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Canteen has a tasty take on nutrition

Rady Khim dishes out a scoop of red rice behind the counter of her new eatery, Happy Dragon Farm. Khim is determined to bring health consciousness to Khmer cuisine while maintaining all the deliciousness of traditional meals.
Rady Khim dishes out a scoop of red rice behind the counter of her new eatery, Happy Dragon Farm. Khim is determined to bring health consciousness to Khmer cuisine while maintaining all the deliciousness of traditional meals. Quinn Libson

Canteen has a tasty take on nutrition

Rady Khim, the owner of Happy Dragon Farm Canteen, is obsessively fastidious about the food she serves. She knows where every vegetable on the menu comes from, and many of them she grew herself at the farm she has run along with her husband, Christophe Richard, near Siem Reap since 2004.

She can tell you which herbs and spices are good for digestion, and which are better for immune system support. She knows how much Omega 3 the fish in her amok contains. She even knows exactly what that fish ate during its lifetime – a chemical-free organic diet, of course.

She wants the customers at her restaurant, Happy Dragon Farm, on Street 63 in Boeung Keng Kang I, to be just as knowledgeable as she is. Each dish on the menu of traditional Khmer favourites comes with a detailed list of ingredients so you know exactly what you’re getting.

The point of all of this is to inspire people to be intentional about their health by being intentional about the food they eat. And Khim, who is from Tbong Khmum province, is also out to prove that healthy doesn’t mean bland. Her food is packed with flavour and freshness, and manages to be nutritious in a way that doesn’t feel like a chore.

Although she has a background in finance and law, Khim gets her passion for health from her parents, who were both physicians. She vividly remembers scenes from her childhood of patients coming to her house for emergency midnight consultations, and she knew from a young age that she wanted to make it her mission to help people from getting sick.

“When I’m big I will try to do something that will help people avoid disturbing the doctor in the middle of the night,” she said, of her childhood dreams.

She didn’t connect that mission to eating until she gave birth to her daughter. When she became a mom, she says, she poured herself into food preparation, wanting to give her daughter only the healthiest meals.

A tray of food from Happy Dragon Farm including red rice, fish amok, trey khor and a selection of edible flowers and fresh vegetables.
A tray of food from Happy Dragon Farm including red rice, fish amok, trey khor and a selection of edible flowers and fresh vegetables. Quinn Libson

Eventually, friends heard about the food she was making and she started to cook for them too.

One thing led to another, and one month ago Khim’s vision came to life, allowing her to combine Khmer flavours with health-consciousness in a way that will make you feel good about asking for a second helping.

Khim’s most ambitious health-related gamble may have more to do with the ingredients she is adamant about leaving out than the ones that make it onto her plates.

She doesn’t serve anything that contains white sugar. And she refuses to serve white rice.

Messing with people’s rice can be a pretty risky play in a country where the sentence “let’s eat” literally translates to “let’s eat rice”.

But Khim is set on trying to bend the Khmer palate away from white rice and toward its more nutrient-rich cousins, the red and brown varieties, one diner at a time.

Happy Dragon has a set menu of six classic Khmer dishes like prahok ($1.50) and trey khor ($1.50) that you can order any day, and then seven rotating daily menus. If you want the fish amok ($2), which is delicious, come on Thursdays.

But be aware that all of the dishes at Happy Dragon may be liable to change with the season. Freshness and quality are the first priority here, rather than menu consistency. Khim maintains a relationship with each of the farmers she works with so that when a product becomes available, she hears about it right away.

“When they have [it], they call us,” she said.

Happy Dragon Farm is located at #202 Street 63 in Boeung Keng Kang I. It is open every day for lunch from 11am to 2pm.

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