Khmer (or Cambodian) food often takes a backseat, with other SE Asian nations, such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore, more well-known for their culinary scene, but that doesn’t mean that Cambodia doesn’t boast a tasty and tempting selection of fare. The cities are generally home to international and local meals, with the buzzing capital of Phnom Penh providing every gastronomical experience you can think of, from fine dining in world-class gourmet restaurants with celebrated chefs, through to grabbing a quick and cheap bite to eat from a roadside vendor.
Whilst there are sometimes noticeable similarities with the cuisine in neighbouring countries, Cambodia offers its on yummy dishes and some surprising twists in fare that you thought you knew.
If you’re a traveller who enjoys to fully immerse themselves in the local food scene, here are six top Khmer dishes to sink your teeth into when in Cambodia:
Khmer Red Curry
Creamy and slightly sweet, thanks to the use of coconut milk, Khmer red curry is fairly similar to the red curry found in neighbouring Thailand but without the fiery taste of chilli. Other ingredients include lemongrass, green beans, potatoes, aubergine, and meat or fish. Whilst it may be served with rice, it is often enjoyed with bread, perfect for mopping up the delicious sauce.
A typical late-night snack that is generally available from street vendors, lort cha is a dish of stir-fried noodles. Quite spicy, the noodles are cut into small strips, making them a similar length to another major ingredient – beansprouts. Cooked with egg, spring onions, and leafy greens, it is then doused in soy sauce and chilli.
One of Cambodia’s most famous dishes, fish amok is rather similar to a thin fish curry. It tastes different to fish curries in other countries because of the inclusion of a local Cambodian herb slok ngor. It also has a local curry paste, called kroeung, which includes turmeric, lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, and shallots.
Kdam chaa is essentially fried crab. Especially delicious and famous in the charming seaside town of Kep, you can head down to the fresh fish market, select your crab, then take it to one of the many beachside restaurants to have it cooked. You really can’t get fresher than this! Cooked with the strongly scented Kampot pepper (fresh) and garlic, it’s bursting with flavor and a real treat for the taste buds.
The wonderfully alliterative name of loc lac refers to a tasty stir-fried beef meal. The beef is cooked with lashings of soy sauce and oyster sauce, and sometimes palm sugar is added for a sweet twang and aftertaste. It’s normally served over rice, though you will also find it paired with French fries.
Bai Sach Chrouk
A typical morning feed, bai sach chrouk is a basic yet filling meal of rice and pork.Thin strips of pork are slowly grilled to bring out the succulent flavours and make the meat really tender. Extra sweetness may be achieved by coating the meat in coconut milk, and a garlic paste might also be used for added flavour. The pork is then served with rice and a side helping of radish and cucumber, with lots of ginger. You will also usually be offered a bowl of hearty and arming chicken broth with spring onions sprinkled on the top.
Other delicious meals to enjoy in Cambodia include lap (or lab) Khmer, a refreshing sald-like dish, ang dtray-meuk (grilled squid), the Khmer noodles of nom banh chok, red ants and beef, and beef saraman curry. Looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth? Try cha hoay teuk, a popular jelly-based treat made from the seaweed derivative of agar-agar, shaved ice, coconut milk, mung beans, and sago.