Cambodians frickin’ love meat. And chicken. And fish. And fish sauce. And shrimp paste. And little dried shrimp on top of everything. So at first, eating vegetarian in Cambodia did not look like it was going to be too easy. Especially coming from India – the land of vegetarian plenty.
After a couple of fairly dodgy attempts to order at market noodle stalls, I realised that my ‘dtai bon lai’ (I only eat vegetables) wasn’t really cutting it. Luckily, Phnom Penh hooked me up with a few fantastic street food options and a smattering of cheap, tasty restaurants.
First, the street food.
The minute I saw a skewer of tiny grilled bananas, I knew Cambodia and I were gonna get along just fine.
I ate these suckers every day (often more than once. In fact, often more than thrice) and at 25c a skewer, they are one of my favourite Cambodian eats.
Another awesome street option? Sweet potatoes!
These were a little more elusive than the bananas. But, if you walk around Phnom Penh for long enough, you’ll almost certainly spot a wee Cambodian woman with a metal bowl on her head. If you’re lucky, that bowl is the home of an array of steamed sweet potatoes. Little ones, big ones, purple ones. My selection strategy is simple: wave a 500 riel (12c) note around, and let the lady do the pickin’.
One more! Motha flippin’ corn on the cob. And not that silly ol’ white stuff you get in Korea, but the real, sweet, yellow stuff. At 50c a cob, it’s the most expensive of the street food. Luckily, corn is amazing. You can get it steamed or grilled at a few places near the Royal Palace, and one right down the end of the riverside, near the night market.
And now, the restaurants!
Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant
(No. 109, St 130)
Evergreen is great. As soon as you sit down, you get a whole pot of free tea, and the menu has a range of Cambodian and Japanese dishes. I ordered the teppanyaki plate — tasty and oh so sizzly! Prices range from $1.50 – $5. The people are lovely, too!
(No.158, Street 19 off Sihanouk Blvd)
The Vegetarian gets mad tripadvisor props, and deservedly so. The food is cheap and the menu is a little more varied than some others on the list. I went twice. The first time I ordered ’5 healthy vegetable stir fry’ (trying to counteract a super greasy, hungover breakfast) and brown rice, and the next, baby pumpkin curry with (again) brown rice. Both dishes were fresh and vegetastic. Plus, brown rice.
Surn Yi Vegetarian
(No.13B, St. 184)
I stumbled into Surn Yi by chance. It reminded me a bit of a Loving Hut branch — plenty of fake meat and strange wee sandwiches. The thick noodle mushroom soup was, well, thick. And filled with rubbery ‘fish’ balls. Tasty, though! And, of course, cheap ($1.50). The menu is enormous, so there are plenty of things to try.
Oh, and they gave me tea! At least, I think it was tea. I hope it wasn’t meant to be water…
Nameless Vegetarian Restaurant
(right next door to Surn Yi)
Right next to Surn Yi, there is an unassuming little place, with a sign simply reading ‘Vegetarian Restaurant’. It’s full of locals and, lemme tell you, they know what’s up! The menu (with pictures, thankfully) is simple. Noodles, mushroomy ‘meat’, fried rice, curry, etc. Every time I went in, I told myself I’d try something new, but every time I got the mushroom noodle soup. Fresh noodles, rich broth, piles of cilantro, plenty of greens, perfectly cooked egg… All for $1! I haven’t even left Phnom Penh yet, and I already miss this place.
The cheapest of the lot and, in my opinion, the best.
(Street 240 1/2, tucked in a little alley)
Although Artillery isn’t strictly vegetarian, it definitely deserves a spot on this list. It not only has super legit plunger/french press coffee (served with soy milk), but also raw desserts, fresh salads, plenty of vegan options, and attentive, knowledgeable staff. A little (well, a lot) more expensive than the others, but at $3 – $5 a meal, it’s not exactly highway robbery…
K’nyay was actually closed for reservations when I visited, but just reading the menu online earned it a spot! Roast pumpkin and pear fritters, jackfruit curry, peanut butter and banana soya shake… See you next time I’m in Phnom Penh, K’nyay.