When it comes to food and well life in general then the Khmer have had their bad times. But, Cambodia is now back with a bang on the tourist trail and has some of the most underrated food in South-East Asia.
The best dishes Cambodia or its cuisine is a big mixture of the best from the countries that surround it, but with their own flavors and unique stiff thrown in for good measure.
This has been no easy list to concoct, but I have decided on the top 21 best dishes in Cambodia you must try.
Originally a Vietnamese dish, something Vietnamese people are regularly happy to remind you The Khmer have taken this and made it their own. Stir-fried strips of beef served on a bed of lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and rings of raw onions. They then throw it on top of some rice and add a fried egg. Kampot pepper and some lime then just seals the deal.
Lort Cha is one of those foods you can never go wrong with, yes it is fried noodles! A dish borrowed from the Chinese, but again with a Khmer flair! Short fat noodles stir fried with beef, or pork with onions, broccoli, beansprouts and to give it th edge Cambodian fermented fish sauce and Kampot pepper. A nice easy cheap dish you will find throughout the nation.
Pong Tia Koun AKA Balut
Not nearly as famous as its counterpart in the Philippines and not nearly as good, but well worth a try. It is fertilized egg eaten from the shell. You throw salt and pepper inside, whilst eating “balut leaves”. Lacks the vinegar kick of the Philippines, but a must try whilst in Cambodia.
Frog Stuffed with Pork – Kangkep Baob
You take a big frog, empty it out and fill it with minced pork. The frog tastes a bit like chicken, it is a spicy as hell and for whatever reason it just seems to work. A classic dish you will see throughout the countryside.
One of the best dishes of Cambodia that was born during famine times of the Khmer Rouge. One of the last dishes I actually got to try as it is a bit frowned upon now. I am not a real bug fan, but it tastes like a chip, then when you bite the inside you get all the lovely juices seep out. A real surprise, but one I will certainly eat again.
Big fatty bits of pork can be smelled whenever you are near a BBQ, or street food stall throughout the country. Cheap, amazing and a good choice if everything else is looking a bit weird, Particularly good in the markets of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
GIANT Cambodian shrimp
I have traveled the world over and never seen shrimp as big as they get in Cambodia. If you’re prepared to cook it yourself then a big bag of 1 kg will only set you back 10 bucks, otherwise head somewhere like Holy Lobster to get your jollies.
Fish amok is the signature national dish of Cambodia, and whilst not my favorite is certainly a must try when you are in country. Freshwater fish are smothered in coconut milk, eggs, fish sauce and palm sugar. This is then topped with rice and kroeung famous spicy sauce that consists of numeric, lemongrass and lime amongst other things. Steamed and then served in a banana leaf shaped like bowl. OK, so it is touristy, but so what?
Num pang AKA banh mi
Another borrow from the Vietnamese, although with the main difference being that the bread is far sweeter in Cambodia. The most famous variant consists of meat balls, but the best I had was 4 pork skewers topped with papaya salad. Opposite Star Bar in Siem Reap if you ever find yourself there.
Cambodia Beer on Ice
OK, not a food and yes we get that, but beer is a big deal in Cambodia (although Soju is starting to be a player). Traditionally and much like in Vietnam refrigeration was an issue. Now it is not uncommon to be served a warm beer with a big cup of ice. It really is a lot better than it sounds. Add a little bit of sprite to really sex things up.
Oysters in Cambodia are served on a bed of ice, as expected, but also with fried onions, jungle leaves and Khmer hot sauce. Extremely different to what you would expect. Phnom Penh yacht club do great oysters once a week. If you want to get really adventurous add an oyster to a shot of vodka, then add some hot sauce, voila the Oyster shot.
Bitter mango with salt
Favourite throughout south-east Asia, you take a not yet ripe mango and save it with salt. Makes a truly great beer snack, or snack in general. A great adaption of this I tried used the seasoning from a ramen packet. Unexpectedly good.
Maybe this is not exactly Cambodian, but due to how much sugarcane they have an extremely popular drink. Even in the countryside you will see sugarcane juice machines everywhere and without doubt one of the most refreshing juices you can find in the country. When will Cambodia start making good Rum?
Bai sach chrouk: Pork and rice
One of the classic dishes of Cambodia that you will find throughout the country, usually at breakfast time. Thinly slices pork that is marinaded in palm sugar and of course demented fish sauce! Served on a healthy dollop of rice. One of the simplest, but most delicious dishes from Cambodia.
Bugs in Cambodia
There is no point breaking this down, from a deep fried frog to spiders, cockroaches and everything in-between the Cambodians eat it. It has been compared to chips, or crisps, but the taste can best be described as unique. This is not a delicacy here, but simply an everyday part of their diet. 60 meter street in Siem Reap is one of the best places to try bugs in Cambodia, or almost any street in Phnom Penh.
Plea sach ko: Lime-marinated beef salad
Marinaded beef is always good with me! With this dish the beef is marinaded in lime ceviche style, and seasoned with lemongrass, shallots, garlic, fish sauce, Asian basil, mint, green beans, and green pepper. This is no walk in the park and really packs a spicy old punch!
Fried crab with green pepper AKA Chaa kdam meric kchai:
Crab is a big deal in Cambodia, with the best of the best (allegedly) coming from Kep. Thankfully modern transportation means that you can get it throughout the country. Seasoned famously with green pepper it packs a punch. An alternative of this is crab with Khmer curry sauce.
Grilled squid with Koh Kong sauce – Ang dtray meuk
A dish I was happy enough to discover on Koh Rong. People on the beach BBQ wooden skewers of squid brushed with lime juice and fermented fish sauce. It is then served with a spicy chili sauce originally from the seaside province of Koh Kong, made from garlic, fresh chilies, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar.
Green mango salad – Nhoam svay kchai
Another nice easy, vegetarian friendly classic that you will find throughout Cambodia. Four herbs are used namely Asian basil, mint, Cambodian mint, and fish-cheek herb. This of course served with salad, with the primary ingredient being unripped green mango. Add salt and pepper for a bit of Zing.
Cambodia is awash with weird foods to try, but when I saw this up by the Laos border I had to have it. At first I thought it would be sweet and honey like, but no this was back to bug territory. A bit of an acquired taste, but one that certainly grew on me the more I ate it. Sweet, but with a very savory kick to it.
Red tree ants with beef and holy basil AKA Chaa angrong sach ko
We ordered a beef and “fire ant” dish, but forgotten that we had. When the “beef arrived” we thought ants had crawled on the plate, then remembered we had ordered fire ants! Complete with ginger, shallots and thinly sliced beef. The ants are actually very subtle, but do add a sourness to the beef that makes this a very special dish.
So, that is my list of 21 best dishes Cambodia, or at least most unique Cambodian dishes you need to try when in country. Of course one could easily carry on and add a lot more dishes, much like anything, but this is my list for now!