This is a post for all you raw foodies out there who are thinking of travelling to Cambodia to see the beautiful Angkor Wat temple. I only spent a handful of days in Cambodia, but I hope you will find this information useful and it will help you during your stay.
Phnom Penh Airport
At the airport, believe it or not, you can actually eat something raw! Outside (so available at arrival and departure) you will find just 5 little eateries: Dairy Queen, Burger King, Pho24 (Vietnamese noodle place), Costa Coffee and The Pizza Company.
The first 2 are clearly out, Costa only has chicken and tuna salads, so the best option for a raw vegan flying into Cambodia is The Pizza Company. They don’t actually have a raw salad on the menu, but you can ask (i.e. persist) to make you a salad with lettuce, tomatoes and green peppers. At the time of writing, December 2013, it cost $4. They actually brought us a salad with one tomato slice on it and that’s it, so just ask for more. And show them what a green pepper looks like from their pizza menu as they call them capsicums.
They also won’t know the word “raw”, so you can say “not cooked” or “not fried”, the waitress there just used the word “cold”.
Also, the dressing they give is a mayo one, I asked for olive oil but they didn’t have it, so the best dressing you can get out of these guys is sunflower oil and salt. Well it’s better than nothing!
Pho24 restaurant doesn’t have a salad, but they do have fresh spring rolls in rice wraps (also $4). Sure the wraps aren’t raw, and the rolls originally come with prawns and noodles, but you can ask to take them out. Honestly I wouldn’t recommend this option, they were the worst rolls I’ve ever had. They put aniseed and mint into it and it came with, surprise surprise, fish sauce (watch out for this in Asia). The best alternative was soya sauce that also tasted funny, but at least we knew what was in it, unlike the awful tasting sauces they had on the side.
Inside the departure lounge there is one Asian restaurant with the same type of fresh spring rolls with prawns.
On the way to Siem Reap
My advice for staying in Cambodia – become banana-tarian :). They have the best bananas I’ve ever had in my life, and I’ve been to a lot of Asian countries where they’re pretty great!
If you get a car to Siem Reap (which I would highly recommend over a bus!), you can ask the driver to stop at any of the local markets and buy lots of fruit for your journey, bananas should cost no more than $1 for a bunch of about 15-18 bananas. What they have will depend on the season, in December for example, there were lots of bananas (get the finger-length chubby ones, they should be quite yellow or even black in some parts and they have an orange tint inside), jackfruit, mangoes (the green ones were quite sour), dragon fruit, mini watermelons and some curious looking local fruit that we didn’t get to try.
If you do that, ask the driver that you want do go to the market to buy bananas or fruit, otherwise he may take you to a market where they sell pig heads and fried spiders (we had the pleasure of seeing both).
Eating raw food in Siem Reap
There are no raw restaurants in Siem Reap and the only vegetarian restaurants are Indian, so I hope you like spicy food.
Well it’s ok if you don’t, there are actually some pretty nice restaurants all around, walk through the town and dive into the side streets, you will find plenty of European style cafés where you can order a salad.
The best salad I had was in a restaurant called Taste of India. It was just the “vegetable salad” that costs $2.50 but I asked them to just put all raw vegetables they had into it. It was great because it wasn’t the typical lettuce and tomato salad you would get, but it had cabbage, carrots, cucumbers and more, as well as that, the spicy and sour chutney went down really well with that.
If you’re doing tours to Angkor Wat, you will most likely be taken to one of the tourist-traps along the way, you can’t really avoid that if you’re on a half day or full day tour as you’d have to turn around and waste time to go back into town. We looked in a couple of restaurants before settling down (thankfully they are all adjacent to each other), and the best thing we could find were fresh spring rolls again! They weren’t too bad but can’t say they were amazing.
It’s very hard to explain to Cambodians the essence of a simple salad, they will point at the menu and offer options from there, so try to be persistent with what you want. I was even joking that I should have a note with salad ingredients written down for them.
If you can survive on fruit alone, that would really be your best option, they’re very tasty in Cambodia and very cheap (you can get anything for a dollar, a bunch of bananas, 2 massive dragon fruits or 2 mangoes).
Think about how much you are willing to be flexible here, my mission for this trip was to stick to 100% raw no matter what, but still had to have the spring rolls as they just don’t understand the concept of a salad.
Enjoy your trip!