Peter Yallouros is immensely proud of his Greek heritage. He is one of Phnom Penh’s few Greek residents, and the owner of one of only a handful of Greek restaurants in the Kingdom, along with his Cambodian wife Him Sokra.
“We try to serve authentic Greek food in an authentic Greek atmosphere, where a sense of liveliness and chaos are the prevailing feeling."
“We get to know most of our customers personally and we love cooking while attending to our children in true Greek fashion. Family is the most important things for us. We are all together here in this venture,” he says.
But Yallouros didn’t always consider himself as so boldly Hellenic. It wasn’t until he married his first wife, a Greek woman from Athens, that he reconnected with his roots.
“I consider myself British-Greek. I was born in London to Greek-Cypriot parents, but I grew up with typical British values and ideals. I only rediscovered my Greekness after I got married to Anastasia, who was from Athens in Greece."
“The result of this union, which lasted 23 years, was two excellent and wonderful young boys who are now 36 and 34 and living in Athens and Nicosia respectively,” the 61-year-old recalls.
Diagnosed with angina in his 40s and his marriage later falling apart, he was ready to give up on life in the West by the time the world economic crash hit in 2008, leaving him struggling to get by in Britain.
“I had enough of the West and I was ready to give up again, I travelled to Asia. First in Malaysia and then in Thailand. Cambodia was never really in my thoughts,” says Yallouros.
But in 2010, he met his current wife Sokra – who goes by the name Sarah – while he was trying to catch a bus between Phnom Penh and Thailand. They got married in 2011 and have two daughters six-year-old Apsara and four-year-old Chantrea.
“I started to teach English as a foreign language to support my family while Sarah started a higher education course at CamEd as an ACCA student (an accountancy qualification), while at the same time bringing up the girls.
“In London I always wanted a coffee shop, so when the opportunity arose in 2015 we bought and started ApCha Cafe. The name’s a combination of our girl’s names,” he says.
The cafe proved unsuccessful in its current iteration, so faced with the decision to close it down or adapt, he decided to change it to Greek cuisine after seeing a lack of Greek restaurants in the capital. And the Greek Souvlaki Restaurant was born.
With business picking up – customers loved the fresh, healthy ingredients that are customary in Greek food, says Yallouros – they then decided to move to Russian market six months ago, an area with a higher degree of Western residents more familiar with Greek cuisine.
According to Sarah, Greek cuisine is well known to Westerners, but it is not so well-known among Cambodians. This is something she hopes will change.
Their mission is to introduce Greek food to Cambodian people; to achieve this they’ve started the highly popular $1 dish promotion every Thursday. These include Greek staples such as moussaka, souvlaki, Gyros, hummus, tzatziki, papoutsakia and pastichio.
The couple’s homemade pitta bread, eggplant dip and eggplant hummus are all best sellers. But it is their dolmades that they are especially proud of.
“We make our own dolmades [stuffed vine leaves] as they are known in Greece. The origins of stuffed vine leaves are unknown, but the dish was popular throughout the Ottoman Empire and can be found in many regional cuisines today."
“At Greek Souvlaki Restaurant we make these with rice [no meat] which is seasoned and lightly spiced and steamed with a delightful broth, served warm with our own home made thick Greek yoghurt. Delicious as a starter or as an accompaniment to the main meal,” Sarah says.
Once a month, they also offer host a special night of entertainment combining East and West in an evening of food and entertainment shown.
This month Linda Asha Abdalla, a contestant from Cambodia’s Got Talent Season Two will perform on March 15.
Greek Souvlaki Restaurant is on Street 454, Toul Tompoung. It is open from 11:30am to 3pm, and 5:30pm to 10pm. You can contact them via Facebook (@GreekSouvlakiRestaurant) or phone (012984938).