Anyone who’s vegetarian and decides go traveling knows that along with the usual challenges (adapting to new cultures, lifestyles, people, languages, and customs), they have an additional one on their plate (no pun intended)! How and where to find vegetarian food? It becomes all the more difficult when traveling to Cambodia, where meat is an essential part of the daily diet. Mind you, Cambodians do include a lot of fresh, locally grown veggies in their meals. It’s just that vegetarianism as a concept is not as popular. However with just a bit of planning, one can plan a completely vegetarian way to experience all the cuisine this country has to offer. Here’s my guide for eating vegetarian in Cambodia, written during my own backpacking trip around the country.
What to Know Before You Start Ordering
The things that might often creep into the food you order, even if you order a vegetarian dish, include fish sauce, oyster sauce, and meat broth. They are often used, even in “vegetarian” dishes, as a flavoring agent. The easiest way for you to avoid this is to have a note written down in Khmer to make yourself clearly understood as you place your order. Ask the staff at your hotel, guesthouse, or hostel to translate a note which suits your requirements and carry that all along. Here’s the one I brought with me:
What to Eat as a Vegetarian in Cambodia
You have several different options, depending on the time of day. You don’t have to stick to what are usually considered the “safe bets” while traveling Southeast Asia: fried rice, stir-fried noodles, or stir fried veggies.
Many hotels and hostels will offer a free breakfast which will included at least a basic fare of of bread/baguettes, butter, jam, eggs, fruits, tea, coffee, and juice – or some part of it. This meal might be the easiest part of the day. Even if breakfast is not included, there are plenty of 7-11/mini mart types of stores every few hundred meters where you’ll find all of the above along with a some brands of cereal, muesli, and cookies. It’s pretty easy to whip up a healthy breakfast for yourself in the morning. However, one of my favourite vegetarian breakfasts in Cambodia was rice soup. The soup, called Bobo, is deliciously filling, and it costs less than a dollar per serving. Look out for little stalls selling Bobo. They’re easy to spot because of the crowd of locals getting their much-needed morning boost before they head off to work or school.
Lunch & Dinner
There are plenty of restaurants aimed at tourists that will offer a vegetarian menu or easily accommodate your needs. The most common vegetarian dishes on the menu are usually vegetarian fried rice and stir-fried noodles with veggies. Sometimes you’ll also see vegetarian versions of Amok and Khmer Curry. These could be considered Cambodia’s national dishes. Amok is a coconut curry steam cooked in banana leaves, and Khmer Curry is similar to a Thai red curry. The meat traditionally found is these dishes is replaced with tofu and/or more veggies for the vegetarian versions. Another one of my absolute favourite lunch or dinner options is stir-fried morning glory with garlic.
There are plenty of options to choose from here as well. Of course, there are the crisps, cookies, and granola/oat bars available in the 7-11 type stores for a munch while on a bus journey or walking around a city. At the same time, you should really try some local delicacies. Look out for stalls along the roads selling Bamboo Sticky Rice, Papaya Salad, Raw Mango Salad, Sweet Potato Cakes, and Steamed Corn On The Cob. There are also stalls selling fruits, fruit shakes, and smoothies every hundred metres or so. These are a great way to keep yourself hydrated on a sweaty afternoon in Cambodia!
Where To Eat as a Vegetarian in Cambodia
Here’s a list of few restaurants, by city, which offer an all-vegetarian menu or vegetarian-friendly one:
Vegetarian Restaurants in Phnom Penh
Tinat’s 51 Restaurant
This place has an extensive menu. Dishes are priced from $2-$5 with portion sizes ranging from Small to Large. They do really good stir fried veggies or noodles. Iced tea is complimentary with every meal.
Address: Corner of Street 51 and Street 154, Phnom Penh
Evergreen Vegetarian Restaurant
Evergreen Vegetarian is an all vegetarian restaurant serving mock meat dishes. I recommend the set menu, which includes a soup, two veggie/mock meat dishes, a bowl of rice, dessert (fresh fruit), and a complimentary pot of hot tea. At $3 the set menu is great value for your money!
Address: Khemarak Phoumin Avenue (Street 130), Phnom Penh
Mercy House Vegetarian Restaurant
This restaurant set in an open-air garden serves great food at reasonable prices. Don’t be confused by the the mention of meat on their menu. It only means faux meat or seafood. I highly recommend the mushroom burger!
Address: Pasteur Street (Street 51), Phnom Penh
Vegetarian Restaurants in Siem Reap
What was once a hole-in the-wall restaurant has now grown quite big and will continue expanding. However, unlike many restaurants that go downhill when they get popular, Khmer Kitchen still continues to be awesome. Their vegetarian-friendly menu features traditional Khmer delicacies like Amok or Khmer Curry. The Khmer Curry here is excellent and comes with heaps of tofu, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. It makes for a filling lunch or dinner.
Address: Pedestrian alley to the southeast of Pub street. It’s quite a popular place. Ask the locals and they’ll point you in the right direction.
Street Stalls along Sivatha Boulevard
There are number of food stalls along Sivatha Boulevard close to Pub Street. All of them have a vegetarian-friendly menu printed in English with pictures. Dishes range from $3-$5. Don’t be misled by me calling them food stalls. Many of them have a larger seating capacity than some popular restaurants. What they might lack in decor is quite made up for with the ambience they provide as you sit and watch a busy evening unfold in Siem Reap.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Battambang
Jaan Bai is a very popular restaurant with expats as well as tourists. It has a good vegetarian-friendly menu of both Western and Khmer dishes. Not only will you be getting vegetarian dishes, but you also support a cause while you eat. The restaurant employs and trains disadvantaged youth, with all profits going to the Cambodian Children’s Trust.
Address: Street 2, next to Psar Nat, Battambang
A popular guesthouse for backpackers traveling to Kampot, Ganesha houses a restaurant by the same name which has an excellent menu of vegetarian as well as vegan-friendly items on the menu. Owned by a German-Khmer couple the staff is extremely friendly and will try their best to offer you something that suits your needs.
Address: Street 1.5, Battambang
A morning-only bakery close to Ganesha Restaurant
Keep Ganesha Restaurant on your right and take the first left towards the river. At the corner of St 119 and the St 1 along the river you’ll see a street stall which is quite popular among locals serving freshly made donuts, croissants and cakes and bread. Pick and choose whatever you want for a filling breakfast. You’ll be charged based on what you choose. I bought a 2 donut, a croissant and some kind of savoury fried dough ball and all of this cost me less than 75 cents. By late morning everything is sold and they’ve shut shop for the day.
Address: Corner of Street 119 and Street 1 – open only until the day’s stock sells out
Vegetarian Restaurants in Kampot
If you visit Kampot, chances are you’ll definitely visit one of the Pepper Farms that are plentiful in the region. Most of these farms have a restaurant that offers dishes that include pepper. Spend a late morning touring the farm and then have lunch in the restaurant – you’ll definitely find a few dishes for vegetarians.
A popular restaurant and guest house that comes highly recommended by fellow travellers. Rikitikitavi offers a vegetarian-friendly menu and the team is always ready to take up your suggestions to suit the dishes to your needs.
Address: Riverside, next to the post office, Kampot
On an ending note, being vegetarian in Cambodia is not as difficult as one might think. In addition to the restaurants stated above, the bars and restaurants at the Mad Monkey hostels have some great vegetarian dishes on their menus and are good value for money. Mad Monkey has hostels in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot, and Koh Rong Samloem.
Happy Travels and Happy Eating!
About the Author
Venkat Ganesh Gudipaty is the author of the popular blog India Backpack Motorbike (check it out here). He traveled through Cambodia to write this piece in February 2017.
More Information About Where to Eat Vegetarian Food in Cambodia
If you want to do some more reading on vegetarian options in Cambodia, check out these articles. We only recommend blogs and websites that we read ourselves.
- Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurants in Cambodia on Happy Cow
- A Vegetarian’s Guide to Cambodia by Glynn Pogue on Eat Your World
- How To Eat Vegan and Vegetarian in Cambodia by Alyssa on Move To Cambodia
- Vegan Guide to Cambodia on Vegan Food Quest
Mad Monkey Hostels operates in the following Cambodian locations: Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot, Koh Rong Samloem