If you’ve ever been to Cambodia, I’d bet the fondest memories of your travels probably involve some of the delicious meals you discovered. Cambodian cuisine is delicious and diverse. But it’s often overshadowed by Thailand and Vietnam, which reign supreme as the kings of cuisine in Southeast Asia. While the highlights of a Cambodia holiday are known amongst discerning travellers, some have no idea what delicious dishes lie in store for them when they’re planning a trip – here are the seven best Cambodian dishes you must try.
A stir-fried beef dish that is prepared with soy sauce, oyster sauce, and a little palm sugar, lok lak is a staple in Cambodian cuisine. It can be found in nearly every restaurant throughout Cambodia. Some restaurants serve it with fries topped with an egg, but lok lak is traditionally served with white rice; perfect for soaking up the sweet sauce. You will most likely find a side of lime & pepper dip as well, which is famous in the area. Eleven One Kitchen is a great lunch spot in Phnom Penh, serving healthy and well-priced Cambodian cuisine including their take on beef lok lak.
While the description of fish amok might sound less than appetizing, don’t let that put you off! This dish consists of fish that has been whipped into a mousse and incorporates fresh coconut milk and a Khmer curry paste. The dish has a slightly bitter flavor thanks to the addition of Stok Ngor. This is a local herb, and it’s also how you can differentiate between Cambodian fish amok and the Vietnamese version. If you dine at an upscale restaurant, you’ll find your Fish Amok served steamed in a banana leaf. But the locals prefer it boiled, which turns it into more of a soupy dish.
Bai Sach Chrouk
While the name sounds exotic, Bai Sach Chrouk is pork and rice. This dish can be found on just about every street corner in Cambodia. And although it’s one of the simplest dishes, it’s also one of the most delicious meals. The pork is sliced very thinly before being slow-grilled over hot coals. It is sometimes marinated in coconut milk, although some vendors prefer to use garlic. The pork is then served on a bed of broken rice and a side of pickled cucumbers as well as a helping of daikon radish and ginger. One of Cambodia’s leading restaurants with establishments in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Malis is a popular breakfast spot serving Bai Sach Chrouk alongside a complimentary croissant, bottomless Chinese tea and a sweetcorn dessert – for just USD $4.
Lap Khmer is lime-marinated Khmer beef salad, ceviche-style. The meat is sliced thinly and may be flash-seared, or as the traditional cooks do it, cure it ceviche style in lime juice. The salad is finished with shallots, fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass, mint, green, Asian basil, green beans, and green pepper. It’s a sweet and salty dish with a dash of spice thanks to the addition of fresh red chili peppers. Serving classic Cambodian cuisine including a delicious Lap Khmer salad, The Sugar Palm menu is designed so guests can order a selection of dishes to share.
Fried crab is a specialty that originates from the Cambodian town of Kep. The fish market there serves the fried crab with the local Kampot pepper. You’ll have to visit Kep to taste the best, but you’ll be able to find this dish across the country. One of the best restaurants in Kep to try this dish is Sailing Club, where guests can dine on the beachfront overlooking the setting sun.
Again, the name sounds absurd, but this is a delicious grilled squid dish. Fresh squid gets brushed with fish sauce or lime juice and then skewered before they’re barbecued. The snack food is then served with a Cambodian dipping sauce that’s made of fresh chilies, fish sauce, garlic, lime juice, and sugar. Meat and fish served on a stick then dipped in a sauce is a dish found in many markets of Cambodia, including the Old Market and the Night Market.
Cha Houy Teuk
Cha Houy Teuk is a sweet, sticky Cambodian jelly dessert. These desserts are made with sticky rice and sago. This is soaked in coconut milk and then topped with red beans and jackfruit. A version you must try is the one made with Agar Agar, a Khmer jelly made from seaweed. These are usually served with some beans (mung) as well as creamed coconut milk. The Shop serves a range of sweet treats in its five locations across Cambodia.
Guest blogger Eric Carrell is the Editor in Chief of True North Athletics and is an avid adventurer and digital nomad. He currently lives in Brazil and can be found regularly hiking the rainforest.