Me – a food critic?

Like many developing countries there is often a particularly stark contrast between the major cities and the more rural areas. Phnom Penh receives a lot of tourists on their routes through South East Asia with them ticking off the main attractions in the city such as the Russian Market and the Royal Palace. Cambodia though it should be stressed is an extremely poor country and so the local people are naturally keen for tourists to spend plenty of money during their stays.

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In addition to supporting the economic development of the country the many of the local population are also seeking ways to benefit people in the area. Adjacent to the Russian Market was a charity shop run by an NGO that supported local craftspeople by selling their goods to visiting tourists. Similarly, not far from my hotel was a restaurant that trained street children to work as staff in the hospitality industry, ensuring this sustainable enterprise served the members of the population most in need.

Hurrying around the restaurant was a fleet of young staff in bright blue t-shirts – all clearly indicating whether they were a teacher or a student.

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I spoke with one of the established teachers, Puthea, who was 32 and who had worked there for a number of years.

‘We do what is needed to support the young people. We have an outreach team that locates them. When they join us we help them with other aspects – such as medical expenses. Also, if they need a place to stay we find them lodging’.

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This type of training model is replicated in other places, notably in the UK by Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen restaurants however this type of model can face challenges. The Hoxton Apprentice restaurant in London – a flagship social enterprise that trained young unemployed people to work in the industry, had to close in early 2013 because of funding shortages.

As for my foray into the world of restaurant reviewing, I can definitely recommend the Friends restaurant for anyone visiting Phnom Penh and they also now have sister restaurants elsewhere in Asia. My particular recommendation certainly being the Honey garlic pork and Beef meatballs on Pandan noodles.

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