In the heart of BKK1, a young Cambodian couple buzzes around their home-style restaurant. When a friend arrives on a motorbike with his canine friend. With a wide grin plastered across his face “Look,” says the chef, Mong, “Dog, but not for eating.”

How things have changed. Last year, Mong was serving dog meat from a cart on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Today, he and his wife Syna are the proud faces of Sabay Vegilicious, a social enterprise restaurant boasting a menu stacked with plant-based foods, most of them being meat-free takes on Cambodian classics, plus a few of their own creations.

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Across Asia, dog meat is thought to hold various medicinal properties, from strengthening the immune system to increasing sexual drive to relieving muscle pain. Increasing attention from animal advocates has driven much of the trade into the darkness, but it remains alive in well in many places, including China, where the annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival raises the ire of activists around the world.

The trade in dog meat also drives a black market for dogs, which are stolen from families or taken off the streets before being slaughtered and sold. “We did not want to be involved in this anymore,” said Mong, a trained chef, as he plated up a serving of scrambled tofu, which turned out to be at least as good as the mainstream egg version, and his own unique take on the classic Cambodian sour soup.

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When the Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation – a global activist group with Cambodian representatives – came along and offered to help transform Mong and Syna’s dog-meat cart into a downtown vegan eatery, they jumped at the chance, moving from a dying trend to an emerging one.

Sabay Vegilicious in on Street 288, just east of the intersection with Street 63