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Chris didn’t take much convincing to try all of the food in Cambodia (stuffed frog, and tarantulas included…). After three years living in the country, here’s his lowdown of the best dishes and restaurants.
Food in Cambodia
1. Beef Lok Lak
Beef Lok Lak – marinated beef that has been stir-fried quickly to sear it – is perhaps the most famous Khmer dish (along with Amok – see below). You can find it in pretty much every restaurant, food stall or street shack in Cambodia. It’s normally accompanied by lettuce, cucumbers, tomato, raw onion and a delicious Kampot pepper lime dipping sauce.
2. Fish Amok
Fish Amok is the other must-try food in Cambodia; this thick curry is served in a banana leaf, and is the other national dish.
3. Khmer red curry
Khmer red curry is usually served at special occasions such as weddings, family gatherings and religious holidays like Pchum Ben, or Ancestor’s Day (where Cambodians make the dish to share with monks in honour of the departed).
It’s made with coconut milk and a conservative amount of chilli, so it isn’t as spicy as curries in neighbouring Thailand. It’s usually served with bread – a vestige of the French presence – and normally contains beef, chicken or fish, eggplant, green beans, potatoes, lemongrass and kroeung.
4. Street food in Siem Reap
Street food in Cambodia is incredibly diverse, and the best place for it is in Siem Reap – Road 60 – which turns into foodie heaven from 6pm. There’s everything here from exotic fruits and friend insects, to a multitude of marinated BBQ meats; from beef and chicken to stuffed frog, crocodile and snake. Finish it off with a Khmer dessert.
5. Stuffed frog
On the subject of meat, BBQ frog stuffed with pork is my favourite food of all in Cambodia (just beating Kep crab to the post).
6. Red tree ants with beef
It seems that this dish came straight from Fear Factor, but it’s not too bad. Essentially, it is a large stir fry made using beef, basil, garlic, shallots, ginger, lemon grass, and lots of ants. Yes, you read that correctly. Red tree ants of different sizes are mixed with the beef, it’s then topped with chilli and served on top of white rice. Yum.
7. Bugs café – Siem Reap
For people who want to try something a little bit exotic, Bugs café in Siem Reap does what it says on the tin. It has insect skewers, feta and tarantula samosas, tarantula doughnuts, scorpion and green papaya salad, and fresh ant salad. It’s all very tasty (and the dishes make for great photos).
Tangy, fruity and with a little kick, salads in Cambodia are amazing; the best is banana flowers & green mango.
9. Tree Alliance (NGO) restaurants
There are quite a lot of NGO restaurants in Cambodia but the best ones are run by Tree Alliance who have four – ‘Friends’ and ‘Romdeng’ in Phnom Penh (Romdeng is famous for fried tarantulas), ‘Marum’ in Siem Reap and ‘Sandan’ in Sihanoukville.
They are all in aid of a good cause too; they offer training for disadvantaged youths and street kids to gain experience into the hospitality industry. Luckily they also serve great local food!
10. Bassac Lane in Phnom Penh
Basaac Lane is a small street filled with lots of cool micro-bars and restaurants. It’s a great place to hang out for an evening and has plenty of amazing places to eat and drink. It’s little-visited and known about by tourists, but very famous locally amongst locals.
11. Lan Chov Khorko Miteanh Noodle Restaurant (aka ‘Noodle Guy’)
This noodle joint in Battambang is without doubt the best in Cambodia. Nicknamed ‘Noodle Guy’ or ‘Chinese Noodle’ by expats, Lan Chov Khorko Miteanh is a simple, no-frills eatery where the most unlikely of noodle masters – wearing low-slung shorts, singlet and flip-flops – makes hearty handmade dumplings and silky hand-pulled noodles to order. There is an extensive menu of noodles, soups and dumplings, and all dishes are made freshly in front of you.
12. Seafood in Kep/Kampot
Kep Crab is hands-down the most tasty crab you will ever taste. It’s best served with the world famous Kampot Pepper and freshly caught BBQ shrimp. Kampot pepper has been known as the world’s best – in the 1930s chic Parisian restaurants wouldn’t serve anything else! Next to the crab market there’s a line of ‘shack’ restaurants that serve the most delicious seafood in the world (in my humble opinion).
Balut is only for the very adventurous foodie (if you dare!). Known as the most stinky and repulsive street food in Cambodia, Balut refers to the fertilised embryo of a duck.
It can be found in neighbouring Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines and Vietnam, but the one in Cambodia is simpler. Rather than being covered with a wide selection of herbs and condiments, the duck egg is served with a small amount of garnish. Nutritious and rich in protein, it is an all-time favourite of local Cambodians. It’s very ‘interesting’ to eat – I’ve had it a few times and thought it was pretty good!
14. Fresh exotic fruits
Mangosteen, lychee, papaya, mango, jackfruit, dragon fruit… try it all! The fruit in Cambodia is sweet, succulent and tastes like there’s a burst of sunshine in every bite.
Durian fruit is one of the most famous in Cambodia – the saying goes ‘smells like hell, tastes like heaven’. To me it just smells and tastes like a mixture of very old sweaty socks and gone off eggs, but some people absolutely love it.
15. Khmer fine dining
There are some amazing fine dining restaurants in Cambodia, most based around ‘fusion’ cuisine. Malis in Phnom Penh is the most famous but my favourite is ‘The Embassy’ in Siem Reap. This exclusive restaurant – headed by executive chefs Pol & Sok: the ‘Kimsan Twins’ – is unparalleled in Siem Reap.
Their experience has taken them to different continents. Under the mentoring of Michelin starred chefs they have created one of the most unique five-star quality cuisines in Siem Reap where guests can savour skillfully prepared masterpieces with seasonal produce, paired with a selection of fine wines.
Feeling hungry? Us too! Check out our brand new Culinary Cambodia Fully Tailored Journey to try a bit of everything.
Or for more information about travelling to Cambodia (and finding out more about balut…), do get in touch.