When travelling in South East Asia, you might assume that all the countries of the region would have the same type of food. Similar but not quite! After visiting Malaysia and Vietnam, Cambodian food still managed to surprise me! This is because Cambodia has Khmer food.
Why is food in Cambodia called Khmer food?
Khmer people are part of an ancient civilisation in South East Asia. Nowadays, Khmer people mostly refers to people native in Cambodia. Khmer food is therefore very unique and can be found almost everywhere in Cambodia. In between stops to Angkor Wat, here are some must eat Khmer food I tried and loved in Cambodia. Welcome and enjoy the ride!
The Best Khmer Food I had in Cambodia!
If you ask any Cambodian what their favourite dish is, they will most likely say “Fish Amok”. Amok is a creamy curry with coconut cream, bamboo shoots, spices, algae, and some form of protein (white fish, meat or chicken). Of all the proteins, fish seems to have won the hearts of Cambodians. Variations of this curry dish can also be found in Laos and Thailand although Cambodian Amok seems to be less sweet and spicy. The seaweed in this dish was a real surprise but blended well with the creamy, spicy mix and added some texture. The best part? It’s served in a COCONUT! So not only will you relish this curry but you also get to taste the creamy fresh flesh of Cambodian coconuts after your meal. Yum!
Khmer Spiced Grilled Chicken
When the sun sets, the streets of Cambodia come to life. Street food stalls are rolled out, tables and stools are installed and grills are turned on! Cambodians love grilled food. My favourite is grilled chicken. The lightly charred skin marinated in delicious Khmer spices will definitely excite your taste buds. You can indulge in an entire chicken or opt for chicken wing skewers instead. They all taste delicious. But if you are more adventurous, go for the grilled frog! Other popular grills include whole fish and seafood.
Follow me on my top Cambodian food quest and you will soon find yourself sitting in front of a delicious plate of Khmer Keng. Tip: I call it the Khmer King so I can remember its name. It tastes like Amok but way more concentrated in the Khmer spices. Khmer Keng is fragrant with fresh herbs and spices and juicy pieces of chicken. The variety of textures give you a sensational mouthfeel. Enjoy Khmer Keng best with jasmine rice.
What you see above is called Lok Lak. The name is a bit of a tongue twister but worth remembering. This dish has a lot going on: delicious saucy stir fried beef, fresh vegetables, rice and a perfectly fried egg (crispy on the outside, runny on the inside). Individually, all these ingredients are just ok, but put them together and suddenly you have found yourself a winning meal. Gently cut through your fried egg and watch that molten yolk lava slowly trickle down and soak your rice. Adding a fried egg to any dish just makes it so much better, don’t you think?
Khmer Fried Rice (Bai Cha)
I have a weakness for fried rice. I try it in every country I visit and still am amazed by the sometimes subtle different tastes it has in different places. In Cambodia, the fried rice is addictive. It is slightly different from the ones you find in Cambodia’s South East Asian neighbours as you can taste more of the Khmer spices, garlic and herbs. You can pair Bai Cha with your favourite sauce or just eat it by itself. Either ways, it will satisfy your fried rice cravings. No pictures to show here, but trust me on this, ok?
In Cambodia, the fish is fresh and delicious! In this picture you see a huge Red Snapper marinated and braised to perfection. The flesh is tender and juicy and has absorbed all those delicious Khmer spices. It does not need any dipping sauce or extra seasoning. Although you can find delicious seafood in other parts of the world, another reason this fish is a winner is its price! A whole fish at a fancy restaurant on Pub Street, Siem Reap only costs us USD 6! Now that’s more than worth it!
This dish came as a surprise to me. I have tried other mince meat salads but none came close to Cambodian Laab. The same dish with a slight twist can also be found in Thailand. Here, in Cambodia, the mince meat is mixed with many other ingredients, including onions, garlic, spices, nuts, sprouts, green beans and herbs like mint and long coriander. Do not confuse long coriander with regular coriander or cilantro: this herb has a much stronger taste. All these fresh herbs make the dish aromatic and you can add some tanginess by squeezing the piece of lime on top. Such an adventure for your palates!
Who doesn’t get excited about hot pot?! Popular in many Asian countries, hot pot is another dish that I really enjoyed in Cambodia. The taste of the broth is completely different from Vietnamese, Thai or Chinese hot pots. Here, you will find subtle flavours of India in the broth: I am guessing they add cumin or some other Indian spices. Mixed with the tofu skin, mushroom, a variety of greens, thin slices of meat and a raw egg, this dish is as fun to make as it is tasty. Make sure to go with friends so you can share the experience!
Cambodian Ice Coffee!
I fell in love with ice coffee in Vietnam during my 2 months stay there. In Cambodia, I felt a budding romance with their own version of ice coffee. Similar to the Vietnamese one, Cambodian Ice Coffee includes sweet condensed milk and plenty of ice. The coffee itself is strong and chocolate-y. South East Asians sure know how to make their coffee!
Cambodian “Fried” Ice Cream
Although you can probably find this type of ice cream in many Asian countries, In Cambodia it is known as Fried Ice Cream. Not only does the ice cream have a fresh and intense flavour (I usually go for matcha), it also offers you a great experience! Watching the ice cream vendor make this ice cream is truly addictive and if you are more of a Type A person, you will fall in love with the way the ice cream is perfectly mixed, spread and cut in equal sizes!
So there you go! These were my favourite Khmer food in Cambodia. I have only been there for 6 days though so I am sure that there are plenty more snacks and dishes to discover in this country. I hope you enjoyed my list though! If you are curious about what foods I liked in Vietnam, click here. If you are more curious about Malaysia’s best street foods, click here for Penang and here for Kuala Lumpur!
Until next time!