There are few things I love more than good food, but when it’s a combination of eating good food and supporting a great cause, I’m even more enthusiastic. At HAVEN Training Restaurant in Siem Reap, Cambodia, they are doing exactly that. Haven’s mission is to give young adults from orphanages, shelters, and rural areas important life skills through an apprenticeship program at the restaurant. But HAVEN provides more than just a job–they also care for trainees financially and even offer English and computer classes. The idea is self-sustainability, giving the trainees skills they’d be able to take with them no matter where they go.
HAVEN was founded by an awesome Swiss couple who volunteered in Cambodian orphanages for seven months. You can read more about their story here and why you should never visit orphanages in Cambodia.
Now, onto the food. This fried salt and pepper calamari appetizer was lightly breaded and incredibly tender inside. And it was served with a fantastic lime mayonnaise sauce.
Lok lak, the dish I ate every day while in Cambodia. Some days, even more than once. A dish that comes with rice, a fried egg, and marinated meat (usually beef, sometimes chicken), what’s not to love? And the lok lak at HAVEN did not disappoint; it was also gorgeously plated, especially compared to other lok laks I’ve ordered.
Lok lak is a simple, but delicious dish, and one of the most well-known Khmer dishes. The meat is marinated in a mixture of salt, sugar, pepper, garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. There are variations, and some marinades call for ketchup, which gives it a sweeter taste. Then veggies such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions are stir-fried together with the marinated meat. And lok lak is always served on a bed of lettuce with fresh onions and tomatoes on the side.
What I also love about this dish is the sauce that accompanies it. A mixture of lime juice, salt, sugar, minced garlic, and pepper. Often times, especially in Cambodia, the Kampot pepper will be used, grown in it’s namesake, a riverside city in southern Cambodia. The Kampot stalk is also used in a lot of dishes; in the previous photo, you can get a glimpse of it–small green peppercorn still on the stalk.
Based on how fast my boyfriend wolfed down this beautifully garnished chicken curry, I’d say it was quite a hit. Like many southeast asian curries, Khmer curry also uses coconut milk and lemon grass.
The interior of HAVEN is stunning. It’s beautiful but unpretentious. Small rocks fill the floor of the space and a large yellow tent-like structure makes the space feel cozy and ethereal. Halfway through our lunch, it started raining, and the drops against it made everything feel magical and romantic. The space is versatile enough for for a group of friends or for date night.
Because of the good food, space, and cause, HAVEN is often packed. We were lucky to score a table and even at 2pm, there were very few empty tables. If you can, make a reservation to guarantee a spot. The restaurant also closes between lunch and dinner hours, so plan your day accordingly.