The chief of staff at a popular Banlung city restaurant isn’t shy when it comes to showing off the restaurant’s unusual – and illegal – gastronomical delights.
“Wild food is available here as you can see on the menu, but the price is a bit more expensive because it is illegal selling this kind of food, and it is not easy to hunt the wild animal now,” he said, adding that unlike other restaurants in the city, his restaurant made no secret of its illicit cuisine.
Boar, turtle, tusked deer, soft-shelled turtle and monitor lizard are just a sampling of the secretly hunted endangered animals on the menu to be enjoyed grilled, seasoned and with an ice-cold Angkor beer at the large restaurant beer garden.
While more common dishes, like char bei go for about US$2 a plate, a plate of cooked “wild” food will set eager customers back $10.
Like any other beer garden, the eatery has an ample supply of young, attractive waitresses.
One 22-year-old waitress said that the restaurant was busy every night, year round. On a Wednesday night in Banlung, the restaurant was filling out quickly by 7pm, mainly with all-male groups of about four to eight patrons.
“The customers who like to eat the meat of hunted wild animals are other Asian tourists, visitors from Phnom Penh and the rich in Ratanakkiri,” she said.
However, she said the operation had become slightly more covert since multiple raids conducted by wildlife authorities.
“We dare not store a lot of meat of wild animals like before we were raided.
“When we need the meat, we call to wild animal hunters and they secretly transport it to our restaurant,” she said, adding that customers overwhelmingly favoured the forbidden flesh.
An official from Wildlife Alliance’s rescue team said that his team had raided the restaurant twice this year alone, confiscating 66 kilograms of wild animal meat and live wild animals.
Tek Vannara, program manager at Culture and Environment Preservation Association, said that the selling of illegally hunted wild animals has always been prolific in Ratanakkiri, but has in the past few years been pushed underground by crackdowns.
“If one wants to eat it, one should know the network, or they cannot buy it,” he said.
“Tourists like eating this kind of food,” he said, emphasising that the secret trade of wild animals had skyrocketed the price, making it unaffordable for most regular Ratanakkiri villagers.
However, he said that as well as the secret trade, the increased rarity of the protected animals – as their habitats are wiped out in favour of monoculture plantations – has also driven up the price of wild animals.
“The animals lose their food and natural shelters.
“To preserve wild animals, we need to preserve forest, biodiversity and the ecology system fires,” Vannara told the Post.
To contact the reporter on this story: Phak Seangly at [email protected]