Cambodian cuisine has many similarities to that of its close neighbours Thailand and especially Vietnam. However unlike the Thai cuisine, Cambodian dishes usually contain less sugar and chilli – which makes it far fresher in my opinion!
What to expect at a typical meal: Rice is a staple traditionally served alongside every meal, and soup often accompanies one or two other main dishes, such as a curry or stir-fry.
With that in mind, don’t leave Cambodia without trying these 5 dishes:
1) Fish Amok
The national dish of Cambodia is super tasty and easy to find anywhere. ‘Amok’ refers to the steaming process associated with the dish, in which curry – traditionally fish for this dish – is cooked within banana leaves. It is incredibly fragrant, with flavours of lemongrass, turmeric and ginger, and to give it an unforgettably creamy taste, lots of coconut milk!
Where: I tried fish amok at least 4 times in my 2 weeks around Cambodia. However, the best I sampled was at the homestay as part of a Stray unique experience.
2) Kdam Chaa – Fried Crab
The fresh seafood on the south coast of Cambodia is excellent, and none better is the fried crab. Traditionally this is served with locally grown Kampot pepper in a sweet and spicy sauce. Make sure to try crab with the immature green peppercorns, which are unique to Cambodia and give this dish a special floral-like flavour.
Where: Kep Crab Market. You won’t get seafood much fresher than this, as you witness first hand the crab fisherman selling their catch; and being just down the road from Kampot you are sure to find the famous green pepper sauce as an accompaniment too.
3) Lok lak
An incredibly popular dish throughout Cambodia, especially with Western tourists, is stir fried beef lok lak. This dish consists of beef marinated in a garlicky salty soy sauce mixture, and then fried in a sweet sticky mixture consisting of oyster sauce, tomato ketchup (believe it or not), fish sauce and sugar. This results in an addictive dish, served alongside a runny fried egg and white rice to mop up all of the juices.
Lok lak is the perfect dish to start on if you are a less adventurous eater and may encourage you to try more Cambodian cuisine as your trip continues.
Where: The best lok lak I tried was in a cafe just outside the Killing Fields entrance on the way to Phnom Penh. The egg was nice and runny (unfortunately not always the case) which adds another creamy element to the dish when mixed into the sauce!
4) Kuy Teav – Khmer Noodle Soup
Often regarded as a breakfast dish in Cambodia, I devoured many a noodle soup at all times of the day as a light but delicious treat in the heat. Kuy teav can come with a variety of toppings, such as roasted duck or chicken, but consistently is comprised of flat rice noodles, herbs and a pork stock. This dish is often served with a number of ‘additions’, including beansprouts, holy basil, lettuce leaves and chilli, so that you can tailor the taste to your liking.
Where: The best way to sample Khmer noodle soup is from roadside stalls on the streets and in small local restaurants.
Top tip: Look for the busy places filled with local customers! These types of vendors tend to focus on a small number of dishes and do them to perfection, so you will not be disappointed.
5) The Weird and Wonderful!
Southeast Asia is known for offering foods of the weird and wonderful variety, and no country does this better than Cambodia. Due to their recent harrowing history under the rule of the Khmer Rouge, many people had to hunt for their protein. This often meant catching and frying up insects, rats, snakes and frogs.
I was lucky enough to try all of these on the way to Battambang with our Stray Guide – snake was a personal favourite of mine. None were horrible, so just bite the bullet and give them a go!
Where: Bugs Cafe, Siem Reap. This cafe is known for making bugs somewhat a ‘fine dining’ affair. Try your hand at some tarantula donuts or insect skewers. Or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, their ‘discovery platters’ with some of their most popular dishes never fail to put smiles on diners faces!
Guest writer Kelly Semper travelled through Cambodia and Vietnam on the Moc Bai Pass. Her favourite aspects of travelling are tasting exotic new foods, photographing hidden wonders and getting off the beaten track.