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Phnom Penh, the bustling capital of Cambodia, was once known as the “Pearl of Asia.” It’s a major city of 1.5 million people, and its history of French occupation gives it a sophisticated vibe. That French influence also helped inspire a strong culinary scene with no shortage of outstanding restaurants. Romdeng restaurant, however, is probably one of the most unique options for visitors.
Romdeng is a social enterprise business created by Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship (TREE). TREE is a global alliance of training restaurants that help students learn hospitality skills with the goal that they become “skilled, productive and happy young [people] with a more secure future.” All profits from TREE restaurants are re-invested into the businesses and programs that support its trainees.
Romdeng is not simply a training academy. In addition to helping its students, its mission is to operate a successful restaurant that can measure up to any other spot in the city. So, visitors can support young people as they learn important skills — without having to sacrifice quality.
On a recent Mekong River cruise with Avalon Waterways, our group of about six international passengers had dinner at Romdeng. We found the food excellent, the ambiance lively and the service staff friendly. (If we hadn’t known the story behind the restaurant, we wouldn’t have known that the staff were trainees.) Standout dishes included a prawn, mango, snow pea and cashew stir fry; duck spring rolls; and Burmese chicken curry with crispy noodles.
Adventurous eaters can also try fried tarantulas with black-pepper lime sauce or a beef and spicy basil stir fry that includes red tree ants.
In addition to Romdeng, TREE operates a second spot in Phnom Penh called Friends the Restaurant, along with eateries in other cities across the country, including Siem Reap. There are also TREE restaurants in Laos and Myanmar.
Be sure to tell clients to check out the restaurant’s gift shop before they leave. It’s a great spot for unique and artistic souvenirs.