Last Update: August 2020
5 min read
Man, Khmer food is gaining popularity fast! Why is that? My own little theory says it’s because more travelers visit Cambodia and are therefor exposed to the country’s cuisine. That, plus an increase of Cambodians that emigrate to Western countries introduce their cooking by opening up Khmer restaurants.
And you know what? Khmer cuisine really has something new and special to offer. Sure, some dishes are influenced by Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese style cooking, but all in all Khmer cuisine has it’s own unique identity.
Maybe you already tried some of the better known Cambodian dishes, such as Loc-lac, Fish Amok, Nom Banh Chok and Bai Sach Chrouk. If not, I describe them all and more in my previous post “13 must eat Cambodian foods” about approachable and available dishes that represent some of the best stuff that Cambodian cuisine has to offer.
However, this article is not about the popular dishes. Without trying to be snobbish, it’s about the dishes that you won’t normally come across unless you frequent the real local eateries in Cambodia. Delicious nonetheless and definitely worth to look out for on your next visit to Cambodia. So here are 5 Cambodian foods for insiders.
Eat like an insider, whoohoo!
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1. Kangkeb Baok – Stuffed Frog
Barbecued frog stuffed with pork is a big thing in Cambodia. Khmer love it and so could you, if you could just overcome your first apprehension. Do yourself a favor and check out the roadside barbecue stalls until you spot them, the roasted frog bodies are hard to miss. Get adventurous, take a breath and go ahead try one fresh from the grill. I bet you’re sold at the first bite. For $1 a frog you can’t go wrong.
The frogs are cleaned, don’t worry entrails removed, then stuffed with minced pork, peanuts, chilies, palm sugar and kroeung. The latter is a paste that normally serves as the base for Khmer curries and contains lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, galangal and turmeric. The frogs are then roasted over a charcoal grill and the result is a spicy, smoky, tender-chicken-like snack that works extremely well with an ice cold beer.
2. Samlor Korko – Vegetable Soup, not!
Out of the 5 Cambodian foods listed here, it won’t get any more Cambodian than this. Samlor Korko, aka Samlar Kakou, Samlor Korkor, etc. is a true traditional Khmer dish.
It is said that the former Kings ate this soup with one hundred different vegetables for ingredients. For lack of royal resources, the public has always enjoyed their soup with a more modest number of vegetables. However, nowadays with a growing middle class, protein is often added in the form of any kind of meat.
Ingredients may vary with the adding of in-season vegetables, herbaceous leaves and even fruits. Especially young palm fruit, pumpkin, green papaya, green banana and jack fruit are often used. The core of the soup always consists of kroeung (curry paste), prahok and toasted/pounded rice to thicken the broth.
Samlor Korko is a regular in many of the simple Cambodian eateries. I used to order this all the time in the Phnom Penh “everything for $2 eateries”. A satiating and healthy meal costing next to nothing with complementary iced tea.
3. Kralan – Sticky Rice Yumminess
Sticky rice, black eyed peas or beans and coconut milk stuffed in bamboo. Next, cook the bamboo tubes over a charcoal fire and that’s all there is to making Kralan. When cooked, just peel back the bamboo skin and break off a piece of the sticky rice yumminess. Even better if you roll each piece in palm sugar.
Kratie province in the Central East of Cambodia is most notable for it’s Kralan production. However, there is another location where it’s more visible. Vendors are cooking their kralan for the many passers by on a long stretch of National Road 6 between Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. Every morning the air here is thick with smoke and the road is dubbed “Kralan Road”. Some of the vendors try to differentiate by adding mango or banana to the mixture, but there’s nothing like the real thing.
4. Mi Kola – Kola Noodles
Kola people are an ethnic minority in the West of Cambodia that immigrated from Yunnan, China and Shan State in Burma. They brought their culture and traditions and also their food. Nowadays, Mi Kola is a staple in Cambodia.
I’ve had my fair share of noodles in South East Asia and Mi Kola is special in all its simplicity. There are probably more variations to this dish than there are Kola people in Cambodia, but they all share the same basic recipe.
First, rice noodles are stir fried with oyster sauce. On your plate the noodles are dressed with dried shrimp, crispy vegetables, slices of boiled duck egg, ground peanuts and a mixture of lime, garlic and onion. On the side, pickled green papaya/cucumber is served and very often a few cuts of fried pork. Originally Mi Kola was a vegetarian dish, but you know how these things evolve.
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5. Chaa-Angrong Sachko – Beef and Red Ants
Certainly, you know about the Cambodians love for insects. On their plates that is. It’s true, insects of all sizes and appearances are a popular item on the menu. Personally I never felt that insects add anything interesting or surprising. Usually, all kinds of herbs and spices are used to mask their somewhat musty taste, so I don’t recommend. With one exception!
Beef with red tree ants is a very popular dish with the locals and it’s an absolute must try. You’ll find that many local restaurants feature this dish and even some restaurants that are targeting foreigners. Thin slices of beef are stir fried with garlic, onion, ginger, lemongrass and chilies. At the last moment a handful of holy basil and red three ants are thrown in.
The ants add a sour, tangy flavor to the beef. That is to say, not sour like lime, lemon or vinegar, it’s unique and really complements the beef. Certainly one of 5 Cambodian foods to try before you die!
I hope you enjoyed reading this article about 5 Cambodian foods for insiders. Make it your quest to try out these dishes next time you’re in Cambodia. Or, maybe you already have? If so, let us know how you liked it in the comments below. Also, we would love to know if there are any other Khmer insider foods that we should know about. I’m dying to try something new.