For most visitors to the Kingdom, Chicken or Pork Amok and Lok Lak are their Cambodian cooking experience. However, Cambodia’s cookery has a treasure trove of dishes on offer. Khmer food has influenced its neighbours and in return, Cambodia’s neighbours have influenced Khmer cooking. Add to that the French connection, and you have a recipe for delicious eating. In addition, Cambodia’s food is often all about contrasts: sweet and bitter, salty and sour, fresh and cooked. For those of you unfamiliar with Khmer cuisine, read on as you will be surprised and delighted by not only the variety of dishes available but also the table manners involved in Cambodia.
Khmer Style Cookery
Mealtimes have more than one dish with contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures. Meals use plenty of herbs, leaves, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces and other garnishes and condiments. Water, rice and freshwater fish exert the most influence on the Cambodian style.
Rice is the staple food in Cambodia, and it is part of every meal, both as a side and as an ingredient. Cambodians prefer either jasmine rice or sticky rice. It is eaten throughout the day as street-side snacks, such as deep-fried rice cakes with chives and spinach; for breakfast, as in Cambodia’s famous rice noodle soup kuy teav or rice porridge; and in many desserts. Meals are also typically served with grilled freshwater fish, a samlor or soup, and an assortment of herbs and vegetables.
Coconut milk is the main ingredient of many Khmer curries and desserts. It is also used in desserts with fruits, such as durian.
Cambodian meals ensure that the diners get a bit of every flavour to satisfy their palates.
Regional and local Cambodian Dishes
Cambodian cooking shares similarities with Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines. The cuisine uses fish sauce in soups, in stir-fried dishes, and as a dipping sauce. The Chinese influence can be noted in the common chha, or stir-fried dishes, and in the use of many variations of rice noodles. One popular dish of Chinese origin is pork broth rice noodle soup. This dish is similar to Vietnamese phở and the Khmer know it as kuy tieu.
Foreign Influences on Khmer Cookery
Indian influenced dishes include many curry types known as kari that use dried spices such as star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel as well as local ingredients such as lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots and galangal that give dishes that unique Cambodian flavour. Banh Chaew, the Khmer version of the Vietnamese Bánh xèo, is also a popular dish. Curries are a common staple of Khmer food; although, they tend to be less spicy than their Thai counterparts. Khmer food also has a larger variety of stir-fried vegetables and uses more garlic than its neighbours: blame the French
One of the most popular Cambodian breakfast dishes is Bai Sach Chrouk, or pork and rice. This simple dish comes with plain rice and an egg on top, sliced grilled pork ,pickled vegetables and soup. A great way to start the day, and it is available at many places in the earlier parts of the day.
Cambodia’s Most Famous dish
Amok is another popular dish in Cambodian cookery, especially with foreigners. This dish is a thick soup cooked with fish or other meat, vegetables, eggs and coconut milk. It is available at most eateries.
There is also Loc Lac. What could be more authentically Cambodian than stir-fried beef with ketchup and soy sauce, set on a bed of lettuce, onions and tomatoes then served with fries?
Then there is Prahok, which can be smelt long before it is seen – a salty, pungent paste made from fermented fish – is used in many dishes as a distinctive flavouring. Prahok is fried and usually mixed with meat and chilli. It can be eaten with dips, vegetables like cucumbers or eggplants, and rice. When Prahok is not used, it is usually replaced by Kapǐ, a kind of fermented shrimp paste
Regional Cambodian Cookery
Regional Cambodian cooking offers some unique dishes influenced by the traditions of local ethnic groups. In Kampot and Kep, known for its Kampot Pepper Crab or Kdam Chha Mrich Kchei. This dish is prepared with a local crab fried with the black pepper from local pepper fields. Kula people, an ethnic group of Pailin Province, created Mee Kola, a vegetarian rice stick noodle dish.
In Southeastern Cambodia, the influence of Vietnamese cuisine is strong, evidenced by Bánh Tráng which is everywhere in the region but virtually unknown elsewhere.
The Siem Reap and Kampong Thom regions, areas with many Chinese Cambodians, has Khmer versions of many Chinese dishes.
Samlor – Cambodian Soup
Soups are popular with Cambodians. Popular ones include Kuy Teav or Kway Teow, flat rice noodles with pork stock and toppings. Ko Kho, which is caramelised rice noodles, is created from the stewed/braised flavours of beef combined with flat rice noodles. It also includes potatoes and carrots topped off with chives and cilantro. Num Banh Chok is a typical breakfast food and was originally a speciality from Kampot. It consists of rice noodles topped with a fish-based green curry gravy made from lemongrass, turmeric root and kaffir lime. Fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts, green beans, banana flower, cucumbers and other greens are put on top.
Fruit in Cambodia
Fruit in Cambodian cuisine is so popular that they have their own royal court. The durian is considered the “king”, the mangosteen the “queen”, sapodilla the “prince” and milk fruit the “princess”. Other popular fruits include Jan kuy, Romduol, pineapple, star apple, rose apple, coconut, palmyra fruit, jackfruit, papaya, watermelon, banana, mango and rambutan. Although fruit is usually considered a dessert, some such as mangoes and pineapples are eaten with heavily salted fish and plain rice. Fruit also comes as beverages called Tuk Krolok, mostly shakes.
Dessert in Cambodia is typically a simple fare such as sticky rice or just fresh fruit. Mango, coconut milk, banana, and other ingredients are sometimes used to make puddings, tarts, or sticky rice: Cambodians have a sweet tooth. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, the durian is king.
So, when in Cambodia here is a list of some other dishes that are a must try:
- Fiery black pepper chicken
- Green peppercorn prawns
- Chargrilled eggplant with pork
- Prahok with port belly
- Chicken coconut soup
- Stuffed Kampot squid
- Claypot cola chicken
- Tamarind crab
- Royal seafood amok
- Wok-tossed squid with Kampot pepper
- Kampot cold noodles
- Khmer beef skewers
- Pan-fried prawns with prahok rice
- Water spinach and fermented soy beans