Cambodian food is often overlooked and is commonly stereotyped to be like Vietnamese or Thai. After traveling all over Cambodia (on two separate occasions), here’s our guide on what to eat in Cambodia.
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 foods that you need to try.
- History of Cambodian Food
- Cambodian Foods to Try
- 1. Fish Amok
- 2. Banana Blossom Salad
- 3. Lap Khmer (Lime-marinated Khmer beef salad)
- 4. Red Tree Ants with Beef
- 5. Kampot Pepper Crabs
- 6. Nom Banh Chok
- 7. Green Mango Salad
- 8. Khmer Red Curry
- 9. Bai Sach Chrouk (Grilled pork and broken rice)
- 10. Lok lak (Stir-fried beef in brown sauce)
- 11. Kaw
- 12. Fried Insects
- 13. Ang Dtray-Meuk (Grilled Squid)
- 14. Num Pang Pâté
- Books About Cambodian Cuisine
- Transport Around Cambodia
History of Cambodian Food
Before we start, here’s a brief history lesson.
Cambodian cuisine is a blend of indigenous Khmer cooking traditions and the culinary influences of Thailand, Vietnam, and China. It is known for its use of bold and aromatic flavors, such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, and galangal, as well as a variety of herbs and spices.
Rice is a staple food in Cambodia, and it is often served with a variety of side dishes, including curries, soups, and grilled or stir-fried meats and vegetables. Fish is also a common component of Cambodian meals, as the country has a long coastline and a rich history of fishing.
Cambodian cuisine has been influenced by the culinary traditions of its neighbors, as well as by French colonial rule, which introduced new ingredients and cooking techniques to the country.
As mentioned, 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.
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Cambodian Foods to Try
1. Fish Amok
Fish Amok is considered as the Cambodian national dish and is extremely popular in the region. 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. This is the perfect dish to try if you want a taste of Cambodian flavors as it is a traditional Cambodian dish. The banana leaves add a delicious but subtle flavor to it!
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2. 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 stir-fried and is topped with garlic, fried shallots, roasted peanuts, and aromatics like lemon grass and palm sugar for flavor.
The entire salad is then topped with lime adding a light yet citrusy taste to it. Some variations add bean sprouts, green beans, or rice noodles. Delicious!
This dish is actually one of my favorite Cambodian food as it is always so light and refreshing.
3. Lap Khmer (Lime-marinated Khmer beef salad)
This dish is a take on beef ceviche as they take thin slices of raw 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!
The lime juice or lemon juice cures the thinly sliced beef, essentially cooking it similar to ceviche. While it is mostly eaten straight, some like to eat it with a bowl of steamed rice.
4. 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? This wasn’t a favorite but still worth trying!
5. 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.
This is a popular staple in Khmer cuisine and is considered a must-try in Cambodian food, especially if you’re in the towns of Kep or Kampot.
6. 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 also called banh chok khmer noodles 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 rice noodle soup is delicious and is one of the must-try meals while in Cambodia. The rice vermicelli noodles add a delicious texture to this dish!
Editor’s Note: Want to take cooking lessons while in Cambodia? Check out Cookly, a website where you can easily book cooking experiences.
7. Green Mango Salad
Similar to the Thai specialty, Som Tum, Cambodia makes their own version using green mango. This light and tangy pickled vegetable salad is the perfect pair for stuff that is usually fried or grilled.
The shredded green mango adds a delicious texture and is a good contrast to their other hearty dishes.
8. 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.
The curry paste isn’t too spicy and is made rich and luscious by the addition of coconut cream and other spices. Unlike the fish curry (fish amok), which is lighter in flavor, the Khmer curry is very vibrant in taste.
9. Bai Sach Chrouk (Grilled pork and broken rice)
If you’re looking for something easy to eat as you ease into Cambodian flavors, try some bai sach chrouk. This is grilled pork that is marinated in coconut milk and garlic. Often times it is topped with fried garlic or a fried egg.
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!
This is often eaten as a popular breakfast dish in Cambodia.
10. 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 stir fried dish is a staple in Cambodian cooking and is also sometimes made with oyster sauce. Some also add lemongrass paste or tamarind juice to add more flavor to this dish.
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.
The meat is coated in a sweet sauce that is delicious when eaten with rice. It is one of my favorite Khmer dishes!
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.
12. Fried Insects
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.
Fried spiders (plus a wide array of other insects) are very common in Southeast Asia and are considered delicacies. If you’re not into fried spider or anything that is deep fried, don’t worry as Cambodia has a lot of other flavors to offer!
13. 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. It is a simple dish and is great snack to have if you’re looking for something light.
14. 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.
There are so many different flavor combinations for this but there is a staple traditional recipe which most street food stalls use.
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!
Books About Cambodian Cuisine
If you want to learn more about Cambodian food preparation and cooking, here are a few recommended cookbooks to dive into!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.CambodianCooking: 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.
Transportation: We recommend using Bookawayor 12Go website to view bus, boat, and train schedules ahead of time. We’ve used these websites all over Asia and it saves us the hassle of lining up in travel agencies or bus stations.
Just remember to book in advance if traveling during peak season or around the time of a local festival or holiday!