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Cambodian cuisine may be lesser known than the world-renowned dishes of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam, but it’s just as delicious. Here are 21 of the best dishes in Cambodia, with a handful of the weird and wonderful thrown in for good measure.
Fish amok is held in esteem as Cambodia’s signature dish, and the creamy curry can be found in abundance on menus in tourist hubs. Diced fillets of freshwater fish are smothered in coconut milk, eggs, fish sauce and palm sugar. Kroeung — a paste made from pounded spices and other ingredients, such as turmeric, kaffir lime, lemongrass and shallots — is also added. The traditional way to cook the dish is by steaming it in a banana leaf shaped into a bowl, within which it is served.
This popular street food dish is how most Cambodians start the day. Kuy teav — or noodle soup — is made from pork or beef bones and rice vermicelli. The flavoursome broth is topped with fried shallots and garlic, bean sprouts, green onion and aromatic herbs. Pork or fish balls are added. Sides include chilli paste, half a lime and hoisin sauce.
Refreshing and light, this salad is the ideal way to stave off the midday heat. Slices of chicken breast are served amid crunchy banana blossom flower, fried shallots, garlic, chillies and lemongrass, with fresh lime squeezed on top.
Also seen as a signature dish, beef loc lac consists of stir-fried strips of tender beef served atop a bed of lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and rings of raw onions. Often, a fried egg is placed on top. The prize to this dish is the dipping sauce of lime juice and pepper — make it Kampot pepper to make the flavours truly pop.
This dish is not only reserved to the coastal town of Kep. However, it is there where you’ll find it at its freshest and finest. With the crabs caught daily and flogged at the bustling Crab Market, a range of crab shacks and restaurants include stir-fried crab and pepper — usually Kampot pepper — on the menu.
Milder and much less spicy than the curries found in Thailand and India, Khmer curries tend to use more herbs than spices, and are milder and sweeter in taste. While recipes vary, the curry normally features chicken, coconut cream and milk; fish sauce; herbs and diced sweet potatoes; garlic; shallots; turmeric and ginger. It is accompanied by rice or a baguette.
This is one of the most common street foods and is readily available across Cambodia. Made of thin rice noodles, shredded banana leaves, beansprouts, cucumber, mint and basil, topped with green fish curry, it is often made and sold by women balancing a pole on their shoulders containing the ingredients on either side.
The country’s streets are full of people sitting on plastic chairs every morning, and the chances are they’re eating pork and rice, or bai sach chrouk — Cambodia’s national breakfast dish. Only available in the morning, the dish features thinly sliced pork marinated in garlic and oil that are slowly barbecued. This is served over rice with sliced cucumbers and pickled vegetables.
As the Cambodian Marmite, you either love or hate prahok — and many foreigners find it an acquired taste. Usually added to local dishes, it can also be served alone alongside rice and a side salad. The crushed, salted and fermented fish paste is used in abundance as a seasoning, adding a strong salty flavour. Its strong smell has earned it the nickname of Cambodian cheese.
Cambodian salads are renowned for their refreshing feel while being packed full of punch. Green mango salad is crunchy and zesty, and features fresh chilli, fish sauce, sliced green mango, sliced tomatoes and shallots, pickled cucumber, onion, peppers and fresh basil or mint.
Featuring short fat noodles after which the dish is named, lort cha is stir-fried with beef, broccoli, beansprouts, herbs and lashings of fish and soy sauce. A fried egg is placed on top, with an accompaniment of sweet chilli sauce.
This street snack, known locally as num kachay, is fried in shallow pans by mobile vendors. The small cakes are made with glutinous rice flour and served with a sweet, spicy fish sauce.
In the early evening, the air is often filled with the aroma of meat being barbecued from grills that dot the streets. Sach ko chomkak is usually barbecued beef or pork on skewers that is served with pickled papaya salad or inside a crunchy baguette.
Moving onto the more unusual favoured snacks, balut is not for the squeamish. Devoured by locals, it is the fertilised embryo of a duck and is eaten whole, usually from the shell. The popular snack is believed to be nutritious and rich in protein.
While the French influence can be detected in some Khmer food, grilled frog isn’t one of them, having been munched by locals since way before colonial times. Barbecued whole on a stick, these small bites are often marinated in chilli and garlic to give them a kick.
Another dish that can easily be picked up off the street is a freshly steamed pork bun. The hard-boiled bun is stuffed with pork and egg, and is best eaten piping hot.
These sweet snacks can also be found on the street, especially in the afternoon. Here, bananas are flattened and dipped into batter with black sesame seeds, before being deep-fried.
Snacking on this spider is another Cambodian delicacy that locals relish. Commonly deep-fried with chilli, the tarantula is crispy on the outside, with the body often containing a warm liquid centre of intestinal juice. Skuon, in between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh is where the majority of tarantulas are caught — by hand — in the jungle before being sold across the country.
Another common sight is Cambodians clutching a plastic bag packed with a variety of pickled fruit. Ranging from papaya and apple to cucumber and guava, the snacks are served with a small side bag of dipping sauce made from salt, sugar, chilli and fish sauce.
Another delicious dessert is pumpkin custard, or sankhya lapov. Served after lunch and dinner, the dish is a sweet custard that is stuffed inside a pumpkin before being steamed. The tasty treat is also reserved for special occasions.
Another dubious bite to the Western palate is scorpion. These can be bought from street stalls, usually along the riverside in Phnom Penh and Pub Street in Siem Reap, and are skewered before being deep fried. If Angelina Jolie can do it, then so can you.