“A typical Cambodian meal would normally consist of a soup, a salad, a main fish dish, vegetables and rice. A Cambodian dessert, normally based on fresh fruits and sticky rice, complement the meal.”
His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk
The 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 kilometres of the country, irrigating rice fields and providing breeding grounds for fish.
What is Khmer Food?
Khmer food takes influences from a variety of countries. Cambodia was a French colony for many years and also has many Chinese immigrants, so both French and Chinese foods are widely found. In the west of the country, the cuisine is, naturally, influenced by the food of neighbouring Thailand while in the east the flavors of Vietnamese cuisine are more evident.
Coastal towns such as Sihanoukville in the southwest are famous for their seafood, cooked in many styles, including Japanese and European. Common ingredients in Khmer cuisine are similar to those found in other Southeast Asian culinary traditions – rice and sticky rice, fish sauce, palm sugar, lime, garlic, chilies, coconut milk, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime and shallots.
Typical Khmer Dishes
Fish Amok (steamed coconut fish in banana leaves)
In the Khmer diet, rice and freshwater fish play big roles because of the abundance of both. Amok is national dish, made from fish, coconut milk and curry paste.
All the ingredients are mixed together and put in banana leaf cups with coconut cream on top, then steamed. Another common form is amok chouk – snails with curry steamed in their shells. Best served with a plate of hot rice.
Samlor Machu Trey (sweet and sour soup with fish)
This dish is popular in many households in Cambodia as it’s not only easy to make but it also has a lovely taste. Its ingredients include fish, garlic, lemongrass, celery, tamarind juice, bean sprouts, pineapple and seasoning with sugar, fish sauce, and salt.
Many people also add some fresh green herbs and hot chili pepper on top before serving.
Char kroeung Sach Ko (Stir-fried lemongrass beef)
This popular Cambodian stir-fry is another common dish found throughout the country. After put beef in the heat oil with garlic, stir fry until the beef become tender. Then add vegetables such as red peppers and onion as well as the kroeung mixture.
Kroeung is lemongrass paste which is considered very healthy, made from a variety of Asian herbs such as lemongrass (known to have a benefit in lowering acne and pimples), kaffir lime leaves and galangal.
Twa Ko (Cambodian sausage)
Twa ko is a Cambodian sausage made from beef or pork and various spices. Just like any good homemade sausage, the authentic Khmer sausage contains at least 20-25% fat.
Some prefer to use pork belly as the main ingredient; it definitely serves the purpose well. Twa ko can be enjoyed on its own in barbecued, grilled or pan-fried style or served with steamed rice and fresh vegetables.
Nom banh chok (Khmer noodles)
Many locals start their day with nom banh chok, a popular dish known as Khmer noodles in English.
It consists of rice noodles topped with green fish gravy and lots of fresh vegetables including cucumbers, green beans, mint leaves, banana blossom and bean sprouts. It’s very similar to the Thai dish ‘kanom jeen’.
Bai Sach Chrouk (Grilled pork and broken rice)
The simple and yummy bai sach chrouk is pork marinated in coconut milk or garlic before slowly grilling, and then served with broken or fractured rice and a small bowl of clear chicken broth as well as some fresh vegetables.
As part of the street food culture, it is available everywhere especially in busy neighborhoods. It’s so popular that many middle and upper restaurants also include it on their menus. Try it with iced coffee. It's so delicious!!
Kuy teav (Noodle soup)
Kuy teav is a noodle soup made from pork or beef stock and rice vermicelli and toppings including bean sprouts and green onions. A variety of meat choices can be added, such as pork, chicken, fish balls and beef as well as seafood.
In some places, it’s served alongside sweet, spicy, garlic sauce and a small slice of fresh lime. This is when the real flavours start. Head to the open-air food stalls at any market; you will find kuy teav shops within no time.
Lok lak (Stir-fried beef in brown sauce)
Lok Lak is a traditional Khmer dish, which is basically stir-fried beef slices (or pork) in a light brown sauce, served with rice and/or green salad and pepper sauce. Most restaurants across the county offer this dish but tastes are varied depending on the chefs and regions.
The beef or pork slices must first be marinated before cooking so that they are tastier and juicier.