An important gateway into a nation’s people and culture has always been through its food. The recent uptick in restaurants that enable young disadvantaged people to acquire useful skills in the culinary and hospitality fields, as well as a valuable chance to learn English, mean that your meal is truly making a difference in the lives of the local population.
Cambodia offers quite a few training restaurants, the most prolific being the multiple outlets affiliated with the international children’s NGO Friends International. This multi-national charity has teamed up with local organizations to open several award-winning cafes and restaurants throughout Cambodia and Laos. These restaurants serve upscale Asian and Western dishes in a comfortable and inviting setting. The chefs and wait staff are all earnest and hardworking young people who otherwise might be trying to scrape together a living on the streets. Any profits beyond the restaurant operational costs return to Friends International. Expect to pay a little more for your meal than at a typical establishment, but you can have peace of mind that the employees are being treated and compensated fairly. Some of these training restaurants will also offer nearby spas and salons, where students are being trained in highly marketable massage and cosmetology trades. Another hugely successful charity restaurant in Siem Reap, Haven, puts an additional emphasis on sourcing their ingredients from small local farms, adding further benefit to the impoverished economy.
The KOTO (Know One, Teach One) restaurant in Hanoi (with a sister restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City) puts out beautiful plates of inspired modern Vietnamese cuisine and luscious desserts while also offering cooking classes for those who want to recreate some of the iconic meals back home. Another benefit of dining in one of the training restaurants is the generally higher level of hygiene standards that the staff applies to its food preparation.
Fair Warung Bale, located in the heart of Ubud, Bali, takes a slightly different approach. This humble café, which offers a tasty yet limited menu, instead utilizes the restaurant to help fund its clinic and health care operation. The café claims that each meal served pays for a free medical consultation for a local patient in need. In fact, the clinic itself is located just downstairs from the breezy rooftop dining area. While Fair Warung Bale is not aiming for culinary expertise, nonetheless it is doing good and noble work within the community.
Expect that there may be a few hiccups in service from time to time. The waiters and waitresses are still learning their craft. What they lack in polish, however, they more than make up for in warmth and eagerness to please. Overall, patronizing places like these is really a win-win situation: travelers gain delicious memories to cherish and local individuals get an opportunity to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.
Updated: June 25, 2015