Cambodia is located in the southern part of the Indochina peninsula and similar to Thailand and Vietnam, it is a popular destination for Western travellers looking to explore a culture completely different to their own. One defining difference of many cultures is the food and diet of the local people and this offering often forms a major part of our decision to visit a country.
The staple Cambodian diet consists mainly of rice and freshwater fish from the Mekong River and Tonle Sap but there’s a lot more to Cambodian food than just those two ingredients. Often overshadowed by neighbors Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodian cuisine deserves more of a spotlight than it currently receives. Anyone who has experience with travelling to Cambodia will have a good idea about the exotic flavors contained in Cambodian food, especially traditional street food.
It’s hard to imagine a Cambodian dish prepared without the key ingredients lemon grass, kaffir lime, garlic, ginger, coconut milk or black pepper. Why not plan a trip to and try the following Cambodian foods for yourself?
1. Fish amok is often considered the national dish of Cambodia and uses freshwater fish, usually the snakehead fish or cat fish as its main ingredient. A similar dish is available in neighboring countries but fish amok in Cambodia is distinctive in taste. Firstly, thanks to the addition of a paste known as ‘Kroeung’ (made from lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, fermented fish paste and galangal) and secondly due to the addition of the local bitter herb slok ngor. Fish amok will often come beautifully presented wrapped in banana leaf. Other variations made with Tofu or Chicken can be found but these are more of a recent emergence and would not be considered a traditional dish.
2. Bai sach chrouk - Better known simply as pork and rice, Bai sach chrouk is in fact a breakfast dish which is said to sell out so fast so it’s unlikely you will find any left at lunchtime. This street food is simple to prepare but still packs a punch of flavors. The pork is usually sliced and grilled after being marinated in garlic, soy, green onion and coconut milk. There is no specific way to prepare and serve Bai sach chrouk meaning no two dishes are likely to be the same.
3. Khmer beef skewers – Using Kroeung at the heart of the marinade these beef skewers are a traditional street food. Unlike Bai sach chrouk preparation for this dish is not quick. Pickled vegetables need to be prepared a day ahead and the beef benefits from a day sat in the marinade too.
4. Khmer Noodles – Another traditional street food technically known as nom banh chok and so named after the fermented rice noodles that form the basis for the dish. Khmer Noodles include a serving of raw vegetables, banana leaf, lemongrass, fresh mint and basil. This gives the dish a light and fragrant finish, more like a salad than a noodle dish.
5. Cambodian Fruit – Cambodian food is not just about fish, noodles and spice. Well known tropical fruits such as mango, dragonfruit and papaya are available from many local markets, as are many lesser known fruits. These include the ‘soursop’, the lychee like ‘longan’, the cinnamon hinted ‘lemut’ and even single seeded ‘water apples’. A local delicacy, but one most Westerners may want to avoid is the ‘durian’ which has a terrible smell and an armored shell that’s difficult to get into.
Many westerners are put off Cambodia as a culinary destination due to myths and horror stories spread by travellers but these should be taken with a pinch of salt. Why not plan your own Cambodia tour and see if you can adopt a style that you can recreate back home and impress your friends with your newly found exotic culinary skills.