It was the last night of our Cambodia fall break vacation, and we were trying to decide what to do for dinner. The last two nights we had just taken a tuk tuk down to Pub Street to grab some local Khmer (local Cambodian) food and pizza, which was really good, but we were looking for something different. A couple different friends had recommended Haven, a Khmer restaurant with a goal to help give jobs to those who are extremely impoverished and in some cases handicapped. After one more friend texted us saying that we should eat there, we made our 7 o’clock reservations for Haven. Not quite knowing what to expect, we got another tuk tuk and whisked our way down the streets of Siem Reap and ended up turning down a dark alley way. Okay, not quite what we were expecting, but we went along with it. We saw the ‘Haven’ sign, so we knew we were headed in the right direction. Our driver then pulled up to a small glimmer of light. The sun had already set so the string of lights hung over the sign stood out along the wall of plants. We hopped out of the tuk tuk and were greeted by the front of house (we later found out that she was one of the founders of Haven). She told us she had reserved a balcony table for us and showed us the way. We walked through what seemed like a fairytale restaurant. There were tables snaking along the way on the ground floor, dimly lit by lanterns and candles. Then there was the indoor seating on the first floor. The kitchen was open and surrounded by counter tables. While there was a lot of white coloring, red chairs and stools popped to add a bright burst of energy. We took the stairs up to the balcony, which housed about 5 tables. We sat down at out intimate table in the back, and our waitress brought us our menus. Like I mentioned before, this restaurant was different from others, because it’s goal was to help the impoverished in Cambodia. Founded by a few expats, Haven’s slogan is ‘Where helping tastes good’. Haven provides a 15-month training service where they help those in need learn skills in order to find jobs. They are provided with housing, medical care, bicycles and almost everything else to help them survive. The program is free of cost to the trainees. This program is meant to help people get on their feet and start a new life. The tips are split equally among all the staff members and trainees. While the staff members simply get their share of the tips in cash, the trainee’s share is saved until the end of their 15-month program, after which it is either put in the bank, saved for emergency money, or to help them kick-start their new life. Not only does Haven prioritize helping others, but they are also extremely responsible in the use of their ingredients. They only use eggs from chickens that they know have been raised and treated right. They use rice from rice fields that employ workers in need of jobs and treat them right. Haven is all about helping others, but also teaching people how to cook and eat responsibly, something that is much needed for today’s society. And of course, the food was amazing! We ordered Khmer style fried corn and satay for our starters, grilled shrimp with potato croquettes, Khmer curry, and egg noodles with beef for our mains, and chocolate cake and Oreo cheesecake (I couldn’t resist!) for dessert. There was nothing fancy about it (which my family loves), but it was wholesome, comforting, home cooking. You could taste the love that was put into every dish. As a young food lover, the experience my family and I had eating at Haven was amazing. You could see the happiness on all the staff and trainees faces. Beautiful setting, amazing, delicious, food and wonderful service, all to help others, how can you not love it? If you are ever in Siem Reap, I highly, highly, highly suggest dinner at Haven. They’re slogan really says it all: Where helping tastes good!
Check them out: http://www.havencambodia.com/en/welcome/