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  • Writer's pictureAround the World in Vegan Eats


Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Phnom Penh is a great introduction to Cambodia for many reasons. As the capital city, it offers the classic combination of modern and traditional when it comes to its architecture, its infrastructure, and its food too. Lots of pretty parks, impressive monuments, and excellent shopping centres sit side by side with temples, palaces, and of course relics of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime that led to genocide here in the mid to late 1970s.

In many ways, tourism in Phnom Penh is like in any other city: but many of the tourist attractions are devoted to the remembrance of the victims of this horrifying and recent moment in Khmer history. In total, nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population was wiped out by Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, in incredibly horrific ways. People of all ages were brutally murdered in genocide camps, with victims persecuted because of ethnicity, religion, education, class and many other reasons. We visited the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison) to educate ourselves and pay our respects to the victims. Though this is a harrowing trip that we both found very emotional and difficult at times, we really recommend visiting these museums to understand the atrocities that have occurred in the very recent past here.

As former teachers ourselves, we were both particularly struck by the fact that intellectuals and educators were among the groups massacred; this really brought home the reality of the situation to us. If we had lived in Cambodia at that time, we would likely not have survived. I joined generations of travellers in tying a bracelet to the Killing Tree. This site, where hundreds of children were beaten to death then thrown into a mass grave, is adorned with thousands of colourful bracelets, tied there by visitors to show their respects to the young and helpless victims: locals believe that the brightly coloured bracelets bring these children luck in the afterlife. The pink and orange rope bracelet that I left behind in tribute was one that I had worn for several years after buying it on a short holiday with three of my oldest friends. It has journeyed around the world with me, and been part of some of the most important moments in my life. I feel very lucky to have been able to have these experiences and opportunities, so leaving my bracelet on the tree was my way of sharing these with those whose own futures were brutally torn away from them.

Eating Vegan in Phnom Penh

"What inspired me most was the resilience of the Cambodian people. The country is still living with the trauma of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. People lost everything – family, friends. The rich culture of Cambodia was nearly extinguished. They are a nation of survivors... hopeful for the future." - Joy Bryant

Though there aren't tonnes of options for vegans in Phnom Penh, what we did find was absolutely delicious and really impressed us. We expect that the plant-based food scene will only continue to grow as the city's tourism re-develops after the pandemic; we've even heard of a vegan B&B opening in the area close to the Russian Market! Read on, then watch our video at the bottom of the page, to find out our top places to eat vegan in Phnom Penh, Cambodia including where to get Khmer classics Amok and Lok Lak!

1st: Element

51A street 306, BKK1 Phnom Penh, 12302, Cambodia

After a particularly emotional day, including our tour of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, we headed over to Element for lunch. Located about a 10 minute walk from the Genocide Museum, Element is a real symbol of the new Phnom Penh. This modern vegetarian restaurant is comfortable, welcoming, and beautifully furnished. Its menu comprises lots of impeccably presented vegetarian and vegan dishes (many with traditional Khmer roots), and the service is second to none here.

The restaurant was relatively quiet when we visited, and the service was fast and friendly. I ordered the Cambodian Curry, while Mike ordered the Element Amok. We were really excited to try these traditional Cambodian dishes, but if you fancy something with more western roots, they also offer dishes including plant-based burgers and vegan fish and chips. Their dessert menu also looks amazing; we were gutted that we were too full to indulge!

My Cambodian curry was really tasty, full of sweet potato and complex flavours. It included a variety of yummy fresh veg, and looked and smelled incredible when it arrived - it was also served with a very generous serving of my favourite brown rice, which was an added bonus! The sauce and the vegetables were really delicious but it was the sweet potato that really took centre stage here: it was cooked perfectly, with a soft but not mushy texture and the gentle sweetness that complemented the sauce so well. It was a really beautiful, plant-based, Khmer style lunch.

If we thought my curry was great, Mike's Amok was even better! Amok is a traditional Khmer dish that we were really excited to try (keep an eye out for our Siem Reap vegan Amok review, coming soon!) This Amok absolutely blew us away. The bowl was lined by neatly layered slices of courgette and aubergine: it was so artistically presented that Mike almost felt bad eating it! The dish itself was very creamy and flavoursome; he's not usually a fan of aubergine but he really enjoyed this! The Amok sauce was thick and creamy but very light too; like my curry it was served with a hearty dish of brown rice. The heaviness of the rice complemented the lighter sauce really well. The fish that is traditionally part of this dish was replaced by sweet potato wrapped in leaves; this tasted good but wasn't his favourite part - the creamy sauce really had to take the crown here!

Element is situated near an up and coming tourist area and is pretty easy to get to (especially if, like us, you're coming from the Genocide Museum). Their prices, as you might expect for such expertly crafted and presented dishes, are a little higher than some other vegetarian and vegan offerings in the city but they are still very reasonable and absolutely worth it. My Cambodian Curry cost $5.70 (approx. £4.72 or €5.34) while Mike's Element Amok came in at $6.50 (approx. £5.38 or €6.09). Overall, a really great place to treat yourself while you're in Phnom Penh.

2nd: Surn Yi Vegetarian Restaurant

13c Samdach Preah Theamak Lethet Ouk, Phnom Penh, 柬埔寨, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

You might recognise Surn Yi Vegetarian as the place where we tried vegan lok lak while we were in Phnom Penh. We really enjoyed trying the traditional Khmer dish here, but actually we were already a fan Surn Yi: we had tried their vegan burgers earlier in our trip to the city.

Surn Yi's menu is extremely comprehensive, with a handy ordering system where you simply write the number of the dishes you fancy on the dry-erase board and take it to the till. The menus are written in Khmer and English, with vegan dishes clearly marked. On the first day we visited we were craving some carbs, and the western dishes they offered did not disappoint.

We tried two of their burgers, and ordered a large portion of fries too. The fries were fairly standard, a relatively good-sized portion to share; they were tasty, with dip options already on the table. But where we were really impressed was the burgers. I chose the crispy mushroom steak burger with tofu. I've never had tofu in a burger before, so didn't know what to expect: I was really happy with my choice though. The mushroom steak burger was really yummy, and the tofu was a great addition to make it even heartier. If you are vegetarian, you could choose egg instead of tofu, and vice versa. The burger was really well seasoned and sauced, with the different elements providing a satisfying combination of textures. Mike's crispy v-ham steak and mushroom burger was comparably impressive, with slightly different flavours but the same level of deliciousness. The soft bread, tender and tasty burger, and smooth sauces made us very happy westerners on this day when we needed the comfort of carbs!

We were really impressed with the service and ordering system at Surn Yi, it makes it so easy for everyone! The prices are very good too, with our large portion of fries costing $3 (approx. £2.48 or €2.81); our burgers meanwhile cost $2.50 (approx. £2.07 or €2.34) for the crispy mushroom steak and tofu, and $3.75 (approx. £3.10 or €3.51) for the crispy v-ham steak and mushroom one. Their western dishes are considerably more expensive than their Cambodian or Asian options too, so if you want something really cost-effective there is a very large menu of local dishes for you to choose from.

3rd: Burgershack

14z Langka Lane, Street 51 BKK1 Phnom Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

You might remember Burgershack from our Top Places to Eat Vegan in Kampot blog - this independent burger chain has two outlets in Kampot and Phnom Penh. It's a testament to how much we enjoyed our experience at the Kampot branch, that we actively sought out their Phnom Penh diner too!

We decided we should try both the vegan burger meal options this time: so Mike ordered the Unbelieve-a-burger meal that we had enjoyed so much in Kampot, while I chose the O'Hail Seitan Burger for a nice change. Though they didn't have vegan cheese listed on their menu, they actually had some that we could add, so Mike went ahead and added vegan cheese to his burger.

The burgers themselves were really satisfying, while the fries were fresh, crunchy and delicious. The O'Hail Seitan burger was chicken-like in flavour, very tasty and tender in the centre with a nice crunch from the breaded coating. I would have preferred a vegan mayo in there, but the ketchup and mustard tasted pretty good too. Mike's Unbelive-a-burger meal was as tasty as the one we enjoyed in Kampot, but with the added luxury of that delicious vegan cheese which really topped off the flavours well. Let's just say we were extremely satisfied here and hope that the vegan cheese becomes a permanent addition to their menu!

Burgershack Phnom Penh was much busier than the Kampot branch, so a little less tranquil but an excellent place to visit! The prices for a meal were $1 more expensive than in Kampot, presumably because of the higher business costs here; but at $6.50 per burger meal (approx. £5.37 or €6.08) including fries and a drink we though this was still quite reasonable.

Where is your favourite place to get plant-based food in Phnom Penh? Are there any new places or old favourites that we've missed? Leave us a comment to let us know (and others who might be visiting too!)


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The centre of Vienna with tall, historic buildings all around
My bracelet with many others at the Killing Tree

Where should I stay?

Phnom Penh is home to a completely vegan homestay: Sacred Lotus. This new and highly rated accommodation is situated close to the Russian market, and even provide community events and donate money to underprivileged local children. The rooms are clean and comfortable, and there's a vegan cafe on site too!

For a comfortable and modern hotel experience in an excellent location, Orussey One Hotel & Apartments are new and highly reviewed. They have a rooftop pool, a sauna and steam room, as well as well equipped and modern rooms.

Tours & Experiences

At the beginning of this blog we recommended a visit to the Killing Fields and S-21 Genocide Museum. This highly-rated tour provides convenient hotel pick-up, and English speaking tour guide, and air conditioned transportation between the two sites. We travelled by tuk tuk and it was very dusty and hot! If that's not for you, why not check out other tours below?

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