July 29, 2011

Eating for a Good Cause: Friends International

Just a few days ago I got back from an adventurous vacation in the beautiful region of Southeast Asia. I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and saw some really incredible sites and met some of the most kind, hospitable people. Some highlights from the trip include being shown around in Bangkok by my classmate's family, exploring the ancient ruins in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and having custom fitted clothing made in Hoi An, Vietnam.

While site-seeing, outdoor activities, and shopping are usually the cornerstone of most vacations, one of my priorities while traveling is to taste as many local dishes and new cuisines as possible. As expected, the pad thai and seafood in Bangkok was scrumptious, and the banh mi, hot pots, and dumplings were so tasty in Vietnam. But to my surprise, I had the best culinary experience in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It just so happens that some of the best restaurants in the city are also social enterprises, in which organizations will hire street youth and train them how to work in restaurants. Good food for a good cause? My friends and I were sold.

Within the same day, my travel buddies and I ate at Friends Restaurant and Romdeng, two absolute must-visits if you are in Phnom Penh. Both are run by the Friends International Organization. Similar to Homeboy Industries in Downtown LA, one of the non-profit's projects is to train and hire street youth to run all positions at the two restaurants. While the dishes will run a few dollars more than the typical touristy restaurant, to the average traveler, the food is still incredibly cheap at $4 per item. Every single appetizer, entre, and dessert we ordered turned out to be fantastic. I was so taken by the mission of the organization and how absolutely delicious the food was, I ended up purchasing the cookbook From Spiders to Water to Lilies (learning how to cook the food will be another story).

I encourage my readers that if you find yourself traveling to a part of the world where you can support a social enterprise, please choose do so. It is a great way to give back to a community while also being confident the funds are going to the right place. One way to find such restaurants is to type in "social enterprise" plus the city you are traveling to in Trip Advisor, and hopefully one will come up in the search.

Below are a few photos taken at Friends Restaurant.

The sign outside the restaurant

Delicious ice coffee with condensed milk

Fish cake with glass noodles

Veggie egg rolls

Banana flower and mango salad

A view inside the restaurant
Chocolate banana crepe rolls for dessert

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