The street food of Cambodia is the most overlooked of all Asian dishes and the most misunderstood of all cuisines. Although Cambodian street food is analogous to the street food of Thailand and Vietnam there are some unique dishes that are made in every household of this country. “Their street food is unhealthy, dangerous, not fresh”, these are all myths that the world carries and thus, is unable to find an answer to what to eat in Cambodia. To truly appreciate a culture in all its glory, one needs to open one’s arms, eyes, mind and even taste buds. And food is the best way to do so.
Cambodian cuisine is not as ‘global’ as Vietnamese and Thai. But in no way, does it lack the flavor and the punch. Just like its neighboring countries, Cambodia loves its rice. And fish seems to be the favorite seafood. What makes Cambodian food different from other Southeast Asian cuisines is the distinct sour taste that is consistent with all the dishes.
The unconventional dishes and their flavors might throw you off guard, but hold on to your horses and soon you will find yourself appreciating the specific mix of herbs and spices that are the heart of Cambodian food and lend it its distinctive taste, one that is unique to the land of Khmer.
From Siem Reap’s street food to Phnom Penh’s gourmet dishes to the home-cooked style cuisine available everywhere, this blog will take you on a very rare but delicious street food journey that Cambodia has to offer!
An interesting fact about Cambodian cuisine is that rice is the most important part of every meal. Locals greet each other by saying “Nyam bai Howie nov?” (“Have you eaten rice yet?”). Even kroeung, a distinctive spice paste made with a base of lemongrass and galangal, is the foundation of many Cambodian dishes. So here is a list of 8 Cambodian street food that one must try!
8 Cambodian Street Food You Cannot Miss
1. Fish Amok
All the fish lovers, this is a dish that you should not miss. Fish moose served with coconut curry in a banana leaf is what you will get when you order Fish Amok. To enhance the flavor, a wide selection of spices such as lemongrass, kaffir lime, and turmeric root are added. This dish is also available in the neighboring countries, so how is it different? Well, it is special because of this Cambodian hero ingredient, a local herb, slok ngor. It adds a distinctive and a bitter flavor to this dish.
2. Lok Lak
Pork is the much favorite local meat and an important ingredient of this dish. Originated in Vietnam, when it entered into Cambodian street food menu, it became the topmost ordered dish. Stir-fried meat, topped with crispy lettuce, sweet tomato, onions and raw cucumber seasoned with lime juice and black pepper is what Lok Lak is. It has a traditional way of eating, that is wrap in a lettuce leaf and eat like a roll!
3. Sach Ko Chomchak
A popular afternoon and evening snack, a patina of aroma of these beef skewers spread like a blanket over every street of Cambodia. There are two types of servings, one is the grilled pork skewer served with veggies and pickle salad with rice and the other one is loaded with herbs and condiments. The former is an entire meal in itself and the latter is popular on the go snack.
As said earlier, the street food of Cambodia also have some rare and special items which are delicious and unique and to start off, this is the first of all such dishes – a fertilized embryo of a duck! Yes, you read it right, a duck baby and that too Cambodians, unlike Vietnam and Philippines, do not load it with herbs and spices. They serve it simple and plain along with a little garnish. It is one of the favorites of the locals and a good source of nutrient and protein. It should definitely be on your bucket list of what to eat in Cambodia!
5. Fried Spider
Well, talking about unconventional food items in what to eat in Cambodia menu card, here it is, the fried Tarantula. Spider, the name itself is sufficient to petrify most of us, but Cambodians not only hold it, they fry it, cook it and eat it. Yes, the fried spider is one of their specialties.
These human palm-sized spiders are coated with sugar, salt, crushed garlic and MSG and deep-fried until they are completely crisp and stiff. Describing the taste is the most difficult one! The legs of the spider are crispy and sweet whereas the abdomen and stomach are a bit bitter in taste but this combination of bitter and sweet is what this dish is all about!
6. Grilled Frog
As was said earlier, expect the unexpected in Cambodia. You might be hesitant at first sight, but go ahead and break the ice! This entire frog on the skewer is grilled on the barbecue, covered in the barbecue sauce and is made ready to get down to your stomach. It is tender, juicy and not to forget, just like chicken and is one of the most renowned Cambodian street food! Don’t worry, the frog won’t jump in your stomach!
7. Chive Cake
Originated in China, this cake is made up of rice flour and chopped chives but the taste is surprisingly delicious. It is one of the most common dishes found on the streets of Cambodia. It’s pan fried which makes its outer crust crispy and inner crust chewy and is dipped in sweet and sour fish sauce to give it an ethnic Southasian taste.
8. Grilled Giant Squid
Grilled food items are the common constituents of the street food of Cambodia menu card. Each grilled item is as delicious as the other but the main specialty is the grilled giant squid. An entire giant squid is being put upon a skewer, grilled for several minutes. The outer skin is caramelized to perfection and the inner part is chewy.
After grilling, it is taken off the skewer, cut into slices, topped up with herbs, and fresh veggies, drizzled with some fish liquid and served hot with the local sweet and sour fish sauce. It is definitely a thing to eat!
Summing It Up
Well, to witness the real street food of Cambodia, you need to get out of those sophisticated pubs and restaurants, onto the streets and taste that unique flavor of Cambodia. From Balut, chicken, and beef to fried tarantulas, bananas and grilled frogs, you will get a variety of Cambodian street food cooked in the most delicious manner.
Though Siem Reap’s street food scene and Phnom Penh’s roadside food markets are known for the most sought after and elaborate street food exhibitions and are a great rendezvous places for all the locals and tourists, all the above dishes are available in every city in the country as well.
During your stay in Cambodia, bite in and indulge in those unique delicacies and exotic flavors to truly take in the essence of the place.