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We were surprised by how vegetarian friendly Cambodia is. We ate many delicious meals and never struggled to find meat-free options. That said, we weren’t very adventurous. We didn’t eat street food—except for a few small snacks—or in local restaurants without English menus, as traditional Khmer food usually involves some kind of meat, fish, or at least fish broth or paste.
We only had a month in the country and didn’t learn enough Khmer to be able to make our dietary requirements understood. Instead we mostly ate at restaurants aimed at Westerners. It was more expensive and did leave us feeling a bit distant from local life, but the food was delicious. Due to the large number of NGOs working in Cambodia there are many restaurants aimed at expats, or run as non-profit restaurants supporting good causes in Cambodia.
If you want to eat more like a local then take a look at this guide to being vegetarian in Cambodia from a Peace Corp volunteer who managed to find local dishes to eat, although she had to compromise on a number of things.
On a drive through the countryside outside of Siem Reap we saw numerous stalls by the road selling something in sections of bamboo. Luckily our tuk tuk driver explained that they were vegetarian so we got to try some.
Kralan are bamboo tubes stuffed with sticky rice, red beans, grated coconut and coconut milk, and roasted over charcoal at the street stalls. You peel back the bamboo to eat the rice that’s crispy on the outside and soft inside. It wasn’t very flavourful but it was a nice and filling snack and we were happy to be able to eat a truly local dish.
Grilled Bananas & Sweet Potato Cakes
The most common vegetarian street snack is grilled bananas. You’ll see small bananas on sticks being grilled on mobile street stalls everywhere. On the same stall they sometimes have grilled round white patties that are made of sweet potato and coconut. In Khmer they are called Domlong An or Noum Domlong Barang and only cost 500 riel ($0.12). They are simple but rather tasty.
Corn on the Cob
Another common street snack is steamed corn on the cob.
Thanks to the French legacy baguettes are everywhere in Cambodia and many street stalls sell baguette sandwiches. The filling is usually meat but they sometimes have some salad items too. We bought plain baguettes and brie from a supermarket and made our own. Good bread and cheese are definitely more easy to come by in Cambodia than in Thailand or Malaysia which made us happy.
Fried Rice or Noodles
Vegetable fried rice or noodles are the most common vegetarian options in restaurants and we even saw them on the menu at simple restaurants when the bus stopped for lunch.
Most restaurants can whip you up a vegetable stir-fry but the most interesting options were in vegetarian restaurants with variations like lemongrass spicy basil vegetables (sadly not actually spicy but tasty) or vegetables with pineapple.
We didn’t eat noodle soup often as I’m pretty sure that on street stalls the broth wouldn’t be vegetarian, but we did in restaurants where they assured us it was vegetarian. Be aware that you may end up with instant noodles, which is a rather disturbing trend in the land of tasty rice noodles.
Amok is a classic Khmer dish that is usually made with fish, coconut milk and curry paste, and steamed in a banana leaf. We often found a version with vegetables and tofu on menus in tourist orientated restaurants.
The vegetable version of a Khmer red curry is similar to Thai curry but less spicy. Pumpkin curry is quite common.
Rice Noodle Salad
Rice noodle salad turned up on vegetarian restaurant menus occasionally and I loved the Kampot rice noodle salad with peanuts and coconut at vegetarian Cafe Soleil in Phnom Penh. So colourful and flavourful (see top photo).
A popular salad in Cambodia made with green mango, peanuts, and herbs. You’ll need to get it without fish sauce and shrimp. It’s similar to a Thai papaya salad but less spicy.
Banana Flower Salad
Banana flower salad usually contains chicken but they did a veggie version at the Vine Retreat near Kep that was delicious and beautiful.
Veggie burgers were surprisingly common in Cambodia. We had good ones at Peace Cafe and Sister Srey Cafe in Siem Reap, but by far our favourite was the spicy lentil, bean and vegetable burger at Cafe Espresso in Kampot.
In most of Southeast Asia sandwiches are best avoided as the bread is usually sweet and processed and veggie fillings no more exciting than “cheese”. In Cambodia the bread is great and cafes have a range of creative meat-free sandwich fillings such as roast peppers, olives, ricotta and salad, or grilled balsamic vegetables and cheese.
As well as Asian salads like noodle and mango we also found some excellent creative Western style salads like roast pumpkin, spinach, ricotta cheese, avocado and cashew nuts at Sugar n Spice in Phnom Penh and rocket, roast pumpkin, feta, tomatoes, and pine nuts at Terrace at 95.
There are plenty of Indian restaurants in Cambodia, especially in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and they always have a good vegetarian selection.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Cambodia
- Chamkar – An upmarket, organic restaurant that’s the best place to try unique veggie versions of Khmer dishes. Lots of curries, salads, and interesting dishes like rediscovering tofu, and the wonderful wedding day dip made from peanuts, mushrooms, and coconut.
- Peace Cafe – There’s a lovely garden setting with comfortable seating and a large menu of Western and Asian dishes. We enjoyed the veggie burger, pomelo salad, and pineapple and chickpea stir-fry. They also have yoga and vegetarian cooking classes.
- Vitking House – This is a very local vegetarian place, popular with students. It’s cheap but unfortunately uses fake meat more than vegetables. The mango shake was wonderful though.
See our Siem Reap guide for a full list of vegetarian friendly restaurants and cafes we enjoyed.
- Cafe Soleil – A great value vegetarian cafe that is open all day. Most dishes are only $2-3 and they use lots of veggies rather than fake meat like most cheaper veggie restaurants. We liked the kampot rice noodle salad, curry vegetable noodle soup, and the pumpkin soup. It’s also in our favourite part of the city on Street 278.
- Evergreen – A cheap local place that we didn’t like much as it used lots of fake meat.
- Friends – An upmarket training restaurant for former street children that serves creative tapas. The penne with cashew nut, chile and (Italian) basil pesto and parmesan was heavenly after months without pasta. Sundried tomato hummus on wontons, courgette and cheddar fritters, and the leek tart were also great.
- Sugar n Spice – A cafe run by Daughters of Cambodia who work with victims of sex-trafficking. There are a number of delicious veggie soups, salads and sandwiches. The roast pumpkin and spinach salad with pepper, cashews and homemade ricotta was amazing and came with a cheesy tomato baguette.
There are no vegetarian restaurants in Kampot but most places have vegetarian dishes. Cafe Espresso and Epic Arts Cafe were our favourites. See our Kampot guide for more options.
See Happy Cow for more vegetarian restaurants in Cambodia.
Although we didn’t eat as locally as we would have liked, Cambodia was an easy place to be vegetarian and we ate very well. Indulging in Western dishes was more expensive than eating street food (see our Cambodia budget for exactly how much we spent) but I’m glad we took advantage as the country has the best veggie friendly Western food in the region, and sometimes you need a break from fried rice.
If you are a travelling vegetarian don’t miss our vegetarian survival guides to Sicily, Puglia, Slovenia, San Francisco, Mexico, Jordan, Burma, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru.
Came across this vegan place. Just wanted to let you know. Thanks.
Masala dosa street kitchen
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Thanks – I love dosa!
Can you be sure that Cambodians don’t use their famous fish paste in lots of the dishes you are writing about? Everything looks vegetarian, but is it vegetarian? I just worry about what the dishes are made of. Any idea?
I can’t be 100% sure but we usually specifically asked for it without fish paste or ate in vegetarian restaurants.
I’ve just cycled all of Vietnam and I read a lot of guides concerning vegetarian food. Everyone wrote it would be no problem, but we got really hungry for two weeks, when we cycled through
the ccountrieside. Then I learned from the locals that Buddists eat vegan and have special restaurants called “com chay”, “Quan chay” or “Nha hang chay”. This saved our trip! None of the westerners knew that and everyone o the internet just wrote about the tourist bubbles where everything is already bein layd out for you. Does any one know the khmer word for a vegan buddhist restaurant in cambodia? This would been so great!
Hey anyone know if the Cambodian beers are vegan?
Hi I am interested in getting uncooked chickpeas in Phnom Penh could you please give me place to try to buy per kilo I cooked for the Hare ! Krishna’s kitchen in australia and I cannot find chickpea please. Regards James Schmidt Phone 098228149 or email
I’m afraid I have no idea. Maybe ask at one of the Indian restaurants there.
Great article and very informative. Thanks a bunch. I love salads with fresh, raw veggies and I enjoy fruit. In your experience in Cambodia, is it safe to eat uncooked veggies, lettuces, fruit? Thanks again for all your information.
We did eat salad and I don’t remember getting sick. The vegetarian-friendly places are tourist-orientated so they probably use filtered water to wash salad etc. You can always ask if you’re not sure.
Great article! I went to Kampot last year and had to think of your sleepy Kampot article all the time! :)
You could also add vegetarian pizza at the market in Kampot. There’s a small stand baking pizza in some kind of pan! Interesting to see, tasty and vegetarian! And cheaper than most western food in Kampot…
If you are in Sihanoukville, then be sure to visit Bamboo Bar. The largest selection of vegetarian and vegan food in the city. Cooking on clean water without using sodium glutamate. Open 24 hours 7 days a week. The kitchen works from 8am to 10pm. We will be glad to see you!
Do you know Cambodian for “pig fat”?
It can even be used when coffee beans are roasted. You will never know something that looks “vegetarian” is really not!
You have imposed your imperialist views in a country where the notion of food does not include your idea of vegetarianism. Unless you are a poor monk who can only eat grass and rice.
A Taste of Cambodia indeed.
Lots of delicious, nutritious food at an unbeatable price – together with the culture in Cambodia, it’s a heck of a combo!
Fantastic photos and article – bookmarked for Selina @ MightyTravels (a vegetarian looking at flights to Cambodia as I type!)
Followed you guys on Twitter so I can read more of your adventures – hope to see you there sometime!
Where did you both stay in Siem Reap? Did you get to try the palm sugar? We were there in 2007. Magical place!
At My Home villa. We didn’t try any palm sugar although we have done elsewhere.
I have to admit I went through this article with a lot of pain and suffering… I wish I was there to try all this amazing dishes! Great photos and what a helpful post!
Thanks for all those links, that will be very useful for me soon! Just a question, a bit personnal, I hope you don’t mind: why are you guys not vegan? Is it because that would be too difficult when you travel? (I am vegan and planning to visit South America along with Asia, wish me good luck!!).
We like cheese too much! And we wouldn’t go vegan now because we already feel like we’re missing out on a lot of local food. It definitely is challenging travelling as a vegan (especially in South America) but plenty of people manage it. Good luck!
I have loved our time in Cambodia and ate at almost everyplace you mentioned in this article. Other than Chiang Mai, Cambodia has been the most vegetarian friendly place in our 8 months of travel! Can’t wait to see what you find in Vietnam, we head there in a couple days.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it Simone. It really surprised us how vegetarian friendly it was—although it’s probably a different story if you get more off the beaten track. Sadly we won’t be going to Vietnam on this trip now (we ended up going sailing in Malaysia and now we’re on Koh Lanta) but our friend is travelling there with a vegan and said it wasn’t too bad. Let us know how you get on!
LOVED Epic Arts Café in Kampot. That eggplant springroll and cous cous dish was SO GOOD. Crammed with fresh bright flavors, and filling, but not heavy. One of the more memorable meals we had in Cambodia and one that I still miss on occasion!
Yes, isn’t it great! So glad you enjoyed it. I found their prices much more reasonable than western cafes in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh as well. And it’s for a great cause.