Attitudes towards eating – and serving – vegetarian cuisine have changed since opening more than a decade ago, admits owner of one of capital’s first veg spots
Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Young diners at Sun I Miser Hor enjoying a vegetarian hot pot. Inset: Fried rice with a "mystery meat" ingredient: mushroom.
Eating vegetarian food doesn’t just make diners healthy but saves animals.
Looking back on 12 years in the restaurant business, Chou Yin Ling offers up an ironic anecdote about her family's eatery: that they used to hide the provenance of their "mystery meat".
The 23-year-old owner of the all-vegetarian Sun I Miser Hor admits her family tricked their customers into trying their food. She said they used a need-to-know policy - basically, they didn't tell clients that the dishes they ate consisted of "meats" made mostly from mushroom or tofu. Otherwise, she says, the family feared customers would leave.
In those early days, the restaurant never even referred to the word "vegetarian". From a marketing standpoint, it would be the restaurant's so-called unique selling point, but at the time they thought it could also be a liability that people dining out wouldn't accept it.
"In 1997, everybody wanted to eat meat, which they believed empowered them," Chou Yin Ling said.
After a time, she said, customers became more familiar - and appreciative - of Sun I Miser Hor's veggie cuisine. She says the restaurant is popular with teens, and they serve about 200 people a day, mostly through word-of-mouth.
Chou Yin Ling says: "Young Cambodians nowadays have a new point of view. They acknowledge that eating vegetables is also good for them."
Expanding from its original two dishes, noodle soup and fried noodles, Sun I Miser Hor now offers up to 100 different dishes, including faux-fishball soup (2,000 riels), mushroom burger (4,500 riels), a vegetarian steak and rice set (5,000 riels), and a rice set with a mock-chicken "drumstick" (5,000 riels).
Although Sun I Miser Hor also serves its share of fried fast-food goodies, Yin Ling notes that vegetarianism is not only about being health conscious but it "also saves animals' lives".
Originally from Taiwan, Chou Yin Ling says that her cooking preparation and use of ingredients come from her Chinese heritage, but that she is largely self-taught.
Yseav Buoy, a 20-year-old high-school student, said she often comes to the vegetarian restaurant with friends after class. She said the benefit of eating vegetarian is that it helps her keep a beautiful figure, as the low-cholesterol content of the food on offer helps her avoid putting on weight.
Her classmate, Sok Channy, 19, says she went veg six months after her friends introduced her to Sun I Miser Hor. She said she got tired of eating meat and has become a self-confessed addict of veggie food.
"The cooks make mushrooms that look a lot like real meat, so I eat them instead," she said.
Now she says she's keen to learn how to make the veggie food she's grown so fond of - and she expects to prepare it for her family someday.