Roast Cow Decree Shows Divide Between Religion and Restaurants

A government directive has taken aim at Phnom Penh’s popular late night Khmer barbeque restaurants, but it is not public drunkenness or the frequent firing of weapons at the establishments that has authorities worried–it’s the spit-roasted cow outside.

The Council of Ministers signed a directive on Jan. 10 telling all restaurants in Phnom Penh to move displays of spit-roasted cows away from the public eye after the Supreme Council of the Mohanikaya Buddhist order called a meeting at the Chaktomuk Conference Hall in December to discuss the issue.

“Grilling cows in front of the restaurants is a show of support for violence in a country that believes in the Buddhist religion,” said Chhoeng Bunchhea, a member of the supreme council. “It can instill the ideas of a massacre to a child and push them to commit violence in society.”

He said that the during the meeting in December, it was decided that displaying the roasted carcasses of cows glorifies the killing of animals and is bad for the image of Cambodia. They then passed the request for a ban to the Council of Ministers.

“We want an non-violent culture and happiness in society,” Mr. Bunchhea said, adding that similar vendors displaying roasted whole-chickens, ducks and deep-fried fish do not have to conform to such rules because they were “small size” animals.

As of yesterday, only a handful of restaurants that display spit-roasted cow had heard of the directive.

On Street 13 in Daun Penh district’s Phsar Kandal I commune, there is a strip of at least six barbeque restaurants in a row — directly across the street from Wat Ounalom.

Huy Serei Ratanak, manager of the Chan Thol Arunras restaurant, located on the strip, said that he did not obey the directive after receiving it last month, but his restaurant received a visit from the commune authorities soon after.

“The authorities came here and ordered me to move the grill closer to my restaurant and to make sure to clean the space,” he said.

Chea Ny, manager of Ekka Reach restaurant located near the pagoda, said that he had not received the directive, but it would mean the end of his business if he followed it.

“I will lose too much,” he said, adding that many of his customers order grilled cow and if he were forced to move the large spit, he would have no place to put it.

“My business will end if the government takes action,” he said.

And that is precisely what at least one commune official plans to do.

Pen In, Phsar Kandal II commune chief, said on Tuesday that she would request that police remove the spits if the restaurants in her commune do not move them.

“I have [explained to restaurant owners] not to grill cows like this because it looks very bad and especially because it is unsanitary,” she said.

Enjoying a cold beer and a plate of chopped grilled beef with his friends last night at a barbeque restaurant, Hean Pech, 27, debated with his friends about the issue.

“I don’t think it affects the religion,” he said.

“The people who criticize in this case are extremists of the religion.”

However, Pen Sam Ang, 27, said that he supported the government decision.

“Many countries have their own culture and religion, so we must respect Buddhism because it is our religion.”

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