Food Fit For A Kingdom
An Insight Into Cambodian Cuisine
The Kingdom of Cambodia is one of my favourite destinations in the world and one of the things that makes this awesome country so great is the people. The Khmer are some of the loveliest people I have met in my travels, despite the atrocities committed against them by the Pol Pot regime. A dark time in the more recent past of this country which probably led to one of the more unique delicacies enjoyed by the Cambodian people, deep fried tarantula.
But it’s not all deep-fried bugs and spiders, Cambodia’s cuisine is a hidden treasure that is both exciting and bold in its flavours. While you see some similarities from both Thai and Vietnamese cooking in Cambodian food, there is also an influence from Chinese, French, and even Indian cuisines. However, these are just influences and Cambodian dishes are unique, complex in flavour and .... well, just plain delicious.
These amazing flavours come from fresh and fragrant herbs such as kaffir lime leaves, holy basil, saw mint, and also amok leaves which are used to make the delicious dish; steamed fish amok, pictured above. Spices such as the delightfully perfumed galangal, lemongrass, pepper, and turmeric add wonderful layers of flavours to this delicious cuisine. Fruits such as tamarind and green tamarind give a lovely sweet and sour tang to many dishes, and even drinks, while the flower of the banana tree makes the most fabulous banana flower salad, pictured below.
Winter melon, water lily and pea eggplant are some other delightful vegetables Cambodian’s use in salads and other cooked dishes. When it comes to proteins fish is at the top of the list and the Khmer people eat a lot of it; fresh, fermented, dried, smoked, grilled, and barbequed. Pork, chicken, and beef are also popular meats, as is seafood, especially crab from Kep and Mekong Langoustine from the Tonle Sap Lake. Other proteins such as frog, eel and quail are commonly eaten, in addition to insects, spiders, scorpions, snakes and rice paddy rats which can be found as street food and roadside snacks.
In Cambodia, rice is the staple food, eaten as part of every meal of the day and even as sweet or savoury snacks throughout the day. A typical meal will usually consist of more than one dish with contrasting textures, flavours, and temperatures, including a fried dish, typically fish, soup, salad or vegetables, and of course rice. On occasions, rice noodles will replace rice as the staple, especially in a steaming hot soup with vegetables and sometimes meat. Condiments such as pickled vegetables, herbs and dipping sauces will also accompany each meal.
One condiment that is used extensively in Khmer food is Prahok, a pungent fermented and salted fish paste which has an even stronger flavour than shrimp paste. Kroeung is a delicious curry paste consisting of pounded ingredients such as lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, galangal, shallots, garlic, and chilli which make up the basis of many Cambodian dishes. Other common accompaniments include Khmer sweet and sour sauce, galangal dressing, and tamarind paste. A great place to see all the ingredients the Cambodians use in their cooking is to take a walk around a local market.
The markets there are vibrant and bustling, selling everything from delicious tropical fruits, fresh vegetables, and fragrant herbs to meats, fish, seafood, and everything in dried form as well. If you go early in the morning you will see the markets at their busiest and get a true sense of everyday life in Cambodia and even sample a local breakfast. For a full immersion experience, I run Food Adventure Tours where you will get to taste the real Cambodia. For more details on these tours click here