Cambodia: known worldwide for its stunning temple complexes, tumultuous past, palpable humidity, and trendy health-conscious eateries serving up locally sourced dishes and organic cold-pressed juice cleanses. No? Perhaps the last one’s a stretch, but at least one expat is on course to change that perception with two cafés aimed at satisfying the Whole Foods crowd.
Serving up vegetarian fare in an unlikely destination, the Backyard cafe has become a staple for mindful eaters in Cambodia.
Emma Fountain, a nomadic chef originally from the UK, opened Backyard Cafe off a narrow dirt road a block from Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace in early 2015. Not long after came Vibe Cafe, an all-vegan operation in Siem Reap, with a second outpost in the capital city. “We had noticed a lack of healthy options in the market in Cambodia,” says Fountain. “And we wanted to create a place out of our passion for nutritious, wholesome, sustainably sourced ingredients and team it with our ethical practices of providing employment and training for local Cambodians.”
They also wanted to make it beautiful. In an otherwise loud, dusty cities, the restaurants are tranquil minimalist haven of white-walled décor, plants, and strong Wi-Fi that wouldn’t be out of place on a Brooklyn block or Copenhagen side street. According to Fountain, both attract about a three-to-one mix of visitors and locals, who are increasingly curious about their health and well-being.
The kitchen’s principles are clear, starting with ingredients sourced from local organic farms to create nutrient-dense dishes with healing properties. “Sourcing organic and chemical-free fruits and vegetables is actually relatively easy in Cambodia,” says Fountain. “The difficult items to find are organic superfoods and gluten-free products. We’re working with small sustainable farmers, and we also have wonderful customers who bring us things back from their travels.”
Standout menu items include the Abundance Bowl with tempeh, grains, spinach, and house-made cashew cheese topped with hummus and roasted pumpkin; refreshing smoothie bowls; and a coconut and quinoa porridge. Organic cold-pressed juices (try the Liquid Gold with orange, pineapple, carrot, turmeric, and aloe vera) can be enjoyed solo or in one of their signature cleanses.
“When a customer loves the food, it’s the most rewarding thing,” says Fountain. “Some of our regulars have noticed a substantial difference in their health by being able to eat with us, and we love the community aspect the cafes offer.”