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‘I want to show people real Cambodian food’: Vancouver woman opening dream Khmer restaurant business in Richmond

The new Cambodian cuisine restaurant will operate out of a local commissary kitchen.
Sarou Moeurn is looking to share the joy of Cambodian cuisine to the Richmond community.

“Yam Bai!”

This is an expression a Vancouver woman is hoping to share with the Richmond community along with her love for Khmer cuisine.

The saying, literally translated as “eat rice” in Khmer – the language and culture of Cambodia – means “come eat with us,” explained Sarou Moeurn, who grew up in a small farming village in the third-world country.

She is doing just that by opening Yam Bai Chngang Khmer Restaurant out of a commissary kitchen in Richmond city centre near Westminster Highway and No. 3 Road at the beginning of April.

“I want to show people real Cambodian food – the taste and different spices – something I still haven’t found here in B.C.,” she added.

A shared kitchen in Richmond is more cost-effective than opening a full restaurant - especially in Vancouver, Moeurn explained. 

As her business will operate out of a commissary kitchen, the food will be ordered through delivery apps only.

The commissary kitchen's location will not be disclosed to the public as Moeurn wants to keep the space solely for business owners and avoid random visits from customers.

Moeurn and her husband Nathan Chan will run the business together with Moeurn focusing on the kitchen and Chan, on the operations.

They plan to offer Khmer food on Saturdays at lunch and then expand their hours and days from there, but this has yet to be finalized.

Moeurn was born and grew up in a poor rice-farming village where most families didn't have running water, electricity and sometimes not enough to eat.

Being born a female meant, from a young age, she had to help her family survive by catching fish, frogs or insects, tending to livestock and farming rice by hand, even though it meant dropping out of school.

After finishing Grade 9 at the age of 20, Moeurn was lucky to find domestic work in Phnom Penh.

And, while working, her boss put her through 10 years of English lessons as well as cooking classes that sparked her interest in the culinary arts.

This wouldn't have been possible if she'd stayed in her home village or worked in a factory, where most girls her age earned money.

After quitting her domestic work and early in her marriage, Moeurn operated a restaurant in front of her home selling rice dishes, noodle soup and congee in the mornings starting at 6 a.m.

While operating the restaurant, she catered for film sets and even became a member of the Cambodia Chefs Society to further promote Khmer food and culinary skills.

Moeurn and Chan decided to move to Canada in 2022 to provide a better education opportunity for their two children.

While sharing home-cooked Khmer meals with the local community, Moeurn is looking to support her family back in Cambodia as well.

“Our culture values family and our elders the most,” she said.

“If I can in the future, I want to be able to help my family and others in the future. When you grow up and you have nothing to eat, it’s really hard.”

Moeurn explained a portion of the profits from her future business will go back to her family back in Cambodia.

And if it does better than expected, she wants to support seniors in her home country who are being “forced to beg or keep working to survive.”

“In Cambodia, when I see people who need help, I give food to them because I know how it feels when you don’t have anything,” said Moeurn.

“Food is the language of love. If I can help, I will do it.”

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