Cambodian culture club

Author: Lara Dunston
Photography: Terence Carter

Australian expertise is behind a stylish new training project.

For travellers to Cambodia, Battambang is an overnight stop between Siem Reap, two and a half hours' drive north-east of the riverside city, and the capital Phnom Penh, about five hours south-east. If they stay, it's usually to take a bone-jarring ride on the Bamboo Train through the rice paddies. For Cambodians, however, Battambang is renowned for its produce and distinctive cuisine, featured in a stylish new training restaurant with Australian backers.

The restaurant, bar and gallery Jaan Bai ("rice bowl" in Khmer) is the brainchild of Tara Winkler, founder of the Cambodian Children's Trust (CCT) in 2007, which supports children living in poverty; she was named Young Australian of the Year in 2011 for her work. Jaan Bai is backed by chef David Thompson, of Nahm Bangkok, and Sydney restaurateur John Fink, of Quay and Otto, who offer expertise and work experience for staff, including head chef Mohm Meah. Vittoria Coffee helped fund the restaurant and founded Battambang's first barista training school at nearby Sammaki Gallery, another CCT project. "My hope is that Jaan Bai will not only create jobs for underprivileged youth but bring people to Battambang and boost the local economy," says Winkler.

Battambang is a fertile region known for its rice, fruit and vegetables. The city of 300,000 has several markets, good street food and artisanal producers known for rice noodles, rice wine and prahok, a pungent fermented fish paste. It's also the birthplace of the national dish amok, a steamed fish curry. Occupying a French colonial shophouse in Battambang's old town, Jaan Bai has a short menu featuring Cambodian, South East Asian and Asian-inspired sharing dishes made from local produce and organic ingredients grown by the trust.

Jaan Bai, Street 2, Battambang, Cambodia.

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