During my recent trip to Luang Prabang, Laos I had a most memorable Christmas dinner at the Khaiphaen Restaurant. I was so impressed with the meal and their great social mission, that when I found out they had a sister restaurant (through the Tree Alliance) in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I made certain to schedule a visit with them. Marum (official website), like Khaiphaen, has a social mission to train and educate at risk youth in the field of hospitality.
Of course, the restaurant menu is different from Khaiphaen. The Marum menu has a variety of authentic Khmer dishes. Also different is the restaurant itself (it’s much larger and with ample garden seating). Of course there’s also a different group of people involved in achieving their social mission.
But let’s start with the food!
A great start!
This Wild Mushroom with Brie Rice Balls ($5.25) made with marum leaves and accompanied with a beetroot mayonnaise dipping sauce was amazing! I would highly recommend this as a starter. My Swedish mother-in-law absolutely loved this.
This is a great compliment because pretty much anything fried and round she compared to Swedish meatballs and would find it lacking. Despite my gal and I trying to explain that some things are not meant to be compared to meatballs (falafel being one example). But these little fried balls of flavor were a huge hit for all of us.
That being said, these balls are nothing like Swedish meatballs (nor should they be). They are very savory, creamy, and the sweet beetroot mayonnaise sauce is a delicious and colorful condiment to dip them in.
The Khmer Pork Salad ($4.75) is very similar to the Thai minced pork salad called larb–but different. Unlike the spicy Thai version, the Cambodian version is much heavier on the mint and lemongrass. It’s also made with a lime and chili vinaigrette which is tangier and sweeter than Thai larb.
Don’t be fooled by the giant red birds-eye chili topping the dish. That’s just for decoration. Many dishes seemed to have a chili on top for decoration. It makes it more Instagram worthy–but I wouldn’t encourage eating a whole chili on its own like that.
Something from the sea…
This Prawn, Mango and Cashew Stir Fry ($7.50) dish is a safe bet for an enjoyable dish. It is made with big chunks of sweet mango stir fried with veggies, medium sized prawns, and cashews in a sweet/pepper sauce over yellow rice. It was delicious–but safe. Hindsight being what it is, I do wish I’d ordered something a little more exciting.
I would recommend this dish if you want to enjoy a dish without being too experimental. If you like to live dangerously, why not try the BBQ Frog Legs on Sugar Cane Skewers with Pickled Morning Glory ($5.75) instead?
But one of the reasons I ordered this “safe” dish was because I wasn’t sure how this other dish would be received…
THIS is how we get ants!
While we were spending the day exploring the different temple sites in Angkor Wat, my mother-in-law found herself to be a magnet for biting red tree ants. She didn’t like it. I assured her that she would be able to exact her revenge later–I didn’t explain that she’d actually get to bite back.
But this order of Red Tree Ants with Beef ($6.50) stir fried with kaffir lime leaves and chili afforded her just the opportunity to avenge herself against the biting ants from the day. We waited to let her know about the exact ingredients of the dish after…kind of like that Lost Boys scene where Keifer Sutherland asks the guy if he likes eating maggots.
I don’t know about maggots (nor would I want to), but I can say that ants are delicious! It’s not that you can actually taste the ant itself. There’s not much there to taste. But after eating them your mouth kind of tingles. It works great with the spicy sauce and tender cuts of beef.
Save room for dessert!
For dessert we shared this Khmer specialty, Red Sticky Rice with Mango ($4.00) topped with coconut slivers and served with pandan sauce. Unlike the sticky white rice usually served with mango in Thailand, the red sticky rice is nuttier and has an earthy taste.
A chat with the managers…
During the visit I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Saheouy, the Marum restaurant manager and Mr. Saren, the project manager for their social mission.
Saheouy has been working at Marum since they opened their doors to the public in August, 2012. He has a passion for sharing his knowledge of hospitality services with the students and ensuring that the teachers at Marum get all of the support they need.
Marum – It’s about the students…
Many of the students are from Siem Reap, however Marum also has a cadre of social workers who identify and inform at risk youth around the small surrounding villages of this training opportunity. Currently Marum has 45 students and 26 teachers which are broken up into two shifts (night/day). According to the project manager, Saren, the largest class they had was 80 students and currently there is a waiting list for students to receive training.
On weekends the students focus on recipe training and on the weekdays they spend a lot of time “role-playing“. The training program they offer now is 12-18 months (depending on if the student is able to work full or part time). In case-by-case instances they have graduated students and placed them in employment as early as 10 months.
For Saheouy, he measures Marum’s success rate by the success of the students. To date only 3 students have dropped from the program and all students who have graduated have been successfully placed in employment. He’s delighted when students come to visit and share their success stories.
I’m hungry and I want to support this! Where is it?
Marum is open everyday from 11 am to 11 pm. Though they have ample seating in the garden area as well as tables downstairs and upstairs, it would be wise to make reservations during the tourist season. You can make a booking direct from their website here.
The best way to get there is via tuk tuk. A fair rate is $5 from the pub street area (where we stayed). Our tuk tuk driver was even kind enough to wait the couple of hours while we dined–so I paid $10 for the return ride. If you want to walk it, Google Maps is your friend!
If you visit Siem Reap, this is an excellent restaurant to enjoy authentic Khmer dishes while supporting a really good cause. Please leave some feedback if you do or if you already have visited Marum–I’d love to hear about your experience!