There is no official consensus on whether amok trey or samlor kakor holds the title of Cambodia’s national dish. But the most important thing is the memorable experience when these Khmer foods are prepared in a family kitchen in a loving and caring way.
For this reason, Dine with the Locals encourages guests to get actively involved in the kitchen and learn how Cambodian food is made with a local host family.
Founded by two Cambodian women – Pen Vuthyda and Leap Phy – and German national Thomas Wanhoff, the private company has been operating for seven months and claims to be on a “cultural mission to lift authentic experiences of local food to new heights”.
Each guest pays $20 for the service that connects guests, through an Airbnb-style platform, with a host family in one of four locations.
“Unlike in a restaurant, guests enjoy the complete experience with a Khmer family, not just the food. This makes it so special and creates unforgettable memories,” Vuthyda says.
“So far 13 hosts have signed up in Siem Reap, Battambang, Phnom Penh and Banteay Meanchey. We are looking for hosts in every province,” says Vuthyda who is in charge of host relations.
Nay Sim from Phnom Penh says: “We’re a family in the silk business. We produce traditional Khmer silk, but we also want to do something beyond that. Dine with the Locals gives us the opportunity to explore new markets and promote Cambodian culture.
“It’s a lot of fun to cook together with foreigners. And the visitors can look around the silk farm and experience the silk weaving process with our family.”
Two hosts in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces own organic farms.
“I’m happy to show travellers how we farm organically. It’s my pleasure to show them the communities we live in and it’s nice to cook our own vegetables together and let them learn about Cambodian cuisine,” says Yem Panha from Battambang.
Co-founder Vuthyda says: “Every host offers three dishes. Guests cannot choose. But we try to offer many different foods, not just amok and beef lok lak.”
There is a local saying, “restaurant food cannot beat home cooked meals”.
Vuthyda says guests, especially foreign visitors, enjoy Khmer soups, such as coconut milk soup with young bamboo shoots, and homemade fried dishes.
“Fried chicken with lemongrass is a typical food in Cambodia and is literally finger-licking yummy. It’s so popular that already two of our hosts include it on the menu.
“They really like the different samlors our hosts offer, like the snogr banlae [vegetable soup] with homemade fish balls at Van Narith’s home,” Vuthyda says.
Narith, a normal housewife from Siem Reap, is glad she can utilise her kitchen skills for some extra income.
“As a mother, I stay home all day and take care of my daughter and the house. Like many other married women, I cannot go out to work.
“I found Dine with the Locals and joined the service. It gives me a chance to show foreigners my cooking skills. I’m proud to be able to do that and get some extra income for the family. They are really nice people and I enjoy talking with them,” Narith says.
To become a host like Narith, Dine with the Locals only needs brief information before staff go to check the location.
“We just need a bit of information about the family, where they live and what they do, some pictures and the menu,” says co-founder Leap Phy, adding that “the only requirement is that someone in the family can speak basic English”.
“Families can apply, and then we evaluate them by visiting the location, asking what their skills are and tasting the food. Then we take pictures and promote the host families on our website.
“As a woman myself, I understand well that other Cambodian women in rural communities have no job opportunities besides being housewives.
“They stay home and look after their children after getting married. For this reason, I thought of this project as a way to help them earn extra income and spread their food culture to the rest of the world,” Phy says.
Simone Waid recently had the pleasure of cooking in a Khmer kitchen, helping to prepare the food and enjoying new tastes with a host family in the capital.
“It was a pleasant evening with delicious food and an interesting insight in a modern-traditional way of life in Phnom Penh,” he said.
Co-founder Thomas Wanhoff is delighted that so far he has received positive feedback, despite his preference to choose families who are not familiar with hospitality and tourism.
“We want to bring tourists to families who are not usually connected to tourism. This way we can promote Khmer culture and connect people, and provide guests with an authentic homemade meal.
“We have brought 40 groups from different countries such as Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the US, Hong Kong and India,” he said.
Dine with the Locals will soon expand throughout all the Kingdom’s provinces before taking the service to other parts of Southeast Asia.
“We are in talks with partners in Indonesia and Vietnam who are interested in the concept and the platform,” says Wanhoff.
“The plan for 2019 is to grow and become the top platform for local food experiences in Cambodia.”
For more information, visit dinewiththelocals.com or contact Pen Vuthyda on 070 238 020.