The best street food in Cambodia
Asian street food culture is famous across the globe, with foodie travellers dreaming of slurping steaming bowls of fragrant Pho in Vietnam, washing down sizzling chicken satay skewers with a cold beer in Singapore, or twisting piping hot pad Thai around their chopsticks on Bangkok’s backstreets.
But, often overlooked compared to its neighbouring cuisines, what street food scene does Cambodia have to offer?
We sent one of our travel consultants, Steph, on a mission to find the absolute best in native Khmer street food. She joined a multi-stop tour in lively Phnom Penh with local-foodie fanatics, Urban Forage. Here’s what she found.
Num banh chok
First up on Steph’s list was Street 264 – a local, family-run restaurant, specialising in num banh chok, that’s been feeding hungry Phnom Penh locals and tourists alike for years. The fermented rice noodle dish is a Cambodian classic, typically eaten for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
“Noodles are served swimming in a yellow lemongrass and fish gravy, which has usually been simmered for hours. They come with plates piled high with fresh garnishes – from lily flower stems and mint to long green beans, spicy green chillis (which you’ll find on the table at almost every restaurant to add to your dishes if you like spice) to purple banana flower.
“Start by mixing the soft rice noodles with the sauce, then add your chosen garnishes.”
Num pang pate
Arguably Cambodia’s perfect sandwich, num pang pate is the country’s take on the Vietnamese Bahn Mi. Steph got to sample one at Street 143 Nom Pan Pate.
“Our brilliant guide told us this was something not to be missed – and he was right.
“Essentially, expect a demi-baguette stuffed with pork belly and/or pate, quick pickled vegetables (usually carrot and daikon), and some crunchy ingredients like crispy cucumber and fresh coriander – then slather it all with a chilli sauce.
“These are really popular with the locals and you’ll find num pang joints dotted all around Phnom Penh – and in places like Siem Reap, too – where it’s not unusual to see motorbikes whizzing by with the driver munching on one as a quick snack.”
Cambodian BBQ pork ribs
Not one for strict vegetarian and vegans, Steph found that Phnom Penh’s Russian Market offered up a slice of Cambodia’s proud BBQ culture.
“You start by walking through the market, passing vendors selling fresh meats and produce. While you’re there, you can try fruits like mangosteen and durian, before turning down a smaller street lined with BBQ carts.
“Here, you’ll find vendors selling fish, chicken, and pork – you’ll select your ribs (raw) from the hook they’re hanging on, and the vendor will cook them up right in front of you. It’s quite an experience.
“Everyone was raving about how smoky and sticky the ribs were – and how well an ice-cold anchor beer washed them down, too.”
Fish amok (Cambodian national dish)
Fish amok – Cambodia’s official national dish – often comes with an array of other plates and sides, forming a tasty, sharing feast for the whole table to enjoy. Steph sat down to the ultimate Cambodian spread at 54 Restaurant on street 178.
“This was an absolute highlight – it was a total banquet. The fish amok itself is a traditional Khmer steamed fish curry, and rumour has it its origins actually date back to the days of the Khmer Empire. Usually served in a banana leaf, I’d say it’s certainly tasty enough to warrant royal dining.
“The other dishes that came with the amok were really varied – from cha lok lak (a beef dish) to Cambodian fried frog or stir-fried red ants, there was certainly something for the most adventurous foodies, as well as plenty of choice for the less brave among us!”
Hailing from neighbouring Vietnam, but equally popular on Phnom Penh’s city streets, banh xeo are rice flour pancakes made with tumeric and coconut cream.
“These are quite something. The name translates to ‘sizzling cake’, which is a pretty accurate description! Crispy and delicate, the inside of the crepe is filled with the sumptuous flavours of pork and shrimp, mushrooms, and beansprouts.
“Our guide explained that, in Cambodia, the way to eat them is to break bits off, wrap it up in crispy lettuce with a handful of fresh mint, roll it up like a spring roll and dip it in a sweet chilli sauce.”
Cambodian sugar burrito
For the final stop on Steph’s foodie forage, she went in search of a Cambodian sugar burrito. And, despite the venue’s unassuming appearance, it didn’t disappoint.
“This stop was literally just on a dark road. A lady and man had a tiny, lantern-lit stall, which our guide pulled us up to. We hadn’t even got out of the tuk-tuk before they handed us the most delicious dessert.
“It was made from a thin rice-wrap pancake, filled with sugar cane, grated coconut, sesame seeds and condensed milk, and all wrapped up like a minature burrito. I’ve never had anything like it before – it was incredible!”
Aside from scouting out the best of Cambodia’s street food scene, Steph was also really impressed with the way the tour focused on sustainability.
“Another great thing about this tour is that the guide collects the leftover food at each stop in takeaway boxes and takes it along with us on the tuk-tuk. They then take it to homeless shelters after the tour, so no food is wasted! I think this is a wonderful selling point – it’s the right thing to do, and lines up beautifully with our values as a B-Corp at InsideAsia.”
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