Dining with a purpose

June 30, 2013 ASEAN Backpacking

When backpacking, it's good to have a meal budget and stick to it, of course. But once in a while, it's alright to shell out a few more bucks, especially at restaurants like these that let you dine with a purpose.

These are some of the restaurants I visited around Asia that fill up tummies and work wonders for the soul at the same time.

Street 174, Phnom Penh

It took us more than 15 minutes to find this restaurant. I was already hinting at just eating at the next restaurant we saw, but luckily, Mervin, our friend who organizes our backpacking trips, didn't budge.

Romdeng was a very pleasant discovery.

Romdeng is run by former street children and their teachers. It is set in a colonial building with wooden carvings, beautiful paintings, and other interesting decor.

The charming interior was actually a prelude to an even more delightful cuisine.

Well, maybe not the appetizer Mervin made us try.  

It was my first time eating these eight legged creatures.  Tarantulas didn't really taste like chicken and I felt its hairy tentacles went down my throat but at least I can proudly add it to my list of weird things I ate.

Good thing the others we ordered were more normal, meaning with main ingredients we are familiar with, and pleasing.  

Before leaving, I made sure to grab something from the souvenir shops — wallets and notebooks upcycled from tires.

Sok San Street, Siem Reap

Helping really tastes good here.  

Haven serves Asian and Western food, and my piece of heaven was a vegetarian dish called Zuri Gschnetzlets with Swiss Rosti.

This is a traditional Swiss vegetable version with tofu, mushroom, onion, cream, white wine, and cognac — crunchy, creamy, and scrumptious.

Haven not only provides training for young orphans but also offers them accommodations, food, medical treatment, and assistance in finding work after their training.

Before we left, I made sure to have a souvenir photo taken with these angels from Haven, Sara and Paul Wallimann.

Behind Wat Ong Teu parallel to Sethathirat Road, Vientiane

Similar to Romdeng, this is another Friends International restaurant that trains homeless youths to cook and wait on tables. I eagerly anticipated this dining experience after discovering it was part of our itinerary.

Needless to say, we were all overjoyed, and our forks couldn't stop invading each other's plates, even though I was completely satisfied with my order. Well, I love anything with spices and coconut milk.

Just like Romdeng, Makphet also has great interiors and a little souvenir shop.

Bagan, Myanmar

This is the latest I tried with the group.

Sanon Restaurant is a training restaurant for some of Myanmar's disadvantaged youths. It trains students, finds them work, then monitors them further.

Sanon means turmeric, a key ingredient in Burmese cuisine.  

Like Romdeng and Makphet, Sanon is part of the Tree group, an alliance of social businesses that builds futures through unique dining experiences.   

The restaurant offers traditional Burmese cuisine in a garden type restaurant, complete with exposed brick walls, art installations, and other Burmese inspired decorations.

I ordered soft shell crabs.  I was craving a burger, but could not resist ordering this.  I was still full from our very late lunch and snacks, so I couldn't take any more carbs. 

I paired this with soup. 

We ordered different items from the menu and got a good feel of Bagan fusion cuisine.   

The staff at Sanon also provided good service.  Tree restaurants pride themselves with impeccable service.

Highly recommended!

These restaurants require reservations and good map reading skills (most are off the tourist trails), but these are highly recommended when visiting Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Vientiane, and Bagan.  

Go and taste your way around these restaurants!  What better way of knowing a place than through its plates and hearts.

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