Cambodian food is often overlooked and is commonly stereotyped to be like Vietnamese or Thai. As in most countries, it is just about knowing what to order. I enjoyed my time in Cambodia where eating in the streets was always a vibrant and lively affair. Similar to Vietnamese food, my favorite part of Cambodian cuisine is the variety of fresh herbs and condiments which they readily make available with every meal.
So resist the urge to order a pizza or anything that would remotely remind you of home and treat your taste buds with these delicious dishes. So while you’re in Cambodia, check out this list of the best Cambodian food that you need to try.
Cambodian Food: What’s it Like
Cambodian or Khmer food is typically made with fresh ingredients and is a medley of flavors. As rice is considered a staple in Asian cuisines, it is served with most meals in Cambodia. Unlike Thai cuisine that is distinctly spicy, the food in Cambodia is rather mild and has a lot of pickled and tangy flavors.
Typically, a Cambodian meal has three or four little dishes, served with rice and a soup alongside with the main dishes. Although similar in concept to its neighboring countries, the food is pretty distinct, offering a little bit of every flavor. Chili is usually served on the side, leaving it up to personal preference which is great for those that can’t take the heat.
Recommended Cambodian Dishes to Try
Probably the most popular Cambodian dish. This dish is composed of a rich and creamy curry like sauce that is the perfect balance of ginger, lemongrass, turmeric and coconut milk. When cooked correctly, the fish is silky smooth, almost melting in your mouth with each bite. This is usually served wrapped in a banana leaf and isn’t too spicy.
Banana Blossom Salad
This salad can be found in restaurants all over Cambodia and is a refreshing meal that can be enjoyed any time of the day. The banana blossom is stirfried and is topped with garlic, fried shallots, and aromatics like lemon grass. The entire salad is then topped with lime adding a light yet citrusy taste to it.
Lap Khmer (Lime-marinated Khmer beef salad)
This dish is a take on ceviche as they take thin slices of beef which is marinated in lime juice with lots of shallots, garlic, fish sauce, basil, mint, and bell peppers. The whole thing is then topped with lots of chilies. To those that aren’t too big on spice, be warned, this dish almost always comes with a kick!
Kampot Pepper Crabs
If you head to the coastal town of Kep, you will usually find delicious pepper crabs caught fresh from the sea and cooked in little roadside restaurants. This peppery dish is hot, delicious, and very savory! Although it is popularly served in the seaside coastal towns, you can also find it being served in large cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Red Tree Ants with Beef
Although it seems that this dish came straight from fear factor, it’s not too bad. Essentially, it is a large stir fry using beef, basil, garlic, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, and lots of ants. Yes, you read correctly. Red tree ants of different sizes are mixed with the beef and are topped with chili and served on top of a bowl of white rice. Yum.
Trending Food Tours in Cambodia
If you’re looking to experience Cambodian food first hand while you’re there, check out some of these food tours that we’ve curated. They are the perfect way to really understand more about the cuisine.
Nom Banh Chok
This popular Khmer dish is often eaten during breakfast and is sold in the streets early in the morning. This dish is made up of thin rice noodles topped with a green fish gravy with lots of fresh bean sprouts, banana flowers, cucumbers and a wide array of green vegetables. Although it sounds rather strange, this dish is delicious and is one of the must-try meals while in Cambodia.
Green Mango Salad
Similar to the Thai specialty, Som Tum, Cambodia makes their own version using green mango. This light and tangy salad is the perfect pair for stuff that is usually fried or grilled.
Khmer Red Curry
Unlike its Thai counterpart, Khmer curry doesn’t have the tendency to blow a hole through your mouth. Often made with either chicken, beef or fish, this dish is made with potatoes, coconut milk, lemongrass, and a special Cambodian ingredient, kroeung.
Editor’s Note: Planning a trip to Cambodia? Check out our Cambodia Travel Guide featuring the best things to do and where to stay.
Bai Sach Chrouk (Grilled pork and broken rice)
If you’re looking for something easy to eat as you ease into Cambodian food, try some bai sach chrouk. This is grilled pork that is marinated in coconut milk and garlic. This dish can be found everywhere on the streets and is served with broken rice along with fresh vegetables. The beef is really flavourful and tender due to the coconut milk. The fresh veggies are also a nice addition to every bite!
Lok lak (Stir-fried beef in brown sauce)
A typical stir fry, lok lak is a traditional Khmer dish made using thin slices of beef or pork in a brown sauce. This dish is typically served with rice and some green salad. They normally serve this with a dipping sauce consisting of lime, salt, and pepper.
This delicious dish is composed of braised chicken or pork topped with an egg. The sauce is a thick medley of caramelized palm sugar, fish sauce, and pepper. Some varieties include tofu and bamboo shoots. This meal is very similar to the Filipino dish called Humba and is both sweet and savory. Great dish to order for those looking to catch a break from the usual spicy Asian meals.
If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous, you can try out some deep fried tarantula which is often being sold as a novelty around the streets. They are an excellent source of protein and is often washed down with a cold glass of beer.
Ang Dtray-Meuk: Grilled Squid
In Cambodia, you can find almost anything in skewers (even tarantulas!). Now, I won’t go too extreme by recommending you to try out spiders, but do try ang dtray-meauk which is basically grilled squid. Often found right by the coastal towns, you will see local vendors carrying small ovens cooking the seafood as they walk along the shore. This is a great snack to have if you’re looking for something light.
Num Pang Pâté
Similar to Vietnam’s Bahn Mi sandwiches, this Cambodian mystery meat sandwich is a refreshing break from the usual ham and cheese sandwich fares that Western places always offer. Filled with various cuts of meat and fresh vegetables, Num Pang Pate is a great palette cleanser.
If you are willing to give Cambodian food a chance without comparing it to its other Asian counterparts, you will find yourself pleasantly surprised with the little distinct flavors that make their food stand out. Like I always say, enjoy, eat local, and try the street food! Happy food trails!
Trending Food Tours in Cambodia
Books About Cambodian Food
The Food & Cooking of Cambodia If you’re looking for a great cookbook to learn more about Cambodian cuisine, check out this particular one, featuring over 60 authentic Cambodia recipes.Cambodian
Cooking: A humanitarian project in collaboration with Act for Cambodia This book contains a variety of recipes all while talking about the culinary traditions around Cambodian cuisine.
The Elephant Walk Cookbook If you’re looking for unique recipes, this cookbook is definitely worth checking out. Written by the chef-owner of The Elephant Walk, a renowned restaurant in Boston, this cookbook is a must for exotic foodies like myself!
Transport Around Cambodia
Getting around Cambodia is fairly easy and very inexpensive as well.
Just remember to book in advance if traveling during peak season or around the time of a local festival or holiday!
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