Cambodian (Khmer) cuisine is a delicious yet overlooked part of Southeast Asian food culture. With influences from neighboring Vietnam and Thailand, as well as a touch of French flair, Cambodian food offers a unique blend of flavors. Though it lacks the international fame of other regional cuisines, it is well worth discovering for any adventurous eater.
The Staples of Cambodian Home Cooking
Rice is the essential backbone of any Cambodian meal. A typical home-cooked dinner features a large bowl of white rice for each diner accompanied by several shared dishes like curries, stir-fries, and soups. The distinctive seasoning paste kroeung, made from lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime, forms the flavor base for many Cambodian stir-fries and soups. Fermented fish paste called prahok adds a pungent umami kick. Freshwater fish from the mighty Mekong River and Tonle Sap lake are Cambodian staples, dried, fermented into prahok, or cooked up in the classic steamed fish curry called amok.
Cambodian Breakfast Specialties
Rice porridge and noodles are Cambodian breakfast essentials. Rice congee, known as bobor, is often served for breakfast topped with fried garlic, scallions, and crisp dough bits. The classic rice noodle soup kuy teav features a pork or beef bone broth with rice vermicelli, bean sprouts, fried garlic, and herbs. Nom banh chok, considered by many to be the national dish, consists of rice noodles topped with a bright green fish curry. Bai sach chrouk, thinly sliced pork fried with garlic and served over rice, is another delicious and simple breakfast choice.
Favorite Cambodian Street Foods
Snacking and street food are an integral part of daily Cambodian food culture. Vendors rove the streets serving quick, tasty bites like spring rolls, grilled skewers, and French-style paté sandwiches called num pang pâté. Iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk is a nationwide caffeine addiction. Late afternoons bring chive cakes, noodles, and fresh cut fruit. Seeking out these street food snacks offers visitors both delicious local flavor at an affordable price. For peace of mind, choose items that are cooked to order and served steaming hot.
Dining Options for Every Palate
While local cuisine may be the most budget-friendly, Cambodia’s cosmopolitan cities offer dining options for every palate. Western, Italian, Korean, Japanese restaurants abound, so favorites from back home are easy to find. Vegetarian, vegan, and halal diners will have many choices. The only limitations are your own personal tastes and cravings!
The intricacies of Cambodian food make it worth savoring slowly during your travels. An open mind and empty stomach will ensure you fully enjoy the diverse flavors this overlooked cuisine has to offer.