Feeling adventurous? Red ant fritters are on the menu at new training restaurant Marum, sister restaurant of the successful Friends eatery in Phnom Penh.
Friends International-run Marum aims to train 35 students while serving a mix of “creative Cambodian cuisine” in its leafy garden setting in Wat Polanka area.
Sitting in the pretty restaurant garden, program director Ampor Sam-Oeun says the objective is to “Train marginalised youth to provide them with skills in the hospitality industry and to place them in job employment in Siem Reap or in Cambodia.”
Founded in Cambodia in 1994, NGO Friends International was established in Siem Reap in 2005.
The 35 trainees were selected from the group of young people already working with Friends International, learning basic cooking skills at their vocational training centre in Mondul III village.
The apprentices are between 14 and 24 years old, with the average age being 18.
Ampor says, “Some of them used to be scavengers at the garbage site, some of them might be in conflict with the law – drug users or former street children.
“We have 15 teachers, among them a restaurant manager and assistant restaurant manager. We have a head chef and sous chef and then service teachers, cooking teachers, and two cashiers. But all of them come from the hospitality industry with experience in hotels and restaurants.”
Typically the training takes around 12-18 months, after which the students may choose which area they are more interested in – kitchen or service – and focus on that.
“When we feel they are ready for a job placement we support them,” Ampor explains, “And afterwards we follow them for one year in their employment until they are stable. The objective of the training restaurant is really to support them to become independent.”
Indicating the two stylish, wooden houses containing the restaurant and training school, Ampor explains they were designed by the Japanese architect husband of the previous owner,
“This is why they have some character, because it’s a mix of Khmer and Japanese.”
As for the food, Marum combines the traditional Khmer food of Friends International’s Romdeng restaurant in Phnom Penh, with the tapas-style menu.
Marum is open from 5pm to 10pm, Monday to Saturday and according to Ampor, “Offers creative local cuisine that is served tapas style, small dishes that you can share. Ingredients are local, but with different kind of cuisine inspiration – you can have hummus, but with lotus, jackfruit seed and coriander.”
Marum’s signature dish is red tree ant fritters with prahok dip, which Ampor assures is very tasty.
“You have to taste it!” she laughs. “If you don’t know that you have red tree ants in your fritter then you will never guess.”
The menu also indicates the dishes that are staff favourites, which include spiced smoky eggplant dip with crispy Indian crackers, steamed garlic prawns with soy coriander butter and, on the drinks side, coffee, and coconut ice-cream shake with palm sugar caramel, which sounds rather more like a dessert.
Marum is named after the moringa tree, also known as the ‘tree of life.’
Ampor says, “The leaves are used in Khmer traditional soup, have very high nutrition value and are also used to fight malnutrition. That is why this tree is called the ‘tree of life’. And that’s why in our menu we have our kor ko soup because this soup has marum leaves in it.”
For more information please visit Marum's website.