By: Wathna Sao
Walking by rows of green plants and tables, you will find yourself at a Khmer traditional wooden house from the 1980s. It is a wonderful place for you to taste the original flavor of Khmer cuisine with Khmer style decorations.
Mahob can fit 180 clients per meal because of its three different dining areas. Starting from the entrance, the grass terrace allows customers to feel the nature while eating. Follow the walkway, and you’ll see the ground floor’s main dining area. Upstairs is the airy wooden house of the restaurant.
All the areas are decorated with vases of flowers, wooden statues, hanging rattan lamps, and marvelous paintings from a famous artist in Cambodia, Mr. Nou Sary. The paintings in Mahob restaurant tell the stories related to Cambodian daily life, religion and culture, as you can see people working in the fields and monks going around the community. 80 percent of the restaurant’s customers are foreigners, 20 percent are Cambodians, and 50 percent of all customers learned about Mahob from social media.
The restaurant was founded by chef Sothea Seng in June 2014. He named his restaurant “ Mahob ” because the name itself means “food” in Khmer. The name is simple and describes everything the restaurant does. Chef Sothea spent three months just to decorate his restaurant, during which he used his creativity and renovative ability to design it. Chef Sothea has been passionate about cooking since he was young because as a big brother, he had to take responsibility to cook for his siblings whenever his parents weren’t home. Cooking became his habit and because he couldn’t afford to have high education, the only job he could get was as an assistant cook in a hotel. In the meantime, he tried to learn English with the monks. While working, he had a dream to have his own restaurant and so he tried to develop his cooking skills until he could go abroad and worked in luxury hotels in Dubai and the Caribbean. His experience working away from his birth country for ten years made him miss the taste of his own Khmer food. Therefore, Chef Sothea decided to come back to Cambodia and open his own restaurant that serves Khmer cuisine.
However, being a chef and a restaurant owner is not easy. Chef Sothea has to learn to make sacrifices, control his anger or depression, be open and learn how to work well with his staff. Moreover, the struggles he faced while running his business included not having enough capital money and the serious problem of not a lot of people knowing about his restaurant. This meant the restaurant faced bankruptcy, but because of the good quality of his food and good marketing, he has become very successful in his business.
The most famous dish in Mahob is BBQ on a hot stone. In the past, our ancestors also used stones from volcanic eruptions to cook food. The restaurant has a special menu that changes based on what the chef finds in the market, and it also has a normal menu just as other restaurants do. Mahob is trying to help local people find money and get enough supplies by buying products from local villagers and donating money from the restaurant’s profit in running cooking classes to local communities. Chef Sothea does that because when he was young, his neighbors help him a lot whenever he had struggles. 90 percent of the ingredients in Mabhob are organic and from the local people. Chef Sothea’s goal is to cut down plastic products and not produce a lot of waste. Because of that, he donates waste from his kitchen to Naga Earth, an organization that turns waste into everyday supplies. For example, he donates the restaurant’s dirty oil to Naga Earth, who then use it to make hand soap. The restaurant also provides cooking classes at a reasonable price for those who want to learn about Khmer cuisine and want to get experience for a job.
Chef Sothea hopes that Khmer cuisine will spread to the world because we are a country rich in culture.He also wants to open branches in other countries to let people taste the flavor of Khmer food and to appreciate our tradition. “Life is about sharing and caring,” he said. “People will trust and want to communicate with you if you are open-hearted.”