Updated January 2, 2020 – 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.
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 a simple stock and a protien (we recommend fish) and topped with fresh herbs. 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.
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 spouts, peppers, and mint- there is a whole world of bright flavors to choose from. And boy, is it beautiful.
Fish with Fresh Ginger
Many places will offer this local comfort food- freshwater fish is sliced and stir fried with tangy ginger and fermented soy beans 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.
The infamous fermented fish pastes. Prahok is a single word that covers thousands of varieties of this umami bomb, with many uses throughout 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. Come and try it for yourself!
Num Pang (Sandwiches)
Num Pang is both the word for bread, and the word for this type of sandwich, because they are essentially synonymous in cuisine. A legacy of the French, it features fresh baguettes with a local style kampot pepper 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.
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 bed rock 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. It’s base is kreung- which directly translated means ingredients- but spesifically it’s a lemongrass heavy spice mix that is quite sour in taste and served with morning glory and pork or beef. See what the hype is all about and challenge those taste buds. You might learn something new about yourself.
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 it’s 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! 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!
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
This is a favorite dish featured on our Phnom Penh evening food tour! Similar to a Thai curry, coconut milk is stewed with chicken, fish or beef along with eggplant, green beans, potatoes, lemongrass and a variety of local herbs and spices. We enjoy this on our tour with some rice, a fresh local salad and a side dish or two that the chef decides to whip up.
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 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 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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