From Shanghai to Siem Reap: 5 Restaurants With a Conscience Across Asia

Ruby Tan

Whether they hire orphans, train those with intellectual disabilities or buy directly from small-scale farmers, these 5 restaurants in aross the region empower individuals and communities. Ready, get set... eat!

1. Burgreens – Jakarta, Indonesia

Burgreens is an Indonesian social enterprise restaurant that employs advantaged women

This hip joint serves up nutritious vegetarian fare (catering even to raw vegans) and gets their stock twice a week, fresh from community farms in West Java and South Bandung in Indonesia, and other small-scale farmers nearer to Jakarta. This supports the local farmers and reduces the carbon footprint from importing vegetables from a faraway land. The women you see running the restaurant come from disadvantaged backgrounds. They're given work training and a chance to be empowered as many of them are still expected to hold the traditional role of a homemaker and unable to earn their own keep. Being huge advocates of conscious eating, Burgreens runs free healthy cooking workshops in schools for kids and their parents, and holds free movie screenings about health and the environment. They also organise a regular charity event, Pasar Ragam, an indie marketplace with craft and food products made by locals, and workshops about healthy and sustainable living – proceeds go to the Yayasan Usaha Mulia community farm and victims of the Kalimantan haze crisis.

Order the...Burgreens Lucky Seven (125,000 rupiah [approx. USD9]), a sampler of all their veggie burgers (Mighty Mushroom, Spinach Chickpeas, Tofu “Aioli” and more).

2. New Rasa Singapura – Singapore

Chai Tow Kway at New Rasa Singapura, a restaurant and social enterprise that employs people with physical disabilities. The dish is also known as carrot cake - a well-loved savoury Singaporean dish.

New Rasa Singapura pays tribute to the old Rasa Singapura Food Centre – a favourite hawker haunt of the yesteryears – dishing out local favourites (think laksa, char kway teow and the like) and familiar beer garden fare, but now with a social twist. Started by Josephine Ng, whose previous social venture was a chain of clothing alternation shop that hired disadvantaged women, New Rasa Singapura is an inclusive workplace for people with physical disabilities, recovering stroke or depression patients and the elderly. Flexibility is fully embraced here. For example, staff with mobility issues can choose their working hours so that they can travel during off-peak hours, or sit down to work. Make this place your next Happy Hour joint – a pint of Asahi is $12 all night.

Order the...New Rasa Chicken Wings (from SGD$12 [approx. USD8.40] for six pieces). They're crisp on the outside with that addictive har cheong flavour, and intensely juicy on the inside. Super yum.

3. Cambio Coffee – Shanghai, China

Cambio Cafe in Shanghai China buy beans direct from farmers in Bolivia and Yunnan

You're probably familiar with the term “fair trade coffee” – but what about direct trade? Founder of Cambio Coffee, Sebastian Martin, saw the harsh reality of coffee farming when he visited the rural villages of Bolivia, working on his Masters thesis on the social impact of the coffee industry. These small-scale, individual farmers face a lot of difficulty getting their product out to a market, and joining a fair-trade cooperative is often too expensive. Direct trade coffee cuts out any middleman – the coffee that you see and drink in Cambio Coffee has come directly from the Bolivian and Yunnan (China) farmers whose homes Sebastian has visited. These small-scale coffee farmers now have access to an international market and are receiving premium prices for their unique coffee – which Sebastian makes sure is of top quality. Cambio Coffee also commits to donating 5% of its profits to development projects in coffee growing communities.

Order the... Hand-drip coffee with the Aymara blend (RMB24 [approx. USD3.65]). It has a really sweet and floral taste profile that will surprise you – most people don’t expect coffee to taste like this. They are reopening at a new location in March 2016 and will be offering South American-inspired bites too.

 4. Haven – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Khmer Amok Fish Curry a classic Cambodian dish served at Haven, a social enterprise that trains and employs youth from impoverished areas.

This breezy restaurant is so popular, it's almost impossible to rock up for dinner without a reservation (you still stand a chance during lunch). Haven is a social enterprise and training restaurant for young adults from safe shelters, impoverished rural areas, and those whose time has come to leave the orphanage they grew up in. These youths are given work training and hands-on experience running the restaurant, and taught life skills like English and using the computer. Haven also provides shared housing, meals, medical care and a monthly training allowance. Your money enables the company to expand their operations and take in more youths under their training programme, helping more people break out of the poverty cycle.

Order the...Khmer Amok with Fish (USD7), a classic Cambodian coconut curry dish cooked with tender snakehead fish, noni leaves, mushroom and onions; served with steamed rice.

 5. Cafe 8 – Hong Kong, China

Cafe 8 in Hong Kong is a restaurant and social enterprise that trains adults with learning disabilities.

This cafe is located on the top floor of the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, giving you a fantastic view of the famed skyscraper-lined Hong Kong harbour as you sip on a coffee or cocktail, and fill up on delicious café fare. Cafe 8 is a collaboration between the museum and non-profit organisation, The Nesbitt Centre, which provides educational and work training programmes for adults with learning disabilities. Staff are graduates of Nesbitt's training programme and also from other NGOs in Hong Kong. The cafe is fully run by folks with learning disabilities – they do the cooking, drinks preparation, serving and cash-handling – with a full-time staff only overseeing the closing of the cafe at the end of the day. All of their profits go back towards the organisation’s training programmes.

Order the...Open sandwiches (HKD50 [approx. USD6.40], served with a salad. The chicken with baby spinach, lemon mayo, cheese and tomato one is a winner!

Want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia? Check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.


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