IT looks the same as the other nearby restaurants but go inside and its dishes are very different from the other food shops at the Toul Svay Prey commune in Phnom Penh.
This restaurant doesn’t hold any trademark; in fact, it’s the restaurant with no name, but people realise that it is the only one that sells vegetarian food.
Sitting inside, 25-year-old Thok Theab from the Cambodian Philimore Maid Agency has been coming for a year to eat in this restaurant every weekend because she thinks that those foods make her healthy.
“I have been accustomed to eating vegetarian food since I worked in Malaysia. My boss brought me out to eat in a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur quite often and the vegetarian foods tasted quite good to me.”
After returning from the restaurant, Theab tried to find out more information about vegetarian foods because she felt they that they made her body healthier than those including meat, and says, unlike meat, the food is never boring.
“I read books to understand the benefits of the vegetarian foods and they told me that vegetables offer us vitamins, pretty skin, make us feel better and will not do us any harm,” said Thead
When she came back to Cambodia, Theab changed back to eating meat again as she could not find vegetarian foods at her work place. But a friend took her out to a restaurant next to her work and by chance she found the vegetarian foods again.
“It tastes the same as vegetarian food in Malaysia and I don’t worry about gaining more weight when eating vegetarian foods. They keep my body fit and my skin fresh.”
There are many young people like Theab coming to this anonymous restaurant and owner Huy Kim Rotha, 24, says he has about 200 customers each day, 70 percent of which are youths.
Rotha opened the restaurant in 2008 after he finished three years of cooking classes at a Taiwanese temple, Preah Se Ar Metrei, at Teuk Thla in Phnom Penh, and tells the story of when he was just a worker in a mine hole in Kampong Thom and Kratie provinces and got infected by malaria while staying in the jungle.
He went to hospital in Phnom Penh but said he found the doctors could not cure him because of the strong virus in his body.
“The doctor told me that he just could make me better sometimes but could not to get the malaria virus from my body. I was so weak and despaired at that time,” Rotha said
But friends suggested he come to Preah Se Ar Metrei, where they heard that the Taiwanese people were good at healing any viruses.
“The Taiwanese told me to work hard as they wanted my sweat to come out, and then they fed me with vegetarian food every day. I ate that kind of food and I also learned how to cook it. In the next three years I met the doctors again but they could no longer find the malaria virus in my body,” he said.
Rotha keeps learning how to cook the tasty and healthy vegetarian dishes and hopes it can help to cure other Cambodian people like him. He claims that vegetarian foods can heal many kinds of diseases.
After he left his cooking classes, he opened the restaurant and initially sold vegetarian food to about 20 people a day.
“I think young people understand about the benefits of vegetarian foods, which I believe makes them healthy, patient and fresh. Those over the age of 40 also like eating our vegetarian foods. Their main problem is with high blood pressure and have told me our foods can reduce their weight.”
Rotha enjoys vegetarian foods not only for cutting down cholesterol, but says it also helps reduce aggressiveness without weakening the body.
He says that mushrooms are a regular ingredient in vegetarian foods, but not the main ingredient in every dish. There are other important ingredients such as soya beans, oil beans, cabbages and other vegetables.
There are 20 dishes available at his restaurant including noodle soups, fried noodles, fried rice, a Japanese-style suki soup and other dishes. The prices range from US$1-$3 and some dishes, such as the suki soup, can satisfy two people.
“If you don’t want to come to the restaurant, you can cook for yourself at home. Just cook mostly vegetables, not meat. It’s probably difficult for most people to eat vegetables without any meat, and it’s better trying to reduce meat little by little until you get used to it, so then one day you can stop eating meat altogether,” said Rotha.
He says he believes his restaurant helps people to accelerate cholesterol reduction and promises it will be moved to a place near Monivong Boulevard soon, and that he’ll finally give it a name: Restaurant Chin Tav.