Cambodia, formerly home to the Khmer Empire, has a gastronomic culture centered on rice and freshwater fish that rivals whatever its larger neighbors have to offer. Cambodia was an important junction on the historic Maritime Silk Road, which connected India with China via modern-day Malaysia and Indonesia.
Freshwater fish is a key component of the Cambodian diet
Because of the natural phenomena that is the Tonlé Sap lake, the biggest in South-East Asia, freshwater fish is a key component of the Cambodian diet.
The kingdom’s vast rivers, together with the Mekong River, produce a plentiful catch that is fermented into prahok (fish paste), a key component in many regional cuisines.
This is supplemented with a creative blend of earthy roots, holistic herbs, and fragrant tubers that give the soups, salads, and stews a special touch that distinguishes them from Thai and Vietnamese culinary giants.
Rice is the mainstay of the Cambodian diet
Rice is the mainstay of the Cambodian diet, and Malys Angkor fragrant rice has received the World’s Best Rice title numerous times in the last decade. Rice is so important to the Khmer diet that it inspired the term for ‘eating,’ nyam bai, which literally means ‘consume rice.’
When guests sit down to a Cambodian meal, they should be aware that it nearly always includes a samlor (traditional soup), which is meant to be shared communally together with the other main courses. Samlor mcheu kreung (a mild sour and spicy soup with pig ribs) is famous, as is the exquisite tuk kreung, nearly a dipping stew to feast on with fresh veggies.
5 must-try dishes (and where to try them)
1. Pepper-infused wok-fried crab
Pepper-infused wok-fried crab Kep is well-known for its succulent crab, but Kampot is well-known for its fragrant pepper.
When you combine the two at Kep’s Crab Market, you get one of Cambodia’s most delicious meals. Kampot pepper, like Champagne in France, has a UNESCO Geographical Indication and is renowned for its distinctive flavour.
Fresh green peppercorns or ground black pepper, both of which suit the crab well.
Kep’s Sailing Club is a favourite sunset location, or stay close to home by visiting Kimly Restaurant at Crab Market.
2. Noodles Naom Ben Chok
These tiny, hand-made rice noodles, which resemble vermicelli, are served with a fragrant fish broth or a rich red curry with chicken and sweet potatoes.
The garnish is a piece of art, with everything from banana bloom to lotus root and a variety of edible flowers like purple water hyacinth.
Try this meal at Preah Dak, a hamlet around 16 kilometres from Siem Reap on the way to Banteay Srei Temple.
3. Fish Amok
Fish Amok, a fragrant mild curry cooked in banana leaf, is a strong contender for Cambodia’s national cuisine.
The delicate flavor combination originates from the kreung (paste) mixture of herbs and spices used in Khmer cuisine, which comprises lemongrass, garlic, shallots, turmeric, galangal, lime leaves, and a dash of chilli.
Malis Restaurant in Phnom Penh, owned by famous chef Luu Meng (who has worked with everyone from Gordon Ramsay to Anthony Bourdain), serves a stunning trio of amok.
4. Bobor porridge
This rice-based porridge is similar to a must-have breakfast in Cambodia, but it may also be a nutritious meal at any time.
Plain bobor is flavored with dried fish and pickles; more appealing is fish or chicken bobor with additives such as vegetables, dried garlic, or pickled ginger.
It’s available at local stores for less than a pound each bowl.
5. Salad of pomelo with freshwater shrimp
Kratie is a sleepy Mekong hamlet where people come to see the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins.
The island of Koh Trong, located opposite the town, is a pastoral paradise noted for its pomelo plantations.
Visit a guesthouse or restaurant to have fresh pomelo salad with Mekong shrimp, a famous dish available across Cambodia and the ideal accompaniment to a steaming stew or soup.
Did you know that? ...
Insect consumption is poised to become the next big thing in sustainable cuisine.
Cambodia, on the other hand, is already at the forefront of creepy-crawly food, with deep-fried tarantulas and wok-fried beef with basil and red tree ants among its specialties.
Anyone interested in crickets?
There are lots of them as well, making them the ideal snack to pair with a draft Angkor or Cambodia beer.