May 1, 2019 – If you want to try the best food in Cambodia, then of course you should join our local food tours that will get you off the beaten path to eat where the locals eat! But we have put together a list of Cambodian food that you absolutely cannot miss.
This is probably one of the most famous Cambodian dishes! The (usually) freshwater fish is fried briefly before getting wrapped up in a banana leaf, covered in curry paste and steamed. The sauce is a mixture of the fermented fish paste (prahok), with coconut milk, sugar and salt. Served with rice, this would definitely be in the running for national dish of Cambodia.
Beef Lok Lak
Beef Lok Lak essentially means beef in a “brown sauce”. Don’t be fooled by the somewhat unappealing name, though! Beef is diced and sauteed, and served on crisp lettuce leaves with tomatoes and onions with a tangy lime and pepper sauce for dipping. Best enjoyed with your hands!
This is the infamous fermented fish paste, and one of the flavor mainstays in Khmer cuisine. A fish (usually a mudfish) is crushed up, salted heavily, and fermented before being used as a seasoning in other Khmer dishes or as a condiment. Tangy and salty, prahok lends a unique flavor to whatever you use it with! (And whether you know it or not, will probably be in several dishes you try in Cambodia!)
Num Pang (Sandwiches)
This is the Cambodian equivalent of the more famous Vietnamese banh mi! These sandwiches are served by street vendors all over Cambodia. Start with a fresh demi baguette, top with pork, pate and pickled veggies, fresh cucumbers and cilantro, and maybe some special sauce to finish it all off. Cheap, easy to find, and seriously delicious.
Nom Banh Chok
One of our favorite dishes, and one that you try on our Phnom Penh evening food tour! This dish of rice noodles and curry is a very popular meal in Cambodia. The curry is made with a fish-based sauce with lemongrass paste and a spice called rhizome in English or Khchiey in Cambodia. The sauce is ladled over the rice noodles and topped generously with fresh local veggies, herbs – and even flowers!
Samlor Machu Kroeung
Spicy and sour beef soup with lemongrass paste and tamarind, Samlor Machu Kroeung is a soup that many foreigners may not think to try, but it is one that we recommend seeking out! It has a similar flavor palette to other southeast Asian dishes like Thai boat noodles, but with the addition of the fermented prahok paste it is distinctly Cambodian.
Considered to be the (unofficial) national dish by many, this soup is made with prahok fish paste, an animal protein and vegetables (but can also be found as a vegetarian dish made with coconut cream and vegetable stock instead). The soup base is made up of various spices in a mix called “kreung” (which usually includes lemongrass, lime zest, turmeric, shallots, garlic, and dried red chilies). A delicious and flavorful soup beloved by locals, you’d be remiss not to give it a try!
Kampot Pepper Crab
Cambodia’s Kampot province is famous for its crops of peppercorns, and no dish exemplifies these Kampot peppers so well as the Kampot pepper crab! Whole fresh crabs are fried up with a garlicky sauce and topped with green peppercorns. The sweet crab meat is complimented perfectly by the spice and crunch of the pepper for a dish that is delicious and as unique as the peppercorns themselves!
Num Banh Chao
These Cambodian style crepes are made from rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric, eggs, and salt, and are fried up fresh to order. Locals load them up with bean sprouts, carrots, onions, and meat, usually minced pork and shrimp. On the side, you will get a fresh salad. Add some peanut sauce, and throw on some toppings of your choice such as fish sauce, vinegar, or chilies if you prefer some heat!
Sugar Palm Wine
Although there are many different countries that create beverages from Palm tree sap, Cambodia does it a little differently. Palm tree fruit is pressed and the juices are collected to ferment. The resulting cloudy white wine is light and sweet, and at only 4% alcohol, makes for a refreshing drink!
If you’re looking to try foods outside of your comfort zone, bugs might be right up your alley. Dishes like red tree ants with beef and holy basil are delicious and are a good way to ease into insects! Other chefs serve up larger insects like grasshoppers, seasoned and deep fried with veggies where they stand on their own. Or just grab a bag at the market and munch on them like potato chips.
Khmer Red Curry
A delicious coconut milk based curry that isn’t quite so spicy as Cambodia’s Thai neighbor’s. You can find it made with chicken, fish, or beef, and cooked up with eggplant, green beans, potatoes, lemongrass, and other accompanying spices and served with bread. The resulting dish is always tasty! This dish is usually made for special occasions like weddings, or religious gatherings and is also featured on our Phnom Penh evening food tour.
AKA Cha Houy Teuk, this sweet treat is found all over in streetside vendor’s carts. Vendors will serve the sweet jelly with sago, mung beans, and coconut cream, on top of some shaved ice. It’s like a Khmer version of the shaved ice dessert that is super popular all over northeast Asia!
This lime marinated beef salad is definitely more a beef dish than a salad one but nonetheless is a tasty and flavorful Khmer specialty. Restaurants will typically serve the salad with the beef well done but many Cambodians prefer the beef to be rare when making the dish at home. Beef is marinated in lime juice with shallots, fish sauce, basil, mint, garlic, and bell peppers, and topped off with spicy chilies. Yum!
Pork and Rice
This is a breakfast mainstay in Cambodia. A boneless pork cutlet is thinly sliced and spiced before being BBQ’ed up and served with rice and pickles, and a spicy and sweet chili sauce. The resulting dish is a simple and tasty one that we love – and wholly recommend!
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Our Phnom Penh Food Tours will take you away from the tourist traps to visit the kind of neighborhood spots that don’t show up on top ten lists and to eat where the locals eat! Click Here for more info.