Cambodian pepper and cardamoms join more familiar Southeast Asian ingredients such as curry pastes (kroeung in Khmer), lemongrass, chilli, kaffir lime leaves, Asian basil and galangal as flavourings for stir fries, stews and soups. Prahok – a pungent seasoning made from fermented fish – is another much-loved seasoning.
The foundation of any Khmer meal is rice, either sticky rice, or the fragrant jasmine rice grown in paddy fields across the nation. Vietnamese influence manifests itself in the form of noodle soups such as kuy teav, while the French legacy is obvious from the popularity of coffee and the nom pang (baguette sandwiches with pork) served as snacks across the country.
Prahok: Fermented fish paste, used as a seasoning for stir fries, but never for soups.
Fried tarantula: A speciality of Skuon in North Cambodia, and a popular dining dare for travellers.
Amok: As the most well-known Cambodia food, Amok is a staple curry dish made from fish (or can be replaced with chicken), which is cooked in banana leaves with coconut milk and Khmer curry paste. In both local cookshop and upscale restaurants you can find this dish easily.
Babor: Rice porridge with chicken broth often served with an omelette or dried small fry.
Kuy teav: Rice noodle soup with pork stock, thought to originate from China. It comes topped with all sorts of vegetables, garnishes and meat cuts and is a popular breakfast.
Bai chha: Khmer fried rice with sausage, pork, garlic and herbs.
Kralan: Sticky rice flavoured with sugar, beans and grated coconut, steamed inside a bamboo pole.
Lok Lak: Stir-fried beef in a lime, salt and pepper sauce, often served with fried potatoes and an egg.
Mee katang: Cantonese-style wide rice noodles cooked with meat and vegetables in oyster sauce.
Nom banh chok: It’s the loved Khmer noodles that most westerners miss it so much when they return home. The rice noodles are topped with green fish gravy and green bean, banana flowers and other vegetables. The locals usually have it as breakfast, which costs less than a dollar in Phnom Penh everyday in street stands.
Pleah sach ko: Beef ceviche with peanuts and garlic, in a lime and palm sugar dressing.
Balut: Fertilised duck eggs, served as a snack; you’ll see them sold all over the country, but with a whole chick inside. It’s an acquired taste.
Fresh coconut juice: A refreshing and popular beverage.
Green tea: China’s influence again.
Rice wine: Often served infused with spices as sombai.
Beer: Angkor and Anchor are the lagers to look out for.
Golden muscle wine: Made from herbs and deer antlers (yes, really).
Tips for Dining in Cambodia
1. Western-style restaurants or cafes can be found in major tourist cities like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Some of them also offer Asian cuisine to widen your meal choices.
2. Tipping usually is not expected but is appreciated a lot. The amount of tipping depends on the quality of service you get. $5~10 is among the right amount we suggest.
3. Sometimes drink could cost more than food. Check the price before you order a dozen of beer.
4. Street food is inviting (except the scary part), but you’d better look out whether it’s clean or not. Choose the stand with less flies hovering about. If you intend to try the local food, turn to our tour guide for advice.
5. Staff in most restaurants is capable of speaking English, and our guide will be at your assistance.
6. Aspara show with dinner is a must-do in Siem Reap.
7. Family eating on the wood floor of the house is traditional for Cambodian people. Be prepared to join them once the invitation is sent.
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