Well I am now at 8 months stuck/living in Cambodia, so it is probably high time I started a mammoth article about Cambodian cuisine. What is Cambodian cuisine? Is Cambodian food any good? And what are the influences?
We shall cover all this and more, this is our guide to Cambodian cuisine.
Background to Cambodian Cuisine
Cambodia is surrounded by culinary greats, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, and to a push India. Oh and they used to be ruled by the French. You will find restaurants catering to the aforementioned cosines almost everywhere, but you do not see Cambodian restaurants around the globe!
There are many reasons for this, but Khmer cuisine can largely be seen a big mixture of all the best foods that surround them. An awful lot of it is borrowed, meaning that in comparison to surrounding countries their food kind of already existed. And you know a copy is never as good as the real thing is it?
Contemporary Cambodian cuisine has also been heavily influenced by the rule of the Khmer Rouge and basically starvation. This has meant that Cambodia eat a lot more of what we might term “weird food” in the west. Pretty much you name it, Cambodians eat it. And yes more so than the infamous Chinese.
That is not to say though that Khmer cuisine isn’t very good, I have personally really enjoyed eating here, and whilst the street food isn’t as food as Vietnam, Khmer Street Food is some of the best in the world.
To read about Vietnamese Street Food click here.
Main ingredients for Khmer/Cambodian cuisine
Fermented sauces, particularly of the fish variety are a big thing here and are enjoyed with, meat fish and vegetable dishes. In fact you are unlikely to have a local meal that does not come with some kind of fermented fish sauce. Some foreigners are not so into it, I personally think it is one of the best parts of Khmer cuisine.
Black pepper is another essential ingredient for almost everything. Kampot pepper is probably the most famous one of the lot here. A classic way to accompany a lot of food is to mix salt and pepper together and serve with lime as a dipping accompaniment. Extremely good.
Kroeung is another important spice that is made using a whole heap of fresh ingredients, such as garlic, lemongrass, and numeric. Other spices such as red pepper can be added depending on the specialty dish that is being served.
Vegetables in Cambodian cuisine
Vegetables and salads are served with almost every meal and form an integral part of a Cambodian diet. They are buddhist after all! Carrots, cabbage, spinach and cauliflower all form important parts of the diet. Potatoes and potato dishes are not huge in Cambodia.
To read about being a vegetarian in Cambodia click here.
Fruits in Cambodia
Being such a tropical country Cambodia is filled with some of the most amazing fruit in the world, which leads to great fruit flatters, juices, shakes and some very eclectic desserts.
Jackfruit and durian are particularly popular, with Cambodian durian being rather good. Pineapple is a big deal here, with I remember once eating it served with ramen salt. A lot better than it sounds. You will see sugar-cane and sugar cane juice throughout Cambodia and it is a very popular drink. Coconuts are also everywhere and are served to people who are sick, thirsty, or as part of a number of tasty deserts.
To read about Cambodian Durian click here.
To read the difference between durian and jackfruit click here.
Meat in Cambodia
Whilst more of a treat in the old days, meat is now playing a more important part of Khmer cuisine. Aside from the usual favorites of pork, beef and chicken, Cambodians eat almost everything else! Bugs are a big deal here, they eat buffalo meat and even dog (although frowned upon). Frogs also are cooked more ways in Cambodia than any other country in the world.
One of the nations favorite dishes is Lok Lak, although the Vietnamese might argue who invented it.
To read about Lok Lak click here.
To read about eating bugs in Cambodia click here.
To read about eating dogs in Cambodia click here.
Eating fish in Cambodia
Probably the best part of Cambodian cuisine is the array of seafood, how cheap it is and just how damned well they manage to cook it! Crab, lobster, crayfish and some huge ass shrimp are all available in Cambodia. Cambodian squid is some of the best I have tasted in the world.
To read about Cambodian shrimp and lobster click here.
A summary on Khmer cuisine
Not the best in the world, but Cambodian food is some of the most interesting and certainly from a street food point of view you will not be let down. You will also not go hungry in Cambodia, with the Khmer catering for everything from Keto to Vegan.
To read about doing Keto in Cambodia click here.
And that is the overall skinny on Cambodian food, I will later add an article including my top 25 must try dishes, but until then…..