Cambodian Cuisine is all about the contrasts—sweet and bitter, salty and sour, fresh and cooked.
Passing the recipes for Cambodia’s food through generations
Cambodian food is very good. It is a mix of things that I really like and things that I am not accustomed to. The unfortunate part is that most recipes of the food that I like are rarely written down being as they are handed down from mother to daughter. So unless you have a very good interpreter, it is difficult to get exactly the same taste yourself. I also suspect that much like my friends, when you do get the recipe, maybe just one of two ingredients or steps in the preparation may be omitted, as I cannot recreate accurately some of the most delicious meals that we had when we were there. The way to cook and eat the food that I am not so accustomed to, is readily available.
Restaurants, markets and street vendors are everywhere to be found throughout the country. The difficulty is in where to eat.
Restaurants, markets and street vendors are everywhere to be found throughout the country. The difficulty is in where to eat. You will also get freshness and the use of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and you can tell as they are bought each day from the vibrant market places and prepared meticulously with attention to presentation as well.
It is a combination of sweet and bitter, salty and sour, whether fresh or cooked and has some similarities to its Thai and Vietnamese neighbours. There are differences as well. Every meal includes rice and though noodles are used, rice is the staple. It is, however, the way that the Cambodians blend their pastes that signifies the differences.
pra-hok and kapi
There are two specific ingredients that give Cambodian cuisine its own uniqueness. One is a pungent fermented fish paste known as pra-hok and the other, the kapi, a fermented prawn paste. They do not smell the best but they do taste extremely good in a finished dish. This and the use of condiments makes Cambodian cuisine special.
Eating on the Streets
Another treat awaiting you in Cambodia is street food. Food vendors are literally everywhere and you can immediately smell the charcoal that flames and smolders all day in small clay stoves, wire-topped barbeques, and beneath woks and soup pots. Fish and various meats and vegetables are for sale all day long.
When you receive your meal or eat on the streets, you will often be given side plates of various greens, peppers and particularly the fresh green peppercorns that we loved. You will also be given limes and herbs and all of these are what make the dishes so special.
Often you will give the ingredients to make your sauce, and this is an art in itself. If Cambodians are sitting on a ubiquitous plastic chair near you, watch them and copy what they do as nearly as possible. That is what we did. Judging how much of each is the trick, but regardless you cannot really go wrong.
Cambodia was once part of the French Indochina colony, and the Cambodians love their coffee and really good bread. Men riding bicycles carrying baskets of long loaves of bread, baguettes are all over the place.
Fried Insect Vendors
Another delicacy that I may or may not have tried is from the fried insect vendors. Here you can get deep fried tarantula spider, crunchy grasshoppers, and cockroaches. These apparently are full of protein and very good for you but we left it to the Cambodian children to enjoy actually.
Another specialty is the red tree ants with beef and holy basil. Now I was nearly prepared to try this after they had attacked me at Angkor Wat but in the spirit of forgiveness, I didn’t.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant in this country, including the rather acquired taste of the durian, which the Cambodians love.
These are just a few suggestions of what you should try; Bai sach chrouk: Pork and rice, Khmer red curry and green peppercorn prawns.
So a huge thumbs up for Cambodian food and if anyone has access to the fresh green peppercorns which we have been trying to find, send us an email please.
Also a huge thumbs up to the lovely Cambodian people. You may enjoy our Faces of Cambodia video