In honor of #MeatLessMay, we scoured the city of Phnom Penh to find some of the most unique, animal product-free venues in the capital. We were pleasantly surprised by the sheer number of cafes and restaurants with vegetarian and vegan options, but one restaurant that captivated us was Sabay Vegilicious.
Keep reading to find out about how the owners of this restaurant were formally part of the dog meat trade in Cambodia — now, they serve up some of the best vegan food in the city!
Regardless of one’s diet, it is incredibly difficult for many Westerners to imagine a dog being served on a dish. In Cambodia, however, this is not incredibly uncommon.
“With other local and foreign resident acquaintances, we have interviewed many locals to understand the dog meat eating habit here better,” said Lucy Haurisa, MD, MScPublic Health, ENT Specialist. “It seems that it became common during the war in the 1970s, partially due to Vietnamese influence. Dog meat remained specialty meat since then until now.”
And unlike other countries, dog meat consumption has little cultural or religious connections to Cambodia. The tide is changing, however.
“Increasingly people become aware of the human health risks related to eating dog meat,” Haurisa said.”
In addition, more people view dogs as man’s best friends…as pets even. In one particularly unique case, two dog meat sellers have taken on a drastically different business venture that is entirely cruelty-free…vegan-friendly, if you can believe it!
We are talking about the creators and owners of Sabay Vegilicious.
Meet Syna and Morng
Sabay Vegalicious is owned by Khmer couple Syna and her husband Morng. This couple was selling dog meat on the outskirts of Phnom Penh what seems like lifetimes ago. Now, however, they have opened a cruelty-free restaurant in the heart of the capital — it is actually but a few minutes’ walk from Mad Monkey Phnom Penh!
In 2015, the couple owned a dog meat shop near the Phnom Penh airport. Prior to that, Morng was working as a car repairman but wasn’t making enough money to support his family. Their two children lived in a different province with their grandparents while Morng and Syna worked hard to be able to financially support themselves and their children.
Selling dog meat was good money — the couple saw this particular cuisine’s popularity in the city and knew they needed to take care of their family, no matter the cost. It wasn’t long afterward, however, that their morals took hold. They soon realized that they could no longer consciously sell dog meat, and they knew that something needed to change.
Animal Hope and Well Foundation
Morng and Syna knew they wanted out, but they were not sure how to financially do so and support their family all the while. Luckily, the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation stepped in to help. This non-profit focuses on rescuing and aiding animals that have been abused or neglected. They also assist animals in finding forever homes.
What makes this foundation stand out, however, is where they actually find these dogs — in the dog meat trade and bound to be on someone’s plate. The organization is based in California, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to save dogs from all over the world.
While there are many animals in shelters and strays in Cambodia, this organization solely focuses on rescuing dogs from the Asian Dog Meat Trade. When they heard about Syna and Morng desperately trying to get out of it, they took swift action and Sabay Vegilicious was born.
Dog Meat Consumption in Cambodia
The selling of dog meat is not a new issue — many people are aware of it and want things to change, as well. The outskirts of Phnom Penh are notoriously known for selling dog meat as is the city of Siem Reap.
Haurisa is also a volunteer at Sabay Vegilicious. She’s been there for about a year now, but her love for animals began long ago.
“Since I was a child, I was fascinated by animals and the lives they are leading,” Haurisa said.
In her 20s, however, she left meat behind to live an animal-product-free lifestyle.
“Only after I met vegans five years ago and overheard them discuss the process of producing dairy [that] I left all animal products off my plate and my life within a few days,” Haurisa said. “There is enough footage openly accessible and once seen, it cannot be unseen. This makes cravings nearly impossible! This is a change for life, and I only regret I did not inform myself earlier.”
Haurisa and Lee from EpicAnimalQuest have been working on documenting the dog meat trade in Cambodia since 2017. Since beginning the investigative research, they discovered that a total of 92 venues sold dog meat in the following cities:
- Phnom Penh
- Siem Reap
Cambodia is not the only country where dog meat is sold and consumed. Some of the countries where dogs are commonly eaten in and around the Kingdom of Wonder include:
- South Korea
But restaurants such as Sabay Vegilicious are paving the way for other dog meat sellers and traders around the world to make the ethical switch, as well.
Sabay Vegilicious is a social enterprise and restaurant duo. It was certainly a financial risk for the couple to make the drastic business change from dog meat to vegan food, but they are finally proud of the work that they do.
A total of three people work at Sabay Vegilicious — Syna, Morng, and their nephew. They are the only ones in charge of the restaurant: from cleaning, to cooking, to serving, and more, this trio does it all.
Their dog-meat turned vegan restaurant even houses it’s very own pet dog: Gigi. They recently gave Gigi to their grandparents so that she had more room to run around, however, visitors are welcome to bring their dogs with them while they dine in the open-concept venue. All furry friends are welcome!
In addition to being created with such a great cause in mind, Sabay Vegilicious is serving up some pretty mouthwatering dishes. Our favorites included:
- Coffee with soy milk: ($1)
- Deep fried mock fish pieces made from beans and mushrooms: ($2.50)
- Tofu amok in coconut: ($4)
- Handmade spring rolls made with taro and carrot: ($2)
- Deep-fried tofu: ($1.50)
The restaurant itself is adorned with informational posters about the dog meat trade. Diners can meander around to find out more about why it is that Syna and Morng made the switch to open a vegan restaurant. In addition, Sabay Vegilicious accepts volunteers to help keep this cruelty-free venue going.
One of these volunteers is Marie Bruno, a social studies teacher in Phnom Penh. She’s been a vegetarian for 13 years and a vegan for one. She’s been volunteering at Sabay Vegilicious since early January 2019, doing whatever it is the restaurant needs from her.
“Recently I’ve been doing a lot of writing [and] trying to help secure funding for the restaurant,” Bruno said.
The most rewarding part of her role, however, is getting to know Morng and Syna.
“They made a huge, courageous leap when they changed to a vegan restaurant,” Bruno said. “I am in awe of them! Besides their wonderful food at awesome prices, [their] restaurant is proof that people can change for the better.”
Haurisa has similar sentiments.
“Imagine someone who only used a simple Nokia phone and served only two types of meals — now [they] learned to create 30 vegan dishes, how to use a smartphone and translate apps to manage delivery orders, the Facebook page, and to cater from a Khmer only to an almost solely foreign audience,” she said.
There is still more to learn in order to grow this ethical business. Until then, be sure to stop by, grab a delicious meal, and feel great for doing so!
More Information About How to Travel Ethically in Phnom Penh
Did you love this article about Sabay Vegilicious and how they are making big changes to make Phnom Penh cruelty-free? Do you want to read even more article about organizations who are working towards bettering the city? Then be sure to check out our comprehensive list of articles below to help you make your trip to the capital an eco-friendly and cruelty-free one!
- Why a dog meat seller switched to serving vegan menu, and Cambodia’s fight to curb slaughter of dogs for food by South China Morning Post for The Cambodia Daily
- Phnom Penh Cafes with a Conscience by Kirsten Muolic for Mad Monkey Hostels
- The Truth About Volunteering in Cambodia for Move to Cambodia
- The Best Places to Volunteer in Phnom Penh by Marissa for Culture Trip
- How to Eat Vegetarian in Cambodia by Claire Casher for Mad Monkey Hostels