition, the menu has clear explanations of the food in both English and Chinese.
Apart from Vitking there are only three other vegetarian restaurants in Siem Reap, but none which serve as many customers each day, according to Sareth.
“We sell food to over 100 tables full of people a day. The most popular dishes are Chinese noodles on a hot plate and the Vitking Sandwich, as well as fruit shakes.”
Sareth explained he has run Vitking House since 2006, and while the family-owned restaurant also has two branches in Phnom Penh, its Siem Reap outlet is unique in the ambience its garden creates for customers.
“I designed the whole restaurant from my imagination. I used to sit in front of my house and look forward to starting the restaurant in Siem Reap because I had so many ideas flying in my mind. It’s taken me three years to finish all the decorations.”
Sareth also told 7Days that the Vitking philosophy is that people should eat vegetables to avoid killing animals, and it’s menu places a strong emphasis on the importance of mushrooms and “other foods that act like medicines”.
“I apply the term ‘health foods’ to describe foods that provide beneficial effects. This goes along with the idea of the restaurant being a place of relaxation and good health,” he said.
After Sareth’s explanation, our food arrived. The Chinese noodles were served with black mushroom and an assortment of other vegetables including carrots and cauliflower.
Another popular menu choice is the Vitking Sandwich, made with three slices of toast and layers of vegetarian ham, mushrooms, eggs, lettuce, tomatoes and the Vitking’s special sauce.
Fellow diner Oun Sreydanh told 7Days she felt like she was dining in a green forest as she ate her noodles, and said the only thing that exceeds the quality of the interior decorations at Vitking House is the food.
“The food was pretty good. The burgers aren’t bad and the Khmer food is nice,” she said, before comparing Vitking to Siem Reap’s more upmarket vegetarian restaurant, Chamkar.
“Compared to Chamkar, this place is half the price for twice the food, so really it’s a quarter of the price. This should be the first stop for vegetarian food in Siem Reap.”
At the end of the meal, Sareth told us the business approach of Vitking House is to make the customer feel relaxed and at home, by mixing rustic food with the all-natural garden surrounds.
“The first thing that can attract a customer’s feeling when they stand in front my restaurant is the interior decoration and the gardens. I try my best to survey customers’ feelings and all of them like the mix of the romantic and the natural. It also helps me enjoy running Vitking because I can be here together with my friends and family and relax my brain, by taking a cup of hot tea and taking it all in.”