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Must Try Cambodian Food – Local Dishes You Cannot Miss

Article by Lost Plate Food Tours

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If you want to try the best food in Cambodia, our first recommendation is our local food tours that will take you to no-menu, no-English humble eateries, where the best food is always hiding. If you’re at a local place with an English menu, or your hotel’s got local fare on room service, then here’s a list of must try Cambodian food to try. 

Must Try Cambodian Dishes Clear Soup

Clear Soup / Lime Soup

The deliciousness of this dish is definitely lost in translation. With a base of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, and galangal- AKA the Holy Trinity of aromatics in Khmer cuisine, this dish’s bold thesis is one known by chefs everywhere: sometimes less really is more. The herbal base is coupled with simple stock and a protein (usually freshwater fish) and topped with whatever fresh herbs are in season. The seemingly-simple affair will make you question your senses and your sensibilities. And for us, that’s exactly what we want to see on a plate.

Fruit Salads

Every menu will boast a variety of fresh fruit salads, so peruse and explore! Fruit salads in Cambodia are savory and often feature meats and a lime house dressing. From shredded green mango with smoked fish to pomelo salads with pork belly, baby shrimp, and toasted coconut, or even freshwater fish ceviche with bean sprouts, peppers, and mint- there is a whole world of bright flavors to choose from. And boy, is it beautiful.

Fish with Ginger

Many places will offer this local comfort food- freshwater fish is sliced and stir-fried with tangy ginger and fermented soybeans and a gorgeous house sauce served with steamed jasmine rice. Fish is the most popular protein in Cambodia for a plethora of reasons- making up 70% of protein intake nationally. In the land of fish and rice- you would be remiss to not sample around in a culture that has truly mastered the marriage of these two ingredients.

Prahok K'Tih

The infamous fermented fish paste. Prahok is a single word that covers thousands of varieties of this umami bomb, with many uses throughout the cuisine. If you’ve eaten Cambodian, you’ve probably had it before, so don’t be shy. Much like the tradition of kimchi in Korea, fish is treated and buried in jars to ferment. The result is a tangy and complex affair that has delighted and befuddled many professional chefs who have joined our Phnom Penh food tours. Prahok K’Tih is an entry-level variant, served with crudités. Come and try it for yourself!

Num Pang (Sandwiches)

Num Pang is both the word for bread and the word for sandwiches because they are essentially synonymous with the cuisine- “Num” loosely translating to snack/not-meal food, and “Pang” being the local pronunciation of the French word for bread, pain. So, Bread Snack, AKA Sandwich. A colonial legacy, Num Pang features fresh baguettes with a local style peppercorn and pork pate, with an imitation butter dressing. However, its been spruced up to fit local tastes with the addition of bright herbs, green papaya salads, fresh pickles, and punchy chili sauce. Street fusion at it’s finest. Find it at any market.

Nom Banh Chok

The quintessential khmer favorite, it’s recently been dubbed by the Prime Minister as Khmer Noodles and is the bread and butter of local cuisine. It’s truly difficult to understate how much of a bedrock this is to the local diet, as one of the oldest living recipes still passed down from centuries old. A simple curry of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, turmeric, and freshwater fish is simmered for hours in coconut milk, before being ladled over fermented rice noodles, water lily stems, and fresh veggies. Topped with a veritable salad of local herbs, we’re absolutely certain our Noodle Lady does it best. Come on the tour to see what you never knew you were missing out on.

Samlor Machu Kroeung

Polls often find this to be the favorite local dish among Phnom Penh residents. It is an acquired taste, and definitely the epitome of bold in local cuisine. Its base is kreung- which directly translated means ingredients- but specifically, it’s a lemongrass-heavy spice mix that is quite sour in taste and served with morning glory and pork or beef. We like beef for the Samlor, meaning stew- the vinegar tenderizes it oh-so-well. See what the hype is all about and challenge those taste buds. You might learn something new about yourself.

Samlar Kakaou

Forget Amok, and everything you’ve learned about Amok. This is the (unofficial) national dish to many Cambodians, and older than memory. In legend, it is known as the 1000 ingredient soup, heralding an ancestry from Angkor itself- an empire so incredibly vast its constituents could make soups with 1000 ingredients in them. Despite its breadth, incredibly long grocery list, and it’s space for interpretation, every rendition of Somlor Kor Ko is the most quintessential Khmer flavor there is. The kitchen-sink of Cambodian cuisine, it features every flavor imaginable in one harmonious note. Not to be missed: try it village-style in our Siem Reap tour.

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! A few hours from the capital, Kampot has become a weekend destination simply for the food, it’s that good. At home, we just steam it without seasoning, it’s so beautiful you don’t need to do anything to it. If you’re more patient than we are, try it local style: whole fresh crabs are fried up with a garlicky sauce and topped with the famous Kampot 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. 

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 want a bigger punch, local rice wines are often overlooked. On our Phnom Penh Bar Tour, guests can sample higher-end varieties, like black sticky-rice rice wine, an off-menu exclusive item at our 3rd stop. 

Bugs

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. Read our guide to Eating Bugs in Siem Reap here.

Khmer Red Curry

This is a favorite dish featured on our Phnom Penh Evening Food Tour! Popular local and international variations of this feature chili, chicken, potato, and carrots with a variety of local herbs and spices. Its history is tied to 16th-century trade relations with the Portuguese, so we see similar curries in other countries on the Portuguese route: Thailand, Indonesia, India, Japan, and the Philippines. We enjoy this on our tour with some rice, a fresh banana flower salad, and a side dish or two depending on what’s best at the market that day. 

Coconut Milk Desserts

This dish starts out with a white canvas of rich coconut cream and is topped with sweet jellies, sweet sticky rice, stewed bananas, tapioca pearls, and so much more. If you enjoy mango and sticky rice desserts, you’ll definitely like this. It’s common at markets in the afternoon and evening- look for the stainless steel bowls of toppings. Good-quality local restaurants or buffets should also have this on the menu, there’s no direct translation (it’s just a type of Bong Aem) so look at the descriptions!

Lap Khmer

This beef salad is also called “Lap Khmer” by locals due to the similarity to its cousin, a laoatian beef salad called Lap that uses minced meat. The Cambodian version of this marinated beef salad is prepared with well-done slices of beef marinated in lime juice with shallots, fish sauce, basil, mint, garlic, bell peppers, and spicy chilies. Due to its extremely bold flavors, it’s often eaten as a bar snack and is a favorite at local beer gardens. Yum!

Pork & 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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