A highlight of our recent visit to Cambodia was our time spent at the Green Mango Café.
And this isn’t any ordinary Café. Aside from making delicious international and Cambodian cuisine, it’s also a vocational program for at-risk women and girls.
It was started as a vision from an Indianapolis chef, who dreamed he could use his skills in culinary arts to meet a global need. Enter CGI (Center for Global Impact), another Indy-based organization, and the project became a reality!
It was exciting to set foot in the Café – to see the bright green walls and bar stools after hearing about it for so long. The Café has glass doors that provide a view into the state of the art kitchen, where you can see the girls and their instructor, Ryana DeArmond, hard at work!
We had the distinct pleasure of spending time with these women – not only eating the delicious food they make, but cooking alongside them in the kitchen. Somehow, they managed to keep the front of the house going while showing us how to make Khmer (Cambodian) favorites.
Cooking at the Café
While we brought some recipes from our blog (roasted squash and portabello tacos and bean burgers with pineapple salsa), we learned much more from them than we taught. These women were amazing to work with! We were impressed by their knife skills and quick maneuvering through recipes in the kitchen.
We had great fun as they showed us how to make tom yum soup, tofu curry, and green mango salad. They have a mango tree right outside the kitchen door, so mangos are always in good supply!
We were excited to use Cambodian ingredients like lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal (a root similar to ginger) while making the tom yum soup. We also added leaves from a plant on the property, which no one could identify at the time. Turns out it was Asian coriander! Look for this recipe sometime soon (thankfully you can substitute cilantro).
Similar ingredients were used in the curry, which they made with tofu in our honor, though it would normally be made with beef or chicken. It was a challenge to find vegetarian Cambodian dishes, but we didn’t mind, especially with fresh fish and shellfish in good supply. We were also impressed by the abundant use of fish sauce – it’s used in everything from noodle and rice dishes to salads, like the green mango salad.
On the Menu
In the month that it’s been open, the Café already has a handful of regulars devoted to the banana bread French toast, mango pie, and homemade peanut butter. Since the goal is to develop skills in international and Asian cuisine to serve Cambodia’s growing tourist industry, the Café serves a wide variety of items representing various cuisines, from pizza to pasta to burritos!
True to our own hearts, they make most things from scratch – tortillas, jellies, jams, yogurt, tahini, peanut butter. They even make their own chorizo sausage! They also have a small garden and some fruit trees on the property.
In addition, there’s a bakery with all sorts of pastries, cakes, cookies, and pies, as well as a great selection of coffee drinks. Our favorites were iced coffee, which hit the spot in the balmy Cambodian weather, and the lime juice – a popular combination of lime juice and sugar syrup.
Even more inspiring than the food were the stories of hope we hear. When Chef Ryana first asked the girls what they wanted to do in the future, she was greeted by blank stares. Now, the girls are starting to have plans. One told us she wants to open her own restaurant. Others talk of having a house, or getting married.
There’s no guarantee these women will have a better future because of the Green Mango Café, but there’s no denying it looks a whole lot brighter! As we look back on our time with these women, we find them inspirational – charming, welcoming, sincere, and excited to use the new skills that they love!
A whole new class of girls will be starting this 2-year program in July! CGI is currently looking for sponsorships for these new students. If you’re interested, contact CGI (see below).
Center for Global Impact (www.myCGIstory.org)
We would like to extend a huge thanks to CGI for making this trip possible! We are so inspired by their programs and their efforts to empower the poor in struggling areas like Cambodia. If you’re also inspired, you can give back by supporting their programs here.