Andre Akito

Banllé is a vegetarian restaurant located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The restaurant was founded by Chef Pola Siv and serves authentic Khmer cuisine blended with European culinary techniques. The restaurant is based on the idea of increasing awareness about vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal rights and health.

February 8, 2023

Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant – A Farm to Plate Restaurant in Siem Reap

We rarely slow down to think where our food comes from. Given today’s global supply chain, the distance between where ingredients are sourced and where they are cooked and served can be quite significant. Although food currently appears to be very accessible or just a few clicks away on our delivery apps, we have never been so physically and mentally disconnected from our food.

Convenience is rarely connected with human understanding and the less time we spend analyzing where our food comes from, the less we care to understand it. To become more aware about the food we eat is one of the goals of chef Pola Siv and Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant. 

Chef Pola Siv

Pola’s interest in cooking began when he was very young. He used to live in Prasat Bakong, a small district in Cambodia’s northwestern region. Every day after school, Pola would help his mother by either cooking with her or foraging for ingredients in their yard. At the time, being a chef had never even crossed his mind.

But when Pola was eighteen, he moved to Siem Reap and began working as a dishwasher. He later relocated to Bahrain and the Cayman Islands for work. It was during those years living abroad that he became inspired to one day open his own restaurant. With this newfound ambition, he applied to several cooking schools all over Europe, hoping that one of them would accept him despite his lack of an English certificate, which was required by many schools.  

It was very difficult at first, but eventually, he got accepted into a school in Switzerland. He immediately gathered all of his savings, booked a flight, packed his things and moved there. He would spend the next few years in Switzerland, studying and working at Domaine de Châteauvieux, a Michelin-starred restaurant.

After finishing his studies, Pola finally returned to Siem Reap and began working as a chef at a local restaurant called Mie Café. Despite the restaurant’s success, Pola became demoralized and dissatisfied as he discovered how harmful the food industry actually is to animals, people and nature.

With a rising demand for meat, he realized that producers are pushing animal welfare further down the line, which means using chemicals and antibiotics to make the animals plumper, grow faster, and ultimately live shorter lives. In the past, a chicken used to take 6 months to fully mature. Nowadays, chickens can now be grown in just two months and are raised in worse conditions. Furthermore, increasing distances between the source of ingredients and final consumers also intensify the need for chemicals used for transportation and storage. All of these factors have an impact not only on the quality of the ingredients but also on the health of those who consume them.

With all this in mind, Pola decided to open Banllé, a restaurant that would change our relationship with food.

From farm to table

Pola’s goal with Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant is to inspire others and to raise awareness about what we eat, the environment, and animal welfare. His goal is to inspire people to eat a more balanced and healthy diet and to become more aware of the food industry’s effects on our health and on the environment. Pola believes that changing consumer’s behavior is the first important step toward changing the food industry as a whole.

The restaurant is mainly based on the farm-to-table concept, which aims to reduce the distance between the sourcing of ingredients and the final consumer. As a result, consumers will get the freshest seasonal food without preservatives or chemicals, bringing back a more simplistic and sustainable way of eating and, essentially, decreasing the carbon footprint as ingredients travel shorter distances. Simply put, “farm-to-table” means eating locally produced ingredients to reduce the negative impact it has on nature and environment.

Banllé’s ingredients are sourced from small organic producers in Siem Reap or mainly from the restaurant’s very own vegetable garden. The vegetable garden not only supplies fresh ingredients for his dishes but also provides a way for people to reconnect with them. Pola says that people are often used to seeing the ingredients already cooked, so they have no idea where and how they were sourced before ending up on their plates. Customers are pleasantly surprised to see the ingredients in the garden and many can have learnings simply by walking around. 

However, there are still a few issues with this concept, one of which is seasonality. Because ingredients have different harvesting seasons, Banllé must constantly adapt its menu according to availability of the ingredients. Nonetheless, Chef Pola manages to create unique dishes by combining traditional Khmer cuisine with European culinary techniques and by substituting ingredients. His dishes aim to demonstrate the endless possibilities for cooking with vegetables.

Pola compares his efforts to that of a drop of water. The farm-to-table model emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between food, farmers, businesses and consumers. He wants us to learn and pay more attention about where our food comes from, so that we will appreciate it more and everyone that was involved in getting it to our plates. And so it is, even though a drop of water doesn’t appear to be much at first, it can still create a ripple effect, that can slowly move the world towards and more balanced and environmental driven future.

Banllé Vegetarian Restaurant | Siem Reap | Cambodia

In this video, Chef Pola shares a bit of Banllé’s story and cooks a vegetarian Nom Banh Chok, one of the most traditional dishes in Cambodian cuisine. It was made in collaboration with Urban Forage, which organizes food and art tours around Cambodia. 

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