Indigenous Soup Helping Raise Profile of Ethnic Population

Then Tharoth has overcome challenges to achieve his dream of opening a restaurant in the capital that serves soup native to his indigenous group in Ratanakiri
An employee at Home Chanang. Kiripost/Siv Channa
An employee at Home Chanang. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Then Tharoth is a determined and hard-working young man who has dreamed of opening a restaurant since a child. He hails from an indigenous group in Ratanakiri province and has worked hard to make his dream come true.

It was a brave decision for the 23-year-old to open his small shop during Covid-19. While the pandemic made business tough, Tharoth was willing to take the risk. He knew that there was a need for his shop and he was confident it could be successful.

After saving nearly $2,000, he made his dream come true; a dream he has harboured since the age of 13.

He opened Home Chanang in late 2021 on Street 118 in Tuol Kork district in Phnom Penh.

Despite having no experience in the food business apart from with his 54-year-old mother, Chiv Kemoun, helping prepare the menu, Tharoth’s business has boomed. He sells around 500 plates every day to customers.

Because of the increasing number of customers who wanted to try Chanang, a form of soup native to his indigenous group, he moved Home Chanang to Depor 3 Market in 2021.

Then Tharoth at Home Chanang in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Then Tharoth at Home Chanang in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Tharoth’s goal is also to encourage people in Cambodia to change their mind and open their hearts to eat Chanang as it is tasty and representative of his ethnic groups. He also hopes it will decrease discrimination against them.

He added it is also important to share the culture with others to help them understand their traditions.

Tharoth's story is a common one in Ratanakiri province. Many children, especially those from poor families or indigenous communities, are forced to drop out of school to help support their families.

In Tharoth's case, he had to drop out of school in Grade 8 to help his family sell fish at the local market. This was a difficult decision for him, but he knew it was necessary to help his family make ends meet.

Tharoth came to Phnom Penh in late 2019. Unlike most young people who come to the capital for education, Tharoth came to Phnom Penh to work.

“When I first came to Phnom Penh, I was blurred about everything because I didn't know even one person,” Tharoth told Kiripost in an interview.

Chanang soup. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Chanang soup. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Tharoth's decision to leave his comfort zone and pursue his dream of becoming a businessman is a courageous one. It took a lot of determination and self-belief to step outside his comfort zone and try something new.

“I was living in a small room, it was $30 per month. It was so difficult because I couldn’t live and move easily. It was less than three metres.”

With a small income from online sales, working for a woman he knew who let him sell products online.

Tharoth had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. He also had another part time job pulling a vegetable cart at Doeurm Kor Market in Phnom Penh to earn extra money.

Without a high education, it was difficult to find a well-paid job. However, Tharoth is a hard worker and was determined to improve his situation. He spent his spare time learning new skills and looking for ways to start his own business.

Home Chanang in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Home Chanang in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

“I must save every time because I wanted to own a business selling Chanang, which is a ethnic traditional food,” he said.

Tharoth’s famous food is Chanang, a thick dark vegetable soup with meat with a strong taste that was rare in the capital.

Chanang is a traditional soup from the indigenous people of Ratanakiri province and is made with a variety of local ingredients, including bamboo shoots, taro leaves, and ghost beans. The soup has a strong, earthy flavor that is unique to the region.

The soup is cooked for a long time, which is necessary to bring out the flavours of the ingredients and make the soup tender.

He said opening the restaurant was a challenging experience, especially for someone who has no experience in business or cooking.

Tharoth was also concerned about business management. Running a successful business requires a lot of knowledge and skills, and it can be difficult to learn everything on your own. It is also important to have a good team of employees who are committed to the success of the business.

Tharoth was also frustrated when staff members did not show up for work without warning, which was a disruptive experience as it can be difficult to find reliable employees.

An employee at Home Chanang. Kiripost/Siv Channa
An employee at Home Chanang. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Tharoth felt depressed sometimes due to the hurdles he faced. He added it is easy to feel overwhelmed and his father was concerned about his safety in Phnom Penh and the crime rates. He said it is important to be aware of the risks before moving there.

His father said that people would not enjoy Chanang, he said, adding that he has proven his father wrong. He added that not only Cambodian customers but also foreigners enjoy the soup, including nationals from the Philippines, China, Thailand and France.

He added that due to this, he is planning to open another restaurant near Toul Tumpong Market and more should be on the horizon.