8 Foods You Must Try in Cambodia

From fried creepy-crawlies to hearty soups, experiencing Cambodian cuisine should be at the top of your list with Angkor Wat. Although it is usually less popular than Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, Cambodian food is nevertheless fresh, tasty, diverse, and unique.

From breakfast to dessert, the most interesting foods you must try in Cambodia are on this list! Here are our highlights of must-try Cambodian dishes and 8 interesting foods you must try in Cambodia:

1. Kuy Teav

taste kuy teav in cambodia

Are you obsessed with Vietnamese pho? Then trying Kuy Teav is essential! This steaming rice noodle soup is a popular breakfast dish among locals, but you can have it throughout the day. With a fragrant broth (beef or pork) and fresh garnishes that could include spring onions, coriander, lettuce leaves, and beansprouts, the meal is a bright start to any day.

Where to find Kuy Teav in Cambodia?

Kuy Teav is commonly found throughout Cambodia, especially in local markets, street food stalls, and small eateries known as “hawker centers.” Each region may have its own variation of the dish, with some places specializing in specific types of meat or adding unique spices to the broth.

Etiquette and tips for enjoying Kuy Teav:

  • Condiments: Many places offer condiments like fish sauce, chili sauce, or freshly chopped chilies to customize the flavor according to your preference. Experiment with these to find your perfect balance of flavors.
  • Serving Style: Kuy Teav is typically served in a bowl with chopsticks and a spoon. Use the chopsticks to pick up noodles and meat, and the spoon for sipping the broth.
  • Local Variations: In Cambodia, Kuy Teav can vary widely by region. For instance, in Phnom Penh, you might find a version known as “Kuy Teav Phnom Penh” which often includes pork, shrimp, or seafood.

2. Nom Banh Chok

taste Nom Banh Chok in cambodia

Also known as Khmer noodles, nom banh chok is another classic breakfast dish or afternoon treat. Noodles made from fermented rice form the basis of this revitalizing meal. These have a rich fish curry that is ultimately garnished with seasonal vegetables and vibrant herbs such as lemongrass, basil, and mint on the top.

Where to find Nom Banh Chok?

Nom Banh Chok is commonly found in local markets, street food stalls, and small eateries throughout Cambodia, especially during breakfast and lunch hours. Some regions may have their own variations of the dish, with different types of fish or variations in the curry gravy.

Etiquette and tips for enjoying Nom Banh Chok:

  • Customization: Nom Banh Chok is often served with a tray of fresh herbs, vegetables, and condiments such as chili paste or lime wedges. Customize your dish by adding these to suit your taste preferences.
  • Eating Style: Use chopsticks to pick up the noodles and vegetables, and a spoon to enjoy the flavorful curry gravy. Mix everything together for a delicious blend of flavors and textures.
  • Local Variations: Depending on where you are in Cambodia, you may encounter different variations of Nom Banh Chok. For example, in Siem Reap, the dish might include more herbs and slightly different spices compared to Phnom Penh or other regions.

3. Fish Amok

taste fish amok in cambodia

Despite the simplicity of the dish, fish amok reigns as one of Cambodia’s prized national dishes. It includes ingredients that are popular in Cambodia such as galangal, black pepper, kaffir lime, palm sugar, coconut milk, and kroeung (a curry and marinade paste based on lemongrass). It also has hints of heat, citrus, and bitterness. Ultimately, the fish curry gets steamed and presented in banana leaf boats.

Where to find Fish Amok?

Fish Amok is widely available in restaurants across Cambodia, especially in tourist areas like Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. It’s often featured on the menu of traditional Khmer restaurants that focus on authentic Cambodian cuisine. Some upscale restaurants may also offer a more refined version of the dish.

Etiquette and tips for enjoying Fish Amok:

  • Flavors and Ingredients: Fish Amok is known for its delicate balance of flavors, blending the richness of coconut milk with the aromatic spices and the freshness of the fish. Take your time to appreciate the complexity of the curry paste and the tenderness of the steamed fish.
  • Presentation: The dish is traditionally served in a bowl-shaped banana leaf, which not only adds a natural aroma to the dish but also enhances its visual appeal. The coconut cream topping is often drizzled over the fish just before serving, adding a creamy texture.
  • Accompaniments: Fish Amok is typically served with steamed jasmine rice, which complements the creamy curry sauce. Some restaurants may offer additional condiments like chili paste or lime wedges to adjust the dish according to your taste preferences.

4. Beef Lok Lak

taste beef lok lak in cambodia

Kampot peppercorns underscore this emblematic dish. It is diced beef marinated with paprika, tomato sauce, fish sauce, and corn starch/potato starch. Once it is ready, it takes a short time to cook it, similar to Vietnamese shaking beef. The black pepper beef is typically served with rice, a fried egg, fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and a dipping sauce to compliment the red meat.

Where to find Beef Lok Lak?

You can find Beef Lok Lak in many local restaurants and street food stalls across Cambodia, particularly in urban areas like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville. Look for eateries that specialize in Khmer cuisine or those that prominently feature stir-fried dishes on their menu.

Etiquette and tips for enjoying Beef Lok Lak:

  • Flavors and Ingredients: The key to Beef Lok Lak’s appeal lies in its tender beef (or meat of choice) and the savory-sweet sauce that coats it. The combination of soy sauce and fish sauce gives it a distinct Cambodian flavor profile, while the addition of tomatoes and onions adds freshness and texture.
  • Accompaniments: Beef Lok Lak is traditionally served with a side of steamed jasmine rice, which helps soak up the delicious sauce. The fried egg on top adds richness and pairs well with the tender beef. Many restaurants also provide lime wedges and a dipping sauce made with lime juice and black pepper, enhancing the dish’s flavors.
  • Customization: Feel free to adjust the dish to your taste preferences by adding more lime juice or black pepper. Some places may offer additional condiments like chili sauce or sliced chili peppers for extra heat.

5. Edible Insects

taste edible insects in cambodia

Although not a specific dish, it is important to note that fried or grilled insects are a Cambodian delicacy. As an inexpensive source of protein, you’ll find dozens of stalls with impressive heaps of cockroaches, red ants, water bugs, and water snakes—you name it! Tropical flavors are ever-present: the infamous deep-fried tarantula with a tamarind dipping sauce, while small, plump maggots are served with pickled limes, chilies, and spring onions! Tip: Don’t rule it out! Just have a beer in hand to make a great (or more bearable) combo with one of the most interesting foods you must try in Cambodia.

Where to Find Edible Insects:

You can find edible insects at local markets, street food stalls, and sometimes in restaurants that specialize in traditional Cambodian cuisine. Look for vendors selling fried insects in bustling markets like Psar Chas (Old Market) in Siem Reap or Psar Thmei (Central Market) in Phnom Penh.

Etiquette and Tips for Trying Edible Insects:

  • Preparation: Edible insects are usually fried or roasted with spices like garlic, salt, and sometimes chili powder. This cooking method enhances their flavor and gives them a crunchy texture.
  • Flavors and Texture: Each type of insect has a distinct taste and texture. Fried tarantulas, for example, are crispy on the outside and tender inside, while crickets and grasshoppers are crunchy throughout.
  • Cultural Perspective: In Cambodia, eating insects is not only a culinary tradition but also a sustainable source of protein. It’s believed to have health benefits and is part of the local gastronomic heritage.

6. Cambodian BBQ

taste cambodian bbq

Who doesn’t love a barbecue? Cambodian locals certainly do! For a nourishing street food snack, barbecue stalls and carts are plentiful. For a more satiating meal, restaurants hosting barbecue buffets are your go-to – the choice is all yours! The variety of Cambodian barbecue meat is one of the most diverse in the world. Take your pick between beef, pork, shrimp, duck, fish, frog, kangaroo, ostrich, crocodile, and more!

7. Sangkhia

taste sangkhia

Our first dessert is a Cambodian pumpkin coconut custard typically for special occasions. It is a sweet, delicate dish that involves the steaming or baking of a pumpkin infused with coconut and egg custard. The outcome is silky smooth and soft – a perfect treat for any sweet tooth!

Etiquette and Tips for Trying Sangkhia:

  • Flavor and Texture: Sangkhia has a strong, savory flavor with hints of garlic and fermentation. The texture can vary from tender to slightly chewy, depending on the fermentation process and how it’s cooked.
  • Accompaniments: Sangkhia is typically served with fresh vegetables such as cucumber, lettuce, and herbs. It’s also common to eat it with a dipping sauce made from lime juice, chili, and fish sauce, which adds a tangy and spicy contrast to the rich flavor of the pork.
  • Cultural Significance: Sangkhia is a dish that reflects Cambodian culinary traditions and local methods of preserving meat. It’s often made in large batches during times when pork is abundant, allowing families to enjoy it over an extended period.

8. Num Ansom Chek

taste num ansom chek

Like sangkhia, this sweet delicacy is typically for important celebrations, especially the Cambodian New Year and Pchum Ben (Festival of Souls). Sticky rice and grated coconut wrapped and steamed in banana leaves make up this dish, leading to the English translation: rolled banana cake. The banana leaves mean it can be kept for days without being spoiled!

Etiquette and Tips for Trying Num Ansom Chek:

  • Flavor and Texture: Num Ansom Chek has a sweet and fragrant flavor due to the combination of sticky rice, coconut milk, and banana. The banana leaf wrapping imparts a subtle aroma to the dish, enhancing its overall taste.
  • Eating Style: Unwrap the banana leaf to reveal the sticky rice and banana filling. It’s typically eaten with your hands, breaking off bite-sized pieces to enjoy slowly. The sticky rice may be slightly sticky and chewy, while the banana adds a natural sweetness.
  • Cultural Significance: Num Ansom Chek is a dish that holds cultural significance in Cambodia, often prepared and shared during religious ceremonies and family gatherings. Its preparation and consumption reflect Cambodian traditions of using local ingredients and culinary techniques.

Have we intrigued you with the 8 foods you must try in Cambodia? Are you curious to taste Cambodian cuisine for yourself? Eat your way through Cambodia with our fantastic tours! Niang bai! (Bon Appetit!)

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