The Best of Khmer Cuisines

One of the highlights of any trip to Cambodia is the food, which often surprises many. The country’s range of dishes can loosely be called ‘Khmer Cuisine’ – and although it is similar to food found in neighboring Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam, it is less spicy and has its own special touches.

The plethora of curries, spring rolls, and rice accompaniments are easily accessible to foreign palates; indeed, most Cambodians are very helpful to suggest dishes and it is always a safe bet to go with the “house recommendation.” Here are a few of the most popular and tasty dishes to get you started, but don’t be afraid to explore the menu and try something new.

Amok Fish. Photo credit - Fotoosvanrobin.

Amok Fish. Photo credit - Fotoosvanrobin.

Amok Fish

Many Cambodians call this the national dish, and the first time I had it I was so enthused by the wonderful flavors that I even forgot for a minute it was a fish. It is cooked in a thick and creamy coconut sauce, flavored with kroeung (a combination of spices, including lemongrass, saffron, and garlic). The delicious combination is wrapped up in a cute banana leaf bowl and served with plain white rice. Once you taste amok fish, you’ll quickly realize why the locals eat this so often.

Cambodian Curry. Photo credit - hn.

Cambodian Curry. Photo credit - hn.

Khmer Curry

As I’m a huge Indian curry fan, it is no surprise that I love Khmer curry. It is not spicy at all, and in fact can be just a touch sweet. It is bursting with flavor – the base sauce includes turmeric, garlic, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves. But that’s not all; the chef will also throw in sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, onion, carrots, and some coconut milk. The result is stupendous, and suits well with tofu, chicken, beef or just more vegetables. It comes with white rice, naturally.

Palm Sugar Candy. Photo credit - kleinmatt66.

Palm Sugar Candy. Photo credit - kleinmatt66.

Palm Sugar

At any of the market stalls or alongside many of the roadways, you’ll see stands full of these little palm leave packets. At first, I thought they might just be spices or some unmentionable, unpalatable snack. But as our guide kindly explained, these are palm sugar – a tasty sweet made by many of the housewives by boiling down the juices from the palm, resulting in a crunchy sugary snack which has a wonderfully rich flavor. Best of all, they are preservative free (so you have to eat them quickly!) and the sugar is natural, not refined, so you will not have that sugar rush and subsequent low after eating them. They make a great souvenir for friends back home.

Cambodian BBQ. Photo credit - Kathy Jaucian.

Cambodian BBQ. Photo credit - Kathy Jaucian.

Cambodian Barbeque

Just the words ‘Cambodian Barbeque’ conjure up a juxtaposition of expansive Australian backyards against the dusty lanes of Siem Reap or Phnom Penh. But a Cambodian BBQ is neither of these things; it’s a unique meal preparation and one you should try if you can find a BBQ restaurant nearby.

The meal is centered around a heavy pot filled with burning coals; on top is a metal dome which is rubbed down with butter and fat. You first must choose from a list of many meats and fishes, including such eccentricities as kangaroo or crocodile. Your choices will then be placed on the grill to cook; around the dome is a reservoir filled with broth in which fresh vegetables and noodles are seeped. The meats and fish are covered in egg, spices, and other sauces that fry up wonderfully.

As with most service in Cambodia, you’ll be helped along the way if you need it, but don’t be afraid to throw something onto the grill yourself or to put more vegetables in the broth. Just be careful – the coals are quite hot so the slim cuts cook in no time. The whole outfit is served with plain rice and is a fun experience in itself.

Photo credits – Stuck in CustomsFotoosvanrobin

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Experiences.


10 Comments on "The Best of Khmer Cuisines"

  1. Honeymoon in Cambodia on Wed, 27th May 2009 3:39 pm 

    I really like the look of the Cambodian BBQ and would love to be able to try it. I suppose I could try and do something similar here at home but it just won’t be the same. I guess i’ll just have to organise a trip out there, what a shame!! :)

  2. Andy Hayes on Wed, 27th May 2009 7:43 pm 

    Honeymoon, it’s well worth the trip, I assure you! I’m not sure you can recreate such an unusual experience at home. :)

  3. Robin on Mon, 27th Jul 2009 8:00 am 

    I really don’t mind people using my photos. On the contrary, but why wouldn’t you just add a nice link back to my photo-site? Such a small trouble, such a nice gesture.

  4. Nik on Tue, 28th Jul 2009 2:14 am 

    My apologies Robin. We honestly thought the credit thing worked out the way it was meant to be with Flickr’s Creative Commons license and what not. I’ll be adding your link-back and will have to keep this in mind for future posts as well.

    Are you wanting a link back to your Flickr account, or do you have a personal site you want me to link towards?

  5. Robin on Tue, 25th Aug 2009 11:10 am 

    This is fine, thank you. Another link/url under the name FotoosVanRobin would be even better! 😉
    But anyway, apologies accepted and you’re welcome to use any of my photos this way.

  6. Namhong on Tue, 28th Dec 2010 4:19 pm 

    It’s look interesting n wonderful. The khmer food is very tasty. When u come to visit Cambodia d’n forget to experience khmer cuisine…Cambodia Kingdom Of Wonder!

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