By Grace Kelly, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017
There’s nothing better than a great meal. One of the highlights of traveling to so many countries has been being able to sample the local cuisines and actually tasting the differences that make each culture unique. During my time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I was lucky enough to enjoy lunch a Romdeng, a local restaurant that serves up Cambodian fare with a philanthropic twist—they’re a training restaurant for marginalized youth.
Romdeng is one of 2 restaurants in Cambodia founded by TREE, a global alliance of training restaurants that provide at-risk children and young adults, often taken off of the streets, with on-the-job training in the hospitality industry. Students work in the kitchen and serve customers, practicing their English, learning skills like communication and teamwork, and receiving a valuable support system that gives them the confidence and empowerment to pursue further employment. All of the profits from the restaurants are re-invested in the students and the social programs that support them. TREE has restaurants throughout the world in places like Laos (Vientiane and Luang Prabang), Thailand (Bangkok), and Ethiopia (Addis Ababa).
Romdeng is run by Mith Samlanh, a local NGO founded in 1994 that specializes in enriching the lives of local children (from infants up to age 24) in Phnom Penh through things like art, sports, and culture.
Not only did I feel like my patronage was making a positive impact on the community, but the food and atmosphere was fabulous as well! All of the restaurant’s bright, tropical decor is made by local Cambodian artisans and all of the seat cushions and wall art were crafted by the children at Mith Samlanh.
The restaurant is open air and has a pool in the center of it, so we got to enjoy the fresh breeze and warm air while we ate. The highlights of the meal for me was a flavorful pumpkin and zucchini curry that was served in a banana leaf bowl. We also were served a lemongrass soup with duck and tree ants (!!!) which was surprisingly tasty, you would’ve never thought you were eating insects! The table next to us ordered a plate of tarantulas, which I enjoyed taking pictures of but left the eating to them!
What’s the best (or strangest!) meal you’ve had while traveling?