Writer Marissa Carruthers and photographer Charles Fox discover that heart-warming fare tops Cafe Yejj’s mouth-watering new menu.
New menu additions are a regular occurrence at Cafe Yejj, with constant change a factor that has kept the venue fresh during its nine-year lifespan.
As part of Yejj Social Enterprise – an organisation that trains underprivileged Cambodians in areas such as hospitality before helping them to secure jobs in the sector – chefs from across the globe volunteer to carry out six- to eight-month stints in the kitchen, sharing their skills with students.
“These chefs will always bring their own ideas,” says owner Trevor Sworn, pointing to the newly-launched menu, which includes a range of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. ”We’ll then work together to put this on the menu, so it’s constantly evolving and changing.”
Turning to the cuisine was an easy decision for the British owner and keen cook. “It’s very healthy, good food for a start,” Sworn says, listing common ingredients as cumin, parsley and chickpeas. “It also has a very flavoursome taste and there isn’t much around Phnom Penh.”
The aromatic blend of herbs and spices associated with Middle Eastern and North African cuisine is evident from the sumptuous smells that hang in the air inside the three-storey, yellow eatery. As a waitress passes by with a dish of Moroccan lamb stew ($8.75), it’s easy to see why the Brit has embraced this style of food.
Time is taken to ensure the chicken tagine ($7) and the lamb stew are cooked to perfection. The meat and vegetables are cooked slowly over two to three hours to absorb a blend of herbs and make the meat melt-in-the-mouth.
The tabbouleh ($4.50) – a salad made from bulgur wheat, tomatoes, cucumbers, chopped parsley, mint, onion and garlic, and seasoned with olive oil and lemon and lime juice – is given a twist by switching the bulgur for couscous.
“It becomes easier to digest, so it’s better for this climate,” he explains. “And the lemon and lime give it a really lovely, sharp taste.”
The best way to sample the selection of dishes on offer is probably through a Lebanese tasting platter ($5), which offers small bites of home-made hummus, falafel, mujadara (a mixture of lentils, caramelised onion and rice), tabbouleh and marinated olives served with warm pita bread.
As well as catering for the lunchtime rush, Cafe Yejj is open for the evening crowd, with the recently renovated rooftop terrace providing a good spot to enjoy a glass of wine while the sun goes down.
If all this isn’t enough to get your stomach rumbling, from Monday to Thursday, ladies can enjoy a free glass of sangria.