The Food of Cambodia
These notes were made during a short trip to this country. These are just our food experiences and you may have a totally different experience depending on your budget, where you travel and where you eat.
Cambodian Food Notes (from December 2005)
The food in Cambodia is similar to that of neighbouring Thailand and other Asian foods, except we found it to to have a little less spice and variety, and seems to lacks the 'oomph' that makes Thai food so popular! In Cambodia you will find lots of fried rice and fried noodle dishes. Garlic is a major ingredient in many of the dishes — and they don’t chop it up too finely either! However, there are some local specialties which are worthy of a mention, which you can see below.
A spoon and fork are used to eat most meals, the exception is that chopsticks are used with noodle soup. However the spoon and fork are not used in the conventional western manner — the spoon is used for putting food in the mouth while the fork is used for cutting and shoveling. We found that the cutlery was served at the table in a half glass of freshly boiled water — to sterilize them I suppose.
The staples in the Cambodian area are rice and noodles. Noodles come in all shapes and forms from thin rice, flat (and fat) rice, yellow egg noodles thin and thick, and often curly. You can even get the packaged 2-minute noodle types. A great variety of meat is eaten - chicken, duck, pork and beef.
A common ingredient in many dishes is fermented fish sauce, made from fermenting all kinds of fish and prawns/shrimp. These ingredients are brewed to form a dark sauce that smells very strong and can initially be offensive. It is used in all manner of foods and cooking.
Spring rolls are also found everywhere, varying in size and filling, both veg and non-veg, and even the pastry casing can be quite different.
For the westerners hooked on fast food, in Cambodia there are none of the traditional western fast food chains. However, they have made their own local varieties (only seen in the capital Phnom Penh) — such as Pizza World and Lucky Burger!
Fruit & Vegetables
There are limited vegetables, mostly green leafy types, carrot, string beans, tomato, cucumber and lettuce. Fruit is plentiful, with the full range of tropical types; banana, pineapple, mango (often eaten green), jackfruit, durian, dragon fruit (pink skin with white flesh and black seeds throughout), lime, rambutans, lychee, watermelon, star fruit, mandarin, choko, longan (smaller and less fragrant than a lychee), guava (also eaten green more than ripe) and mangosteen. They have a huge amount of pomelo, which is like a gigantic grapefruit around 20cm in diameter with the skin about an inch thick. Fresh fruit shakes can be ordered on street corners, mixed up in a blender with ice, and sometimes sweetened condensed milk. Delicious on a sticky hot day!
Typically noodle soup is eaten for breakfast. Another item is rice with some barbecued meat.
Crusty baguettes can be found all over the region, due to the French influence. An unusual variety we found in Cambodia was the baguette covered with a sweet coconut oil.
- Amok Curry — red curry paste, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and chilli, makes a rich thick curry with chicken or fish.
- Ginger chicken/fish —- wok fried meat with loads of ginger, some garlic and onion and eaten with rice.
- Lemon fish soup —- A clear broth with a strong lemon flavour, with fresh herbs, spring onion and garlic, You can add chilli and soy sauce if desired.
- Cambodian Laksa — A take of the famous Malaysian dish, thin rice noodles in a red curry soup, you add bean sprouts, Vietnamese mint, chilli, cucumber and some other stalk green vegetable. Delicious.
- Beef and vegetable salad — cabbage, tomato, carrot, red onion and very thickly sliced cooked beef covered in a sauce of lime juice, fish sauce, vietnamese mint and peanuts (as far as I could detect!).
Deep fried spiders — this is probably the most unusual food I have seen in all my travels. I didn’t believe it till I saw it with my own eyes. Ladies walk around with a tray full of big black hairy spiders that have been marinated and barbecued. People buy bags full of them. I was only game enough to try one, and I could only manage a leg! A little crunchy and hairy, but not at all inedible!
Small donut balls — with a semi sweet lentil filling and a icing sugar coating. Quite heavy and doughy.
- Angkor beer — of course the national beer is named after the most important national monument, as everything else is! You can also get Anchor beer, pronounced soft like ‘chores’ not ‘k’.
- Hot green tea is served with most meals for free, you can also get in shops a packaged cold variety.
- Energy drinks and alcoholic energy drinks are very common
- Soft drinks are a whole new world here, there are loads of interesting varieties like fruit punch, pineapple, lychee and regular Fanta, as well as green cream Mirinda.
- Condensed milk is used in many hot and cold drinks as an alternative to fresh milk.