One thing I remember very distinctly about Cambodia was that 1) the food was amazing, and 2) the food was amazingly cheap. While Cambodia’s had its fair share of troubles over the decades, one thing that has remained constant is their food. They’ve taken gentle influences from other cultures – notably the French and Chinese – but for the most part, Khmer cuisine sticks to tradition, and my oh my is food a highlight of visiting Cambodia.
Getting here can sometimes be expensive, but trust me, you’ll eat like a king while you’re here and still have money left over for one more tasty Angkor beer, which pairs well with, well, everything!
Fish amok you’ll find in every restaurant large and small, and it’s a wonderful dish – some say a “national” dish – that’s a staple in the local diet. The fish is cooked in a coconut milk sauce and flavoured with a popular local spice, kroeung. It’s usually served wrapped in banana leaves, and paired with rice. It’s tasty, and light – perfect after those hot sunny days touring temples.
This curry is similar to the ones you’re more likely familiar with, but what I like is that khmer curry has lots of starch to it – usually sweet potato and regular potatoes thrown in. They soak up the rich flavour, and I just love the sweet potato touch – I’ve never had them in a curry before, and they’re an excellent addition.
I would have never known about this unless our local tour guide had suggested we stop at a roadside stand. Families all over the country boil the residue of the palm tree and use this to make what’s called palm sugar – it’s candy. Pure sugar. But what’s nice is that it is pure, no weird preservatives or additives, just distilled, chunky sugar. You don’t get the nasty sugar rush either, as many say this kind of sugar is healthy for you. I’m not going to argue with them – pack a few of these in your bag for on-the-go snacks. You’ll find them at the markets, they’re wrapped in leaves – they kind of look like ears of corn!
I’m not really sure if this is truly Cambodian, but the experience is unique. In the middle of your table is a hot clay pot with a metal dome on top where you can fry various types of meats that you can order from the menu. The main BBQ restaurant in Siem Reap has many meats – not just chicken or beef, but alligator, frog or snake. You’ll also get various veggies and sides that you can drop into the area around the metal dome which has a tasty broth. It’s one of those things that you just have to try it to understand.
Our tour guide said they call the flatbreads with various toppings, like onions, Chinese pizza, because it was the Chinese who introduced the idea of making a flatbread and then putting stuff on top of it. It’s simple and tasty and most restaurants have their own take on it. You wont’ see a sweet and sour chicken one, though – it isn’t the Chinese you’re thinking of. When you’re crying out for a flash of food from home, a “Chinese” pizza may do it.
Posted : Thursday, October 13th, 2011 at 11:00
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.