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13 Must eat Cambodian food – What a nice surprise

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by         : RJ Fisher
Last Update: September 2023



Cambodian food?


When was the last time you ate food from Cambodia?…..Exactly!
Unless you’re actually in Cambodia, authentic Cambodian dishes or ‘Khmer dishes’ as we say are hard to come by. True, some of the Cambodian flavors are similar to Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. Then again, there are many differences. Cambodian cuisine definitely has its own identity with unique and very approachable dishes. Well, most of them are.

Here is our list of 13 must eat Cambodian food that every foodie must try.


Traveling to Cambodia? Quick-check the up-to-date entry requirements



1. Fish Amok – Amok Trey


Fish Amok
Fish Amok is the number one Cambodian food

First on our list of “13 must eat Cambodian food” also happens to be the number one of all national Cambodian dishes. Not surprising, it’s fish based. Cambodians derive about 80% of their protein intake from the rivers, the Tonle Sap lake and the sea.

In our Phnom Penh days we used to order Amok Trey all the time. Not every restaurant passed the test though. I don’t mind the short cuts, because I am well aware of the time/labor intensity to prepare this dish. I do mind however, that sometimes an essential ingredient is left out. Sure, noni leaves are hard to come by, but you shouldn’t prepare, let alone sell Amok Trey if you don’t have the ingredients complete. That’s like serving pizza without cheese.


Noni plant
Noni plant
making kroeung paste
Making “Kroeung” paste

Traditional Amok Trey has a wonderful soft and smooth texture with that hint of Asian spice. It’s rich, refined and considered a Royal Khmer dish dating back as far as the Khmer Empire (AD802-1431).

Freshwater fish is stirred with kroeung (a Khmer kitchen classic), chili, fish sauce, egg, palm sugar, salt and coconut cream into a coarse mash. The mixture is placed on top of shredded noni leaves in a banana leaf basket and carefully steamed for at least 30min.

The not so traditional, faster way to cook Fish Amok is just to stir fry diced fish together with all the ingredients. Believe me when I say it’s still good! As long as they use proper fish and include the noni leaves that is. Drizzle a generous amount of coconut cream on top and eat it while it’s hot.




Read: “5 Cambodian foods, insiders only”.



2. Beef Lok-Lak


Beef lok-lak is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Beef Lok-Lak

Another favorite in Cambodian cuisine is Beef Lok Lak. It’s basically a diced steak marinated in soy sauce, paprika, tomato sauce and fish sauce. The stir fried beef lays on top of green lettuce with fresh sliced tomato and onion. Lime/salt/pepper dip on the side is essential.

Beef Lok-Lak can be served either with steamed rice or French fries. It’s best with a fried egg on top, as it’s supposed to, but sometimes they “forget” and you have to ask for it. I guess it’s not too hard to see the French connection with Khmer cuisine in this dish. It’s actually an excellent “cross-over dish”, between East and West.

The use of high quality steak is obvious for a good Beef Lok-Lak, we don’t want to chew on our meat forever. However, affordable quality beef is rare in Cambodia so always be on the look-out for insider restaurant recommendations and be prepared to pay a little extra.



3. Num Banh Chok


Num Banh Chok is one of many must eat Cambodian foods
Num Banh Chok

Also referred to as “Khmer noodles”, because it’s one of the true local foods of Cambodia. This dish is extremely popular and I suspect the Khmer people of eating Num Banh Chok at least once every day. A bowl filled with silky soft rice noodles is topped with green fish curry gravy, not too fishy though. The green color comes from kaffir lime, lemongrass and turmeric root. Load up a bunch of crispy fresh vegetables and herbs to complete the dish.

We ate some of the best Num Banh Chok at the Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium. It’s where the locals gather for leisure and sports activities in the evening. Some just sit in the grass to enjoy the cooler temperatures. Others join in group exercise like aerobics, shuttle cock football, tai chi or dancing. We even saw a belly dance class practicing there.

Wherever Cambodian people gather there’s food and on the Stadium grounds they’ve set up a whole slew of food stalls. Front row seats to watch the dance classes. Great food and entertainment, enjoy!



4. Khmer Curry


Khmer curry is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Khmer curry dish

“Kroeung” (curry paste from turmeric, kaffir lime, lemongrass, galangal, garlic and shallots) serves as the basis for Cambodian curry. Similar to Thai curry, coconut milk is used to smooth and sweeten the dish. The Khmer version however, is very gentle and milder than her Thai sister. Spice addicts might even call it bland. Of course there’s nothing stopping you from adding a few extra chilies yourself.

Originally made with chicken, but nowadays also with beef, fish or even duck. Served with either steamed rice, noodles or, oh shocker!, French baguette for dipping.



5. Bai Sach Chrouk


Bai Sach Chrouk is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Bai Sach Chrouk is a must eat Cambodian Food

Next dish, pork over rice, it sounds so simple, but man is this good!

Succulent pork is marinated in coconut milk and garlic and then caramelized over a charcoal fire. Tradition dictates that Bai Sach Chrouk is served over steamed broken rice. Cucumber, pickles and a bowl of clear chicken broth always on the side. The best version also has an egg sunny side up or omelet on top.

This is one of those typical foods in Cambodia that is often eaten for breakfast. Rich in protein to get you through a hard day’s work. Venture out to the street food stalls at the markets early morning and join the locals for an authentic Khmer breakfast.



6. Prahok Ktiss


Prahok Ktiss is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Prahok Ktiss

A Cambodian dish, not for the fainthearted, because of the pungent smell and scorching heat!

It’s basically a dip from minced pork with a fair amount of fermented fish paste (prahok). The smells of the latter are known to evoke images of a badly sanitized fish market. Kind of in the same way that the smell of French cheese may remind you of a farm stable. However, once you learn to appreciate prahok you will find that it adds real depth and complexity to many foods of Cambodia.

Cambodian curry paste (kroeung), coconut milk, tamarind, peas and lots and lots of chilies are added to complete the dip. Prahok Ktiss is served with fresh vegetables for dipping and sufficient Angkor beers to extinguish the blaze.




Where to eat in Cambodia? Walkaboutmonkey.com recommends

Read more: Where to eat in Phnom Penh? 40+ restaurants for every budget

Read more: Where to eat in Siem Reap? Personally tested restaurants



7. Num Pang


Nom Pang is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Num Pang – Cambodian Baguette

Once introduced by the French colonists, Cambodian cuisine has taken the baguette to a whole new level. Street food carts and small sandwich shops all over Cambodia serve their crunchy baguettes that have become one of the staple foods in Cambodia.

Stuffed with anything that can fit inside, but typically with different kinds of seasoned meats accompanied by crispy pickles, fresh vegetables and tangy sauces. Think of lemongrass meatballs, char siu, beef teriyaki and buffalo roasted chicken (drool) to name just a few of my favorites.

Of course, the traditional French paté also remains ever so popular.



8. Tarantula


Tarantula is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Crispy fried Tarantula is a Cambodian Food served in restaurants

Some say that eating spiders originated during the Khmer Rouge reign when people were starving and welcomed anything edible. Others say that spider snacking is as old as the ancient Khmer empire.

In any case, fact is that nowadays tarantulas are a delicacy in Cambodia. Next to street stalls, many restaurants also have them on the regular menu. Fried with chili and garlic the tarantula is crispy on the outside and soft warm, almost liquid inside. Yum!



9. Kuy Teav


Kuy Teav is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Kuy Teav – Cambodian Noodle Soup

This list of 13 must eat Cambodian food would not be complete without Kuy Teav. In fact, many countries in South East Asia and beyond have a variation of this dish and they all claim to have invented it. It’s noodle soup!

The base is always flat rice noodles in a pork or beef broth. Depending on the chef, anything from seafood and fish balls to bean sprouts and spring onions is added.

The broth is often strong in fragrance, but fairly bland in taste. So, spice up your own bowl with typical condiments like chili sauce, fish sauce, garlic, lime and a bunch of fresh green herbs and vegetables.




Read more: 7 Ingredients that define Khmer cuisine



10. Crab with Kampot Pepper


Crab with Kampot pepper a popular must eat Cambodian food
Kampot peppered crab

One can eat crab just about anywhere in Cambodia. However, the best place is without a doubt the crab market in beach town Kep. Choose your crab from baskets in the sea where they keep them fresh. Then, have them cooked up for you the way you like it right then and there.

You know you want them prepared with the famous pepper from neighboring town Kampot. Crab and Kampot pepper are a match made in heaven. They are like popcorn and butter, apple and pie, yin and….erm well, you get it. Now get your butt over to Kep.


Kep crab market
Reeling in the crab basket
Kep crab market
Cooking our freshly bought crab



11. Chhnang Phleung


Chhnang Phleung is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Chhnang Phleung – Cambodian Fire Pot

The Khmer answer to Chinese steamboat is immensely popular seeing the numerous restaurants in Cambodia that offer this dish. Large groups of families, friends and co-workers gather around the clear broth on small table stoves. You can chuck in whatever you like. Meats, fish, vegetables, mushroom, tofu, eggs or noodles, anything goes. Not only delicious, but also a lot of fun.

Next to Chhnang Phleung (fire pot), also Phnom Phleung (hill of fire) is a rather nice and popular variety where the cooking ware is more like a cone shaped table grill, much like “Mongolian BBQ”.




Read: “Phnom Penh food crawl Insider tips on where to eat in Phnom Penh.



12. Pumpkin Custard


Sankya Lapov is a popular must eat Cambodian food
Sankya Lapov – Pumpkin Custard, both beautiful and delicious

Time for dessert! Sankya Lapov is a true feast for the eye and taste buds. A custard made of eggs, palm sugar and coconut milk inside a pumpkin and then steamed to perfection. Make sure to have a fresh piece since the pumpkin flesh can dry out when left too long.

Rumor has it that back in the 1600’s the Portuguese introduced this dessert to Thailand where it’s called sangkaya phak tong. From there it made its way to Cambodia, obrigada Portugal!


Wanna try authentic Cambodian food with the help of a professional? Why not join a local food tour? Before you know it you’ll be ordering with confidence.



13. Durian Fruit


Durian is a popular must eat Cambodian Food
Durian, the King of fruits

I trust you have heard of the King of fruits. Even if you’ve never tasted Durian fruit you’re sure to have smelled it at some time in South East Asia. The Kampot province in the South of Cambodia is renowned for its Durian fruit and Cambodians are really proud of it.

I am into Durian Fruit and after trying some at the Durian plantation in Kampot I have to admit it was really good. Kampot Durian are small, very creamy and high in fermented sugar, almost with an alcohol like aftertaste.

It’s not cheap at $4-$5 per kilo, which is more than a half day’s minimum wage in Cambodia. Moreover, one whole Durian easily weighs several kilos. Nevertheless, Durian fanatics instantly recognize the quality and gladly pay up. So, as long as you’re trying Durian for the first time, why not start with the best?


Durian roundabout statue in Kampot
There’s even a Durian statue in Kampot
Durian Tree in Kampot, Cambodia
Durian plantation in Kampot



More than 13 must-eat Cambodian food


Yes, there’s more! Street side snacking is a way of life in Cambodia so what about all the Cambodian snacks sold at the ubiquitous street food stands?

Just to name a few, there’s Chek Chien, ripe bananas dipped in sweet batter and then crispy fried. Best to eat while it’s piping hot. If you’re on a sugar crave then how about some Num Kong? Light and fluffy sugar dusted donuts, or honey glazed or covered in caramelized palm sugar. You’ll be licking your fingers and keep coming back for more.


A basket of Chek Chien - Fried Bananas
Chek Chien – Cambodian Fried Bananas
Nom Kong- Cambodian Donuts
Num Kong – Cambodian Donuts

Or one of my favorite Cambodian foods, Green Mango Salad, because it’s so refreshing in the tropical heat. That said, the chilies can easily make you break out in a sweat. And then there’s Twa ko, sometimes called Kwah ko, Cambodian homemade sausage from beef or pork and spices.


Green mango salad
Cambodian Green Mango Salad
Plate of Cambodian sausages
Twa ko – Cambodian Sausage



That rounds up our list of must eat food from Cambodia. Feeling hungry yet? What other Cambodian dishes should be in this list? Let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear from you.

Safe travels,


RJ


* affiliate links disclaimer



FAQ


What is Cambodia’s national dish?

Fish Amok (Amok Trey) is the national dish of Cambodia. Freshwater fish with kroeung, chili, fish sauce, egg, palm sugar, salt and coconut cream all stirred into a coarse mash. Then placed on top of shredded noni leaves and steamed in a banana leaf basket.

What is the famous food in Cambodia?

1. Fish Amok (fish steamed in coconut curry)
2. Beef Lok-Lak (diced, stir fried beef)
3. Bai Sach Chrouk (grilled pork over rice)
4. Num Banh Chok (noodles in fish gravy)
5. Kuy Taev (noodle soup)
6. Num Pang (baguette filled with anything)
7. Lort Char (short noodles)
8. Samlor Korkor (khmer soup)
9. Prahok Ktiss (minced meat, prahok, chili dip)
10. Khmer Curry
*random order

What do Cambodians eat for breakfast?

1. Bai Sach Chrouk: Pork caramelized over a charcoal fire and broken rice.
2. Kuy Taev: Noodle Soup Khmer style.
3. Num Banh Chok: Rice noodles with spiced fish gravy.
4. Num Kong: Sweetened mini donuts.
5. Congee: South East Asian type of savory rice porridge with meat and/or fish.

Is Cambodian food similar to Thai?

There are similarities like coconut curry, stir fried dishes and noodles. Overall however, Cambodian food is less sweet and spiced than Thai food. Cambodians like more tangy flavors a lot’s of different soups.

Is Cambodian food spicy?

Most foods in Cambodia are actually not spicy at all. Off course there are some Cambodian food dishes that can be spicy. However, as a rule it is far less spicy than Thai or Indian food.



You might also like…


link to "Cambodia Foods for Insiders" blog post
link to "7 ingredients that define Khmer cuisine" blog post
link to "Phnom Penh foodcrawl" blog post
link to "where to eat in Siem Reap" blog post
link to "11 best things to do in Siem Reap" blog post
link to "5 major downsides to Phnom Penh" blog post




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3 Responses

  1. Martin says:

    I’ve yet to try Cambodian food so it was a really interesting read. I think from the list I would like to try the crab and kampot pepper. I’m a big fan of peppery dishes!

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