Although we only spent a few weeks in Cambodia, we got the chance to sample a fair few of the nation’s favourite dishes ( – we ALWAYS prioritise food!) We didn’t find many dishes that were unique to Cambodia, which you’d expect given the country is sandwiched between Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. However, the food was good, cheap and tasty (if a little plain at times). Here are some of our faves:
1. Khmer pancake (Nom Ban Chao Snol Seak Chrouk Prakong)
Found primarily in Phnom Penh, this is a hearty savoury French crepe mix with beansprouts, rice noodles, prawns and grilled pork incorporated into the dish. It’s a really thick pancake so it’s substantial as a meal by itself and is normally just served sprinkled with peanuts, on a bed of salad.
2. Vermicelli noodles and summer rolls (naim chao)
We found many incarnations of noodles with sweet/savoury sauce, surrounded by piles of meat and prawns that you’d simply point at then the market lady would just add on whichever meats you want, topped off with freshly made summer rolls (like Spring rolls but wrapped in uncooked rice paper). The rolls themselves make a great meal, dipped in fish sauce, but with the noodles and meat this was a hearty reliable lunch.
3. Happy pizza!
Again found in Phnom Penh, this is pizza topped with weed that is served on the riverside and is incredibly potent! We did indulge a couple of times, with pretty ridiculous consequences. We heard the police are pretty no-nonsence in Cambodia, so eat at your own risk!
4. Fried bananas/other fried street food
The omnipresent Asian snack is rather predictably found in Cambodia. Not as tasty and crunch as that found in Thailand, but still pretty delicious fried with black sesame seeds. They’re a cheap and reliable between meal snack to fuel you on those tough days traipsing between markets and sites! Also on the street: fried vegetable patties, pretty darn good.
5. Kuy Teav (noodle soup)
Again, a staple fair of South East Asia – alongside various grilled meat and noodle dishes, but still just as delicious in Cambodia
6. Lok Lak
Tender beef stir fry served with onions, cucumbers and tomatoes, dipped in a sauce containing lime juice, salt and pepper. Usually served with rice, a fried egg and a separate plate of salad. Really popular, but pretty plain Jane.
This was probably our ‘stand out’ dish of Cambodia, which is a lively creamy Khmer curry – usually fish – served with coconut cream in a banana leaf and decorated with fresh chilli. It’s complex in flavour, made from combining chilli, garlic, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, onions, lime zest, shrimp paste, and palm sugar. It’s pretty inexpensive and you can switch out the fish for chicken if (like Sam) you’re allergic to fish.
Much like neighbouring Laos, they love eating insects in Cambodia and you’re likely to come across stalls selling exotic beasties such as giant spiders and even scorpions deep fried into snacks. This is a staple in the rural areas of the country, but is sold as a novelty to drunk tourists in places like Siem Reap as something to eat on a dare. We only ate crickets whilst in Laos which were surprisingly good!
9. Lort Cha
Popular street food, these are stocky fat noodles that are stir fried with greens in a wok of soy and fish sauce, absorbing the flavours as they cook. At the last minute, the chef adds beansprouts that retain their crunch and an egg that add another texture to the meal. If timed just right, the egg fries but retains its runny yolk which spills out all over the noodles. Topped with chillies and sweet chilli sauce.
10. Iced coffee
Much like iced coffee found elsewhere in Asia, but the key difference here is that the beans are normally roasted in fat, which makes the iced coffee (mixed with condensed milk as standard!) taste a little more chocolatey, almost like a milkshake. Just the jolt of energy you need to get you around Angkor Wat in the boiling heat!