Eco-gastronomy and ethical food tourism are up-and-coming fields in sustainable travel, marrying the very best cuisine, service and settings with projects which benefit the environment and local communities. We’re always on the lookout for innovative ways to give something back to the places we visit, and there are many restaurants in Asia putting these inspiring practises into action. Here are a few stand-out examples to get you started.
The Passport, in the small town of Mae Sot on the Thailand-Myanmar border, is making a name for itself as one of the region’s top restaurants. Founded as part of a not-for-profit training centre, The Passport allows the catering students to hone their talents in a working restaurant environment. Many of the students are from a migrant or refugee background and have had little access to education prior to joining the programme; this training gives them the skills to enter Thailand’s competitive hospitality sector with confidence. And the food? Serving two distinct menus, one with a Western flavour and the other showcasing dishes from around Asia, the originality and freshness is, by all accounts, something to write home about.
The Passport, 507 Moo 10 Maepa, Amphoe Mae Sot, Tak, Thailand 63110
Open: 18:30-21:00 every Friday and Saturday
A similar project to The Passport, the Sala Bai Hotel School enrols students from among Cambodia’s underprivileged youth, with a special focus on young women who often have even less access to traditional education. In the 14 years since it first opened, over 1300 vulnerable youngsters have found employment in the hospitality sector following their training here, and the foundation continues to fight poverty and human trafficking through its education programmes. Conveniently located along the riverside, just 30 minutes from the Angkor temples, the Sala Bai restaurant is where the students put their talents to work creating an exciting array of global cuisine. The effort they put into each dish really shows; these kids are serious about food.
Sala Bai 155, Phoum Tapoul, Siem Reap
Breakfast service: 7:00am – 9:00am Mon-Fri, 7:30 – 9:30 Sat and Sun
Lunch service: 12:00pm – 2:00pm Mon-Fri
The team at Tamarind show true passion for the vibrant flavours and traditional customs of Laos cuisine. Apart from running a busy restaurant, they provide cookery lessons so that guests can recreate those authentic Laotian dishes themselves, and hope to inspire people to support their local community (and minimise the impact on the environment) by sourcing ingredients close to home. Their dedication to sourcing locally means that all classes start with a visit to the food market to find the best ingredients, which you take back to the Tamarind gardens and use to cook up a feast. This engaging dining experience is continued in the famous sampling platter, which takes you on a journey through Laos’ culinary folklore, and in Friday night’s rowdy, hands-on fish barbecue.
Tamarind: A Taste of Laos, Kingkithsalath Road (next to The Apsara Laos Hotel) Luang Prabang
The ‘dining in the dark’ phenomenon has taken off globally as restaurants look for ingenious ways to heighten the dining experience. What many guests may not initially realise is that the waiters and hospitality staff in these establishments are often blind or visually impaired, using their experience to lead diners through an unfamiliar sensory world. Noir, in central Ho Chi Minh City, is right at the cutting edge of this restaurant trend, providing a multi-sensory experience through each dish. They are strong advocates for their employees, providing training and employment opportunities to many blind and visually impaired local people. Could you tell the difference between an apple and a pear in the dark? How much does sight usually influence taste? Book a table and find out!
Noir Dining In The Dark, Lane 178 Hai Ba Trung, Dakao, District 1, HCMC, Vietnam
Lunch: 11:30 – 14:30
Dinner: 17:30 – 23:00 (last seating at 21:30)
This just a small taste of the ever-growing pool of social enterprise and eco-restaurants throughout Asia, with more opening up all the time as responsible tourism becomes mainstream.
Talk to one of our Destination Specialists about which dining experiences you could incorporate into your next trip, and let us know about any inspiring organisations you’ve encountered; we’re always keen to find new ventures to support (and new places to eat, of course!).