A devoted vegetarian, Victoria Wymark has over the past four years in Phnom Penh sought out the city’s best meat-free food. As her time in Cambodia came to an end this week she sat down with Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon to share her favourite vegetarian eateries.
It’s interesting, in Khmer [there isn’t a] word for vegetarian, we have buas – a religious diet – “how monks eat”, which is without anything exciting. So without chilli and garlic, because they’re aphrodisiacs and you don’t want to increase the sex drive of a monk [laughs] . . . I haven’t found a single Cambodian who is vegetarian. Some friends will be vegetarian on Buddha days, a few others will humour me because they think it’s healthy or holistic [to eat vegetarian]. Café Soleil [#22DEo Street 278] is the first vegetarian restaurant I found here. It’s owned by a lady named Penelope. It’s on 278 but they just opened in Russian Market [neighbourhood] as well. The prices have not changed in the four years I’ve been here. Their best dishes are the crispy noodle salad and tofu with vegetables.
Most things on the menu at The Vegetarian [#158 Street 19] are $2, and they’re really good. It’s been there as long as I can remember. They close at 8pm, so don’t go in the evening. The best thing I would recommend is the Vietnamese Pho. It’s a huge bowl of noodle soup. They do fresh squeezed juices as well. Also, the Shanghai-fried rice with spinach, sweet corn, tofu and goji berries is delicious. Who would’ve thought!
I found Evergeen [#109 Street 130] just the other day, actually. I was wandering around by Space Bar on Street 130 and the rain just started up, so I walked into it and they have things on the menu I’d never tried before. They have vegetarian lotcha: it’s a small fat Khmer noodle. A friend was visiting and we went for a cycle ride to Silk Island . . . on the way back, right as we passed Wat Phnom, it started to rain and it just appeared!
Surn Yi [#13c Street 184] is a Taiwanese and vegetarian place on Street 184. It’s a really funny hole in the wall kind of place. It was magical back in the day; there was a kind of garden terrace and it was like a vegetarian Narnia. There’s always young Khmer couples there sipping bubble tea and looking romantically into each other’s eyes. The menu is large and it’s super cheap. You can get a three-course meal for two people for under $10. The best thing to get is the noodle soup with mushrooms.
They have this dish at Mercy House [corner of streets 251 and 222] called jan psat pombong, which means fried or roasted mushroom legs. So it’s the leg – what’s the word? Stalk! It’s the stalk of the mushroom. This is the most delicious thing you will ever put in your mouth. It’s sort of like meat, and I say that but I don’t like meat. It’s not like meat in an offensive form. Whenever I go to parties, I buy it and bring it in a tiffin. When I bring it I always make friends!