The flavor of Khmer cuisine is rich, bold, and astonishingly different from the well-known dishes of its neighbors. The food is heartier than typically delicate Vietnamese cuisine, not as sweet and spicy as Thai food, but Chinese and Indian influences are definite in the curries and stir-fries. Here are 10 dishes that you should taste if you travel to Cambodia.
Fish Amok: Fresh fish is cooked in coconut milk base and flavored with kroeung – a type of Khmer curry paste comprising lemongrass, turmeric roots, garlic, shallots, galangal and ginger, then steamed in a bowl made of banana leaves.
Bai sach chrouk (pork and rice): This extremely simple but delicious dish is popular over the country. Thinly sliced pork is slowly grilled on warm coals to keep its natural sweetness. Sometimes pork can be marinated in coconut milk or garlic. Grilled pork is served with plentiful broken rice, pickled cucumbers, daikon radish and ginger, accompanying a bowl of chicken broth topped with with scallions and fried onions.
Khmer red curry: This braised dish reflects Indian influence and is beloved throughout Cambodia. Its ingredients include meltingly tender beef, chicken or fish with eggplant, green beans, potatoes, fresh coconut milk, citronella and kroeung, sprinkled a little coriander on top, and as not spicy as Thai curry. Actually, it’s typically served at big celebrations, particularly weddings, family gatherings and religious holiday like Pchum Ben (or Ancestors’ Day). Khmer red curry comes with French-styled bread.
Kampot pepper crab: Kampot – the southern province located right on the coastline, is known for two things: fresh seafood and limitless peppercorn farms. These two ingredients unite in an amazing dish – fresh crab stir-fried with abundant green peppercorns still attached to stem that makes an absolutely great flavor. The pepper imbues with the sweet crab meat with a lingering floral flavor, but be sure to eat a few of the peppercorns to avoid a spicy kick.
Stir fried red tree ants with beef and holy basil: Insect is one of important parts of Cambodian cuisine, from street fried stuff of cricket, cockroach, grasshopper to more special dish like stir fried beef with red tree ant. This weird dish is made from enough-sized ants stirred with ginger, chili-peppers, citronella, garlic, chives and thin-sliced beef, and served with steamed rice.
Nom bank chok (Khmer noodles): It is a favorite breakfast dish in Cambodia, typical sold in mornings by street vendor women. A bowl of nom bank chok comprises handy-made rice noodles, mixed with fish-based green curry gravy made from citronella, turmeric roots and lemon. Mint leaves, bean sprouts, banana flowers, cucumbers and other herbs are heaped on top. There are also the red curry version served on ceremonial occasions and weddings.
Lort cha: This dish is served throughout the country as late night snack from carts, motorbike or tuk tuk driver. It’s made by the way that spicy noodles are cut short in length, then stir-fried with bean-sprouts, fresh spring onions and a scrambled or fried egg. Finally, all of the ingredients are tossed with lavish chili and soy sauce before being plated.
Grilled stuff: Wherever you travel in Cambodia, you also see a grill with skewers of beef and whole fish. Snapper, prawns and squid are also available, but the best fish is typically pulled from the country’s freshwater lakes. Almost the materials are marinated very little, but the grilled stuff will be dip into various sauces. Seafood is often served with a green mango relish, while meats are served with tangy pickled vegetables.
Trei bung kanh chhet (Fried fish on the fire lake): This traditional dish is made for parties or eaten at restaurants. A whole fish is deep-fried before it is put into a special, fish-shaped hot-plate of coconut curry made from spicy and sweet yellow kroeung and chilies (quite same to hotpot in Vietnam or China). Vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage are cooked in the hot-plate, and served with rice or rice noodles.
Cha houy teuk (jelly dessert): This sweet desert is quite cheap and available at many street food stalls over Phnom Penh. Cha huoy teuk is a sweet jelly dessert including agar agar – a brightly colorful gelatin that is derived from seaweed – sagu palm flour, green bean and coconut cream. Some sweet deserts have sago (steamed glutinous rice) drenched in coconut milk and sprinkled taro, red beans, pumpkin and jack-fruit on top.