Lum Orng farm to table restaurant has quickly become one of Siem Reap’s best restaurants, serving deliciously imaginative Cambodian food based on just-picked produce and seasonal ingredients. It is part of a flourishing green movement across the region, of which Siem Reap is leading the way.
Siem Reap restaurants have been groundbreaking when it comes to Cambodian cuisine, with some of the most inventive Cambodian food in the country being cooked up in their kitchens by creative young Cambodian chefs who are as serious about the environment and sustainability as they are about experimenting with their cuisine.
Those local talents include Cambodian chefs such as Sothea Seng, owner of Mahob Khmer and his exciting new Lum Orng farm to table restaurant; Pol and Sok Kimsan, the head chefs at Embassy restaurant; chef Pola Siv, owner of Mie Café; chef Mork Mengly and his two Pou restaurants; and chef Tim Pheak, who helmed Trorkuon restaurant at Jaya House River Park hotel and now heads the kitchen at Templation resort.
Siem Reap has also been a pioneer as far as reducing its impact on the environment goes. And not just in the restaurant industry, although all of the restaurants, above, are eco-friendly, having taken action to minimise kitchen waste, recycle cooking oil, eliminate plastic straws, and reduce single-use plastics, among other measures.
Many of Cambodia‘s environmental organisations, social enterprises and eco-friendly businesses, some of which are currently expanding their initiatives and campaigns across the region and even beyond Asia – such as Refill Not Landfill, Plastic Free Southeast Asia, and Clean Green Cambodia – began in riverside Siem Reap. Together, they represent a growing green movement.
For eco-conscious visitors to Siem Reap, eager to be greener travellers, this means you can dine guilt-free at these restaurants, sleep soundly in responsible eco-minded hotels such as Jaya House River Park, Templation, Shinta Mai, and Treeline, and if you’re eager to engage with local residents and give something back to the destination while you’re here, you can participate in activities such as tree-planting or learn new eco skills, such as crocheting plastic bags or making recycled paper.
Lum Orng Farm to Table Restaurant and Siem Reap’s Growing Green Movement
Opened just a few months ago, in a welcoming traditional wooden house in lush tropical gardens, at the end of a bumpy dirt track in a village on the edge of Siem Reap, chef Sothea Seng’s lovely Lum Orng farm to table restaurant represents a first for Cambodia.
While other Cambodian restaurants can lay claim to serving farm to table cuisine – meaning that the produce travels from farmers or farmers markets direct to the restaurant kitchen and your table – Lum Orng is the first proper farm to table restaurant in Cambodia.
There is a sizeable vegetable garden and greenhouse across the road from the restaurant and another plot on the corner, and chef Sothea has a further organic garden nearby at his charming boutique accommodation and cooking school, Isann Lodge. He has another larger farm further out in the countryside beyond the Angkor temples at Beng Mealea.
When I first interviewed chef Sothea Seng early last year, it was about his first Siem Reap restaurant, Mahob Khmer, which means ‘Khmer food’. It was for a feature story that I was writing and Terence was shooting for DestinAsian magazine about the handful of young Cambodian chefs I mentioned above who are elevating and redefining Cambodian cuisine.
While each chef has developed a distinct style of cuisine to the next, I called it New Cambodian Cuisine and I called it a movement because there was an energy about what they were doing and it felt like exciting times for Cambodia’s food scene. The chefs share the same goals and dreams of reinventing Cambodian cuisine while preserving and showcasing their culinary heritage. They had also aimed to do that in a way that was eco-friendly, sustainable and responsible.
Not long after that story published, I found myself working as Asia Editor of a wonderful new series of books called Truth Love and Clean Cutlery, a guide to ‘good’ restaurants. I was tasked with selecting Southeast Asia restaurants that were not only serving up delicious food (that went without saying), but were sustainable, ethical, socially responsible, and cared about their customers, staff and communities, as much as their cuisine.
For the Cambodia chapter of that book, I included the same restaurants I had for the DestinAsian story, along with a handful of others I felt were ‘doing good’, including Sugar Palm, Malis, Cuisine Wat Damnak, Romdeng, Spoons, and Farm to Table, a casual community-minded eatery in the capital Phnom Penh that may not have had an on-site farm but had been working directly with farmers to source healthy, safe, organic produce.
My selection was based on my knowledge of the restaurants, but we also had to ask the chefs to complete detailed survey forms to tell us more about what they were doing to reduce their impact on the environment. Some had been going to impressive lengths to be as sustainable and as environmentally responsible as they could.
Over many years, chef Luu Meng at Malis had been painstakingly researching the origin and locality of ingredients across Cambodia for his restaurants in the capital Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, while Joannes Riviere of Cuisine Wat Damnak had developed a network of farmers, foragers and suppliers to guarantee the origin and quality of the produce he used.
Embassy’s two head chefs, Pol and Sok Kimsan, had undertaken in-depth research into the Cambodian seasons and what produce grew where and when and created monthly tasting menus that followed the seasons to ensure they were serving the freshest of ingredients. In Phnom Penh, Brittany Sims had also undertaken seasonal research at At Farm to Table, a casual community-minded eatery, where she’d worked directly with farmers for years to source healthy, safe, organic produce.
Owner of 17 year-old Sugar Palm restaurant Kethana Dunnet – considered the godmother of Cambodian cuisine by many of the Cambodian chefs – and her husband Bruce had been growing much of their restaurant’s produce on their own farm at Banteay Srei. The teams at Trorkuon, Romdeng and Spoons had all set up hydroponic kitchen gardens. Spoons, located in a breezy structure made of sustainable bamboo, that eliminated the need for air-conditioning, was also using solar power and had installed a water recycling system.
Chef Pola Siv, owner of Mie Café, had also been growing herbs in his kitchen garden, as well as working with small producers, and doing his own foraging. As had chef Mengly of Pou Restaurant and Bar, who on the day we shot at the restaurant ran out of edible flowers for a dish, so hopped on his motorbike to head to a spot where he knew he could find some growing. The Kimsan chefs also forage on their way to work.
Other measures that the restaurants had taken included reducing single-use plastic and plastic bottles by filtering their own water, using bamboo or metal straws and bio-degradable take-away containers, saving organic kitchen waste to be collected by farmers for animal feed, partnering with Naga Earth to recycle their used cooking oil into biofuel, and participating in regular community clean-up days.
At Mahob Khmer, chef Sothea Seng had been doing the same – as well as sourcing honey from local beekeepers, buying sustainable fish and seafood, purchasing produce that he couldn’t grow himself from Happy & Co. organic farm and other small growers, and preserving, pickling and drying herbs, vegetables and fruit that they couldn’t use in an effort to reduce waste. They had been making these into soup bases, herb and spice mixes, as well as teas and jams that they use at Sothea’s lodge and restaurant, as well as package to sell.
In the interview I did with chef Sothea for DestinAsian, I asked him, as I did the other chefs, what his future plans were. “My dream is to have my own destination restaurant in the countryside,” he told me, “On a farm where we cook by season, so I am sure that I am using 100% local ingredients grown on my own property and I only use those.”
Lum Orng farm to table restaurant may not be on a farm as such – the farm is opposite the restaurant – and it’s not out in the countryside, where customers would be fewer. He chose a location in a village on the edge of Siem Reap that had enough land for him to grow what he needed, but was close enough to town to be convenient. It’s just a 15-20 minute tuk tuk ride to the centre.
It’s a dream come true for chef Sothea. And the chef and his team have created a dreamy experience for diners at Lum Orng. ‘Farm to table’ is a restaurant concept as much as a philosophy of growing, cooking and eating that is aimed at bringing the diner as close to the producer as they can get. At Lum Orng that means beginning an evening meal with a sunset tour, with a drink in hand, of the vegetable garden opposite the restaurant, and the small plot on the corner.
The main aim of farm-to-table restaurants is to cut out the many stages of a journey that fresh produce usually takes as it travels from the farm to the restaurant table – a journey that typically entails a fair amount of time on trucks, in storage and in refrigerators, as it passes through supply and distribution channels en route to restaurant kitchens. By the time the produce arrives at restaurants it’s not necessarily that fresh.
In contrast to what we tasted at Lum Orng, which started with the crunchiest and juiciest of cucumbers that restaurant manager Neang plucked from the vines on our tour, which were then washed and chopped in the kitchen and served immediately to our table with a wonderful pungent Cambodian dip. Those just-picked cucumbers just might have been the best thing we ate all night at Lum Orng, despite the creative Cambodian dishes that followed, some plated individually, others made for sharing.
Lum Orng means ‘pollen’ in Khmer, which, for chef Sothea, symbolises fertilisation, growth, regeneration, and renewal of the land, as well as for him as a chef venturing into new culinary directions. Since opening his restaurant Mahob Khmer, the chef has dedicated himself to modernising traditional Cambodian food while showcasing the country’s culinary heritage, much of which was lost during the tragic Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s.
Lum Orng provides a place for Sothea to grow as chef and develop inventive new dishes that look beyond the borders, much of which are marked by the Mekong River, to lands that were once part of Cambodia in neighbouring Thailand Vietnam. In addition to using his own produce, the chef wants to develop relationships with organic farmers in neighbouring countries, to create what’s he calling New Mekong Cuisine.
If you’re planning to visit Siem Reap, you will need to make a reservation at Lum Orng farm to table restaurant. It’s still in soft launch phase and it’s low season, so it’s currently open for dinner only and there are no walk-ins. That policy, and the seasonal set tasting menu, not only gives the chef the freedom to adapt the menu depending on what produce is ripe and ready, it also reduces food waste.
I’ll tell you more in another post about Siem Reap’s growing green movement and the city’s many eco-friendly hotels, eateries, and cafes, as well as other environmental organisations, campaigns and initiatives that you as a green traveller can learn about when you’re here.
Lum Orng Farm to Table Restaurant
Thlok Ondong Village
Group 23, Slorkram Commune
Siem Reap, Cambodia
See the map on the restaurant’s website but we recommend you email Lum Orng to book their tuk tuk service.
*A note on the usage of ‘farm to table’ – the hyphenated ‘farm-to-table’ is more correct however, I have omitted the hyphens to use a more searchable ‘farm to table’.