Cambodian Food: Your Top 16 Questions Answered
The Polka Dot Restaurant in Phnom Penh
Food is necessary in our daily life. It is a must-to-do event to have a food journey in a new country. For a Cambodia tour, there are also a lot to explore, such as various Cambodia street food, traditional Khmer food, profound Cambodian cuisine, etc.
Cambodian cuisine is a fusion of different cultural influences, including Chinese, Indian, and French. The result is a unique and flavorful cuisine that has been gaining popularity around the world. In this article, we'll answer 16 of the most common questions about Cambodian food.
Is Cambodian cuisine the same as Khmer cuisine?
- “While the terms Cambodian and Khmer are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between the two.”
Traditional Amok dish
Cambodian cuisine refers to the food that is eaten in Cambodia, while Khmer cuisine specifically refers to the food of the Khmer people.
The Khmer people are considered the indigenous people of Cambodia. They also make up the majority of the population. In addition to the Khmer people, there are several other ethnic groups in Cambodia, such as Cham, hill tribes, Vietnamese, Chinese, etc.
For example, Amok is a very popular Khmer curry dish, made with fish, coconut milk, and spices, steamed in a banana leaf. Here we are happy to recommend some restaurants to enjoy this meal. In Phnom Penh, you can go visit Romdeng. In Siem Reap, you can choose Blue Pumpkin!
Is Cambodian food spicy?
- “While Cambodian cuisine can be flavorful, it is not typically very spicy.”
Khme red curry
Most dishes are seasoned with a blend of herbs and spices that give them a unique taste, rather than relying on heat for flavor.
However, there is spicy cuisine in Cambodia. If you are in Phnom Penh, you can try Khmer Red Curry in Frizz Restaurant, which is made with chicken or beef, coconut milk, and red curry paste. The paste in it is typically made with a variety of chili peppers.
The staple food of Cambodians is fish?
- “Fish is an essential part of Cambodian cuisine.”
A Cambodian fisherman is collecting his fishing net
It is a staple food for many people, especially in rural areas where fishing is a common livelihood. The Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake provide a plentiful supply of fish, which is used in a variety of dishes, including soups, stews, and curries.
In fact, rice is also a staple food in Cambodia. it is served typically with meat or fish, vegetables, and various herbs and spices. For instance, Bai Sach Chrouk consists of thinly sliced, grilled pork that is served on top of a bed of steamed white rice. It is often served for breakfast or lunch, also considered as a popular street food in Cambodia.
How many countries have shared influence on Cambodian cuisine?
- “Cambodian cuisine has been influenced by many neighboring countries, including Thailand, Vietnam, and China.”
These countries have all had an impact on the ingredients and cooking techniques used in Cambodian cuisine.
In terms of Chinese cuisine, it has had a significant influence on Cambodian cuisine. It can be traced back to the historical and cultural ties between China and Cambodia, as well as the large Chinese immigrant population in Cambodia.
We can see the impact obviously through the use of noodles, such as Kuy Teav and Num Banh Chok. Chinese-style dumplings and buns are also popular in Cambodia, while Cambodians may often fill buns with shrimp.
Can you believe that there are approximately 2,000 rice varieties in Cambodia?
- “Each variety has its own unique flavor and texture, and is used in a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to salads and desserts.”
Here are a few examples:
Also known as "Phka Malis," Jasmine rice is a fragrant and aromatic rice variety commonly grown in Cambodia. It has a soft texture, slightly sticky consistency when cooked, and a subtle floral aroma.
White rice, or "Phka Romdoul," is the most commonly consumed rice in Cambodia. It has a neutral flavor and is often served as a staple food alongside various dishes.
Red rice, or "Phka Chrouk," gets its distinctive reddish-brown color from the bran layer that remains intact during processing. It has a nutty flavor and a slightly chewy texture.
Black rice, also known as "Phka Rumduol," is a unique variety with a dark purple or black color. It is rich in antioxidants and has a slightly sweet taste. Black rice is often used in traditional Cambodian desserts.
Glutinous rice, or "Phka Malis Man," is a sticky variety commonly used in traditional Cambodian dishes like sticky rice cakes and desserts. It has a stickier texture when cooked due to its higher starch content.
Fruits in Cambodia have their own royal court?!
- “Fruits are an important part of Cambodian cuisine, and many different varieties are grown in the country.”
The durian is considered the "king", the mangosteen the "queen", sapodilla the "prince" and the milk fruit the "princess". Cambodians enjoy fruits throughout the year, as Cambodia climate (tropical monsoon) allows for a wide variety of fruits to be grown and harvested.
However, the peak fruit season in Cambodia generally falls during the hot and rainy season, which typically spans from May to October. During this time, you can find an abundance of fresh and delicious fruits in local markets, street stalls, and supermarkets.
What are the most common herbs and spices in Cambodian cuisine?
- “Some of the most common herbs and spices used in Cambodian cuisine include lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, and turmeric.”
These ingredients are used to flavor soups, stews, curries, and other dishes. Kroeung is a flavorful paste made from a combination of herbs and spices, including lemongrass. Lemongrass actually adds a distinct citrusy and aromatic flavor to it. And cuisine like Amok and Lok Lak all have used Kroeung as flavorful herbs.
Except fish, what other meats do Cambodians eat daily?
- “In addition to fish, Cambodians also eat other types of meat, including pork, chicken, and beef.”
Pork and rice
These meats are typically cooked with a blend of herbs and spices and served with rice or noodles. One popular Cambodian cuisine that often includes pork is "Pork and Rice" or "Bai Sach Chrouk." It is a simple yet flavorful dish that is commonly enjoyed for breakfast or lunch in Cambodia. The dish is known for its delicious combination of savory flavors and the contrast between the tender pork and the fluffy rice.
In Bai Sach Chrouk, thinly sliced pork is marinated in a combination of soy sauce, garlic, and other seasonings. The marinated pork is then grilled or pan-fried until it becomes tender and slightly charred. It is typically served on a bed of steamed jasmine rice, accompanied by pickled vegetables or cucumber slices.
Cantonese noodles are served in Cambodia?
- “Cantonese noodles are not a traditional Cambodian dish, but due to the cultural influences and international culinary exchange, you can find variations of Cantonese-style noodles in Cambodia.”
Here are a few examples:
Wonton Noodles: A popular Cantonese noodle dish that has made its way to Cambodia. It consists of egg noodles served in a savory broth, topped with wontons (dumplings) filled with minced pork or shrimp.
Char Siu Noodles: Char Siu is a Cantonese-style barbecued pork. In Cambodia, you can find noodle dishes that feature tender slices of Char Siu served on top of egg noodles, along with vegetables and a flavorful sauce.
Chow Mein: Chow Mein is a stir-fried noodle dish commonly associated with Cantonese cuisine. In Cambodia, you may come across variations of Chow Mein featuring egg noodles stir-fried with a combination of vegetables, meat (such as chicken or beef), and sauces.
Hot pot appears in Cambodia?!
- “Hot pot is another popular dish in Cambodia, especially during the cooler months.”
Xi Hongshi (Tamato) hot pot
It is typically made with a flavorful broth, meat or seafood, and a variety of vegetables and noodles. If you're looking for a hot pot dining experience in Cambodia, you may consider visiting the following places:
Little Sheep Hot Pot: Little Sheep is a well-known hot pot chain with locations in various countries, including Cambodia. They offer a wide selection of soup bases, fresh ingredients, and dipping sauces to create your own customized hot pot. You can find Little Sheep Hot Pot in Phnom Penh.
Xi Hongshi Hot Pot: Xi Hongshi is a popular hot pot restaurant in Phnom Penh that offers a range of soup bases, including spicy and non-spicy options. They provide a variety of fresh ingredients, including meat, seafood, and vegetables, for you to cook at your table.
Meng Xiang Hot Pot: Meng Xiang is a Chinese-style hot pot restaurant with branches in Phnom Penh. They serve both individual and shared hot pots with a selection of soup bases, meats, and vegetables. The restaurant provides a comfortable and spacious dining atmosphere.
What do spring rolls represent in Cambodia?
- “Spring rolls are a popular appetizer in Cambodia, and are often served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.”
Cambodian spring rolls with shrimp and crispy veggies
They are said to represent wealth and prosperity, and are often served at weddings and other special occasions. If you want to taste spring rolls in Cambodia, you're in for a treat! Here are a few ways you can enjoy them:
Local Restaurants: Visit local Cambodian restaurants or street food stalls that serve traditional Cambodian cuisine. Spring rolls are often featured on their menus as appetizers or snack items.
Food Markets: Explore local food markets, such as Phsar Chas (Old Market) in Siem Reap or Psar Thmei (Central Market) in Phnom Penh. You'll find food stalls and vendors offering a variety of street food, including spring rolls.
Cooking Classes: Join a cooking class in Cambodia that focuses on traditional Cambodian cuisine. These classes often include hands-on instruction on how to make spring rolls from scratch.
Local Events and Holidays: Keep an eye out for local events and holidays in Cambodia. Spring rolls are commonly served at these gatherings, providing you with a chance to savor them while immersing yourself in the festive atmosphere.
Is Cambodian salad derived from French?!
- “Cambodian salad, also known as "nom banh chok", is a dish made with rice noodles, vegetables, and herbs, and is typically served with a fish-based sauce.”
Green salad by chef in Siem Reap
Salad is a widely popular dish enjoyed in many cultures around the world. While it is challenging to pinpoint the exact origin of salads, various ancient civilizations had their versions of raw or cooked vegetable dishes that resemble modern salads.
The ancient Greeks and Romans are known to have consumed mixed greens and vegetables dressed with salt, vinegar, and oil. They believed that eating raw vegetables was beneficial for health. The word "salad" itself comes from the Latin word "sal" meaning salt, reflecting the historical use of salt as a common dressing ingredient.
Tapioca flour is featured in Cambodian pastries?
- “Tapioca flour is commonly used in Cambodian pastries, such as "num krok" and "num banh chok".”
These sweet treats mentioned above are typically made with a mixture of tapioca flour, coconut milk, and sugar, and are often served as a snack or dessert.
Rice leftovers are used to make fermented alcoholic beverages in Cambodia?!
- “In Cambodia, rice leftovers are often used to make a popular fermented alcoholic beverage called ‘tuak’.”
Rice wine starter
This drink is made by soaking leftover rice in water and allowing it to ferment over several days. The result is a sweet and slightly sour drink that is popular throughout the country.
Pub Street is a popular and vibrant area located in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is a bustling street known for its lively atmosphere, numerous bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues. If you're looking to enjoy a drink or experience the nightlife in Siem Reap, Pub Street is a great place to visit. For more, you can check this out if you are interested in things to do in Siem Reap, the capital city of Cambodia.
Knives are often used in Cambodian food?
- “In Cambodian culture, it is not common for people to eat with knives as the primary utensil.”
Eating with spoon and pork
The traditional way of eating in Cambodia typically involves the use of a spoon and fork, or sometimes just a spoon.
The spoon is used to scoop up rice, soups, and other dishes, while the fork is used to push food onto the spoon or assist with holding certain ingredients. Chopsticks are also occasionally used, particularly when eating noodles or certain Chinese-inspired dishes.
However, it's important to note that cultural practices can vary, and individual preferences may differ. Some people in Cambodia, especially in more urban and Westernized areas, may choose to eat with a knife and fork, particularly when dining at international restaurants or when they are accustomed to Western dining customs.
Is Cambodian cuisine very popular across the world?
- “Cambodian cuisine is not as widely recognized and popularized as some other Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Thai or Vietnamese cuisine.”
Cambodian street food table
However, it has gained increasing interest and recognition in recent years among food enthusiasts and travelers. While it may not have reached the same level of global recognition as some other cuisines, Cambodian cuisine has its own distinct appeal and is certainly worth exploring for those interested in trying new and diverse culinary experiences. Except these advanced restaurants in Cambodia, food stalls are easily seen on the streets, and you’d better try once the Cambodian street food!
Cambodian cuisine is a rich and diverse culinary tradition that has been shaped by a variety of cultural influences. From fish and rice to herbs and spices, Cambodian food offers a unique and flavorful experience that is well worth exploring.
We hope that this article has answered some of your questions about Cambodian cuisine and has inspired you to try some of these delicious dishes for yourself. We would be delighted to tailor your Cambodia tour!
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