Cambodian cuisine doesn’t boast the same popularity as compared to the world-renowned dishes of neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. Yet, it doesn’t mean that it’s less delicious. Incorporating a medley of bold and rich flavors and fresh ingredients abundant in Asia, Cambodia has a fantastic plethora of mouthwatering food items you should never dare to miss. If you happen to visit the country, here are the most popular foods in Cambodia that will keep your taste buds elated all day long.
Cambodians love rice and fish and you’ll see them in many of their dishes. An attestation to that is fish amok, their national dish served with hot rice. Freshwater fish is soaked in coconut milk and rich curry paste. It’s then placed in banana leaf cups and tenderly steamed. While the ingredients are already tasty, the banana leaves also add a specific aroma and flavor. The resulting dish is a spicy and fragrant fish curry that will undoubtedly delight your palate. Other versions use snails, chicken, and tofu as the main protein, with all tasting amazing.
Plea Sach Ko
Plea sach ko is Cambodia’s version of beef ceviche. It uses super-thin, bite-size pieces of raw beef, marinated in lime juice. Afterward, it’s added with clear lime juice broth, chicken soup base, fish sauce, and sugar. To complete the dish, a variety of fresh herbs and vegetables are also required, such as garlic, radishes, shallots, eggplants, peppers, onions, cilantro, mint, lemongrass, basil, and saw leaf. Despite using beef, the thin slices make the wonderfully-tasting tasting fish very light, a perfect starter on any day.
Samlar machu is a traditional Cambodian seafood or meat dish, added with vegetables and cooked in a sour broth base. Its ingredients include the preferred protein, garlic, bean sprouts, shallots, water spinach, scallions, tomatoes, cilantro, basil, and lemongrass. Souring agents can be tamarind juice, kaffir lime juice, or krasaing fruit seeds. Before serving, it’s usually seasoned with fish sauce, pepper, or fried garlic. Samlar machu is popular among many households in the country due to its easy preparation and lovely taste that goes perfectly with hot, steam jasmine for lunch. This sour soup dish can vary depending on the season and the region, providing you with limitless options.
Bok L’hong (Green Papaya Salad)
Bok L’hong, more popularly known as green papaya salad, is among Cambodia’s most widely-eaten salads. Other countries have a version of this dish, though it’s deemed to have originated in Laos. Its ingredients include tomatoes, garlic cloves, peanuts, lettuce, long beans, lime juice, fish sauce, and dried shrimp.
While the Thai version uses thin papaya strips and requires ingredients to be pounded, Cambodia’s green papaya salad is similar to that of Laotian and Vietnamese cuisine where papaya is shredded, with the need to pound the ingredients together.
Bok L’hong is also often added with ginger, tamarind, and prahok, or a spicy fish paste. Another twist is that it often features salted crabs or smoked fish and is usually enjoyed with grilled meat and the Cambodian staple, steamed rice.
Twa Ko (Cambodian Sausage)
Another popular food in Cambodia is twa ko or special Cambodian sausage. It’s made of beef or pork but requires more amount of fat, usually around 20-25%. Pork belly is a common choice for many as it meets the needed amount of fat. It’s mixed with garlic, lemongrass, ginger, fish sauce, roasted peanuts, sugar, and Nam powder.
It’s very easy to make, but the taste will explode in your mouth, bringing in a delectable blend of sweet, tarty, and herby flavors. You can enjoy this juicy sausage grilled, pan-fried, or barbecued and eat it with steamed rice and fresh vegetables. Or else, just eat it by itself or the way you consume other sausage varieties.
Nom Banh Chok
Nom Banh Chok is a famous Cambodian breakfast dish, made of light, fermented rice noodles, topped fish gravy, and various fresh vegetables like bean sprouts, cucumber, water lily stems, and banana blossom. Fresh herbs like basil or mint are also added for a refreshing flavor. You will not have a hard time finding one, as it’s widely sold by local vendors in the morning. It’s packed in plastic bags, alongside other dishes, and carried on baskets from a pole that vendors balance on their shoulders.
Yaohon is the Cambodian version of the Chinese version. Its flavor-packed broth is made of chicken stock, coconut milk or coconut cream, and coconut soda, added with soybean curd sauce, barbecue sauce, fish sauce, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and palm sugar. The selection of seafood and meat includes shrimp, oysters, squid, mussels, chicken, and beef, while typical vegetables include spinach, bok choy, and watercress. Other optional ingredients include mushrooms, crushed peanuts, and quail eggs. Like in other countries, yaohon is a fantastic communal dish, best enjoyed with friends and family.
Along with nom banh chok, kuy teav is another popular breakfast dish sold by vendors during the mornings and in markets in mid-day. It’s a vermicelli noodle soup with a flavor-rich broth made from beef or pork bones, and seasoned with herbs, green onion, fried shallots, bean sprouts, and garlic. A variety of meat are added before serving. Choices are beef, pork, fish, chicken balls or seafood. Just look around any open-air food stall and you’ll see shops offering kuy teav in a breeze.
Lok Lak is a traditional dish made of stir-fried, super tender beef slices, covered with glossy, peppery brown sauce. It’s available in many restaurants across Cambodia, though taste may vary depending on the region. Lok Lak is usually served with a bed of lettuce leaves underneath and then topped with tomatoes, raw onions, and cucumbers. A fried egg is usually enjoyed by pulling the lettuce leaves and filling it with the ingredients like a wrap. Alternatively, it’s also consumed with rice or fried egg on the side. The dish is believed to trace its roots from the French people who reached the country from Vietnam.
Samlar kari (Chicken curry)
Capping this list is samlar kari or Cambodia’s traditional chicken curry. It consists of chicken pieces enveloped by a flavorful coconut sauce, added with shrimp paste, palm sugar, and fish sauce. What makes the dish even more delicious is the use of red kroeung paste, a curry paste made from turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, chili peppers, garlic, shallot, and kaffir lime leaves.
To enrich the dish, various vegetables are optionally added, which include bamboo shoots, sweet potatoes, carrots, beans, spinach, and onions. Like with most dishes, the fragrant, spicy, and savory samlar kari is best consumed with rice but goes great with noodles or bread slices, too.
Deemed by most as a lesser fare than the cuisine of its neighboring countries, Cambodian cuisine has its unique charms to delight anyone. So, taste these popular dishes and continue exploring other foods Cambodia has to offer, you’ll be surprised with the amazing culinary experience this country has to offer.