Cambodian Food & Drink

Khmer foodThe beauty of Cambodia goes far beyond the famous Angkor Wat ruins or the charm of the Khmer people’s simple life style. The country’s food culture is also not to be missed. In the Khmer diet, rice and freshwater fish play big roles because of the abundance of both. Cambodia has two main sources of natural fresh water, the Mekong river and the Tonle Sap, a huge lake connected to the Mekong. In the monsoon season, the Tonle Sap floods some 16,000 square kilometers of the country, irrigating rice fields and providing breeding grounds for fish.  

 Myths about Cambodian Cuisine

Although it may appear difficult to some, Cambodian food is actually simple to prepare and quite straightforward.  Cambodian food doesn’t require too many ingredients; the art of Cambodian cooking lies in the simplicity of combining herbs and seasonings.

Because of some similarities, Cambodian cooking is quite often compared with other food in the region.  Some claim that Cambodian dishes are influenced by those of its neighboring countries, yet most people do not realize that many of the dishes served in South East Asia actually have their roots in Cambodian Cooking. The Cambodian Kingdom which is centered in Angkor, ruled an empire that included most of South East Asia more than a thousand years ago.

Indeed, there is resemblance but there are however significant differences between Cambodian cooking and the others in South East Asia.  Cambodian recipes go very far back to the days before the introduction of the chili and therefore much milder than most other Asian food. The chili was not known in Asia until the 16th century when it arrived with the Portuguese.

The Cambodian curry is a popular dish favored by many foreigners because it is not spicy therefore making it more appealing. The Cambodian curry may appear red and spicy, but it is actually quite sweet as Cambodians traditionally use sweet potatoes in curries, whereas cooks from other Asian countries use potatoes.  The redness comes mostly from the Kruop kak seeds and not from chili.

Perhaps an outstanding distinction in the array of ingredients is the Prahok; a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste used as a seasoning or a condiment. Cambodians use the Prahok in most of their cooking.  The Prahok gives the food that distinguished Cambodian flavor and taste.  This highly aromatic and strong flavored paste originated as a way of preserving fish during the longer months when fresh fish was not available in abundant supply. However, contrary to popular belief, Prahok is not required in every Cambodian dish.

Cambodian food is truly unique if one must really compare it to cuisines of other countries around south-east Asia.  Like with all things Cambodian, be it music, dances or food; Cambodian cuisine is extremely traditional.Cambodians love to eat! Once you learn more about local cuisine, you’ll soon love Cambodian food, too.

Cambodian food is perhaps the most overlooked of all Asian cuisines. Too often Cambodian cooking is dismissed as a lesser version of Thai or Vietnamese fare. Living in Cambodia will give you the chance to learn about this much misunderstood cuisine and enjoy its unique charms. Cambodian home-style food

A typical home-style meal will usually include a soup and a couple of stir-fries. Rice is not optional.

It’s true that Cambodian food has much in common with that of its neighbors, particularly the cooking of Vietnam. Many dishes that are widely known as Vietnamese are also common in Cambodia. ( Remember, part of southern Vietnam used to be part of Cambodia not so very long ago and both countries have a shared history of colonization by the French ) The most important part of every meal is rice. In fact, Cambodians greet each other by saying “Nyam bai howie nov?” (“Have you eaten rice yet?”) At lunch and dinner in Cambodian homes each person is served a large bowl of rice. Then at least three or four other dishes, usually including a soup (samlor), are served family-style. Prahok, a pungent fermented fish paste, is used to flavor many dishes and for expats can take some getting used to. Kroeung, a distinctive spice paste made with a base of lemongrass and galangal, is the foundation of many Cambodian dishes. Freshwater fish from the Mekong and Tonle Sap make up a large part of the Cambodian diet, whether dried, processed into prahok, or cooked up in that famous Cambodian specialty, amok.

A typical Cambodian breakfast is rice porridge, called bobor, that’s similar to Chinese congee. Rice and rice noodles figure heavily at the Cambodian breakfast table. A favorite way to start the day is nom banh chok, sometimes called the Cambodian national dish: rice noodles topped with a fish-based green curry gravy made with lemongrass, turmeric root, and kaffir lime. Another popular breakfast noodle preparation is kuy teav, a soup made from pork or beef bones and rice vermicelli and topped with fried shallots, green onions, and bean sprouts. Bai sach chrouk, or pork and rice, is one of Cambodia’s simplest and most delicious breakfast options.

Snacking is a popular Cambodian pastime, particularly snacking on street food. If you’re worried about getting sick, the safest street foods are those that are cooked in front of you and served hot, which kills off bacteria. Ice in Cambodia is also usually fine; it’s specially made in ice factories.

You’ll find different snacks available on Cambodia’s streets at different times of the day. Early in the morning vendors offer breakfast dishes such as kuy teav and bai sach chrouk at small roadside stalls. In late morning through afternoon, roving vendors sell fresh cut-up fruit. Students crowd the streets late in the afternoon to enjoy such restoratives as spring rolls and barbecued beef skewers tucked into baguettes and topped with a green mango slaw.

Cambodian food snacks

Other street food favorites include iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk (kar-fe toek doh koh toek gok), fried noodles (mi char), chive cakes (num kachay), and paté sandwiches (num pang pâté). You’ll find these dishes sold by roving vendors pushing carts around town and at small restaurants that set up shop on the sidewalk. For adventurous eaters, street food is great way to learn about local fare while on a budget. For those who aren’t convinced that they will like Cambodian food, there are hundreds of restaurants serving all types of international food in Cambodia. American, British, French, Italian, Korean and Japanese expats have all set up restaurants serving their country’s specialties, and that’s not all. Those who are looking to follow a vegetarian, vegan, or halal diet will find many options. While local cuisine may be the least expensive choice, your favorite foreign comfort food won’t be hard time come by, both in restaurants and supermarkets.