Cambodia's food is all about the contrasts and suits every tastes: sweet and bitter, salty and sour, fresh and cooked. It shares many dishes with its neighbors, and you'll find noodle soup similar to Vietnamese phở and sandwiches like bánh mì, Indian-inspired curries, Thailand's refreshing salads and sour soups and noodles and stir fries handed down from years of Chinese migration. French Indochina colony also left a gastronomy heritage to the country. Cambodians love to drink coffee in the morning and eat a baguette with their soup.
The most important part of every meal in Cambodia, like in many other Asian countries, is rice. In fact, Cambodians usually greet each other by saying “Nyam bai howie nov?” (“Have you eaten rice yet?”). You should try and say it when in Cambodia! People will be pleased. At lunch and dinner in Cambodian homes, each person is served a large bowl of rice and they can hardly imagine a meal without it.
Don’t expect to eat cereals or toast at breakfast, it would be a shame not to taste one of Cambodia’s typical breakfast called Bobor (rice porridge). Other typical dishes for breakfast in Cambodia are:
- Nom banh chok, sometimes called the Cambodian national dish: rice noodles topped with a fish-based green curry gravy.
- Kuy teav, a soup made from pork or beef bones and rice vermicelli and topped with fried shallots, green onions, and bean sprouts.
- Bai sach chrouk, is one of Cambodia’s simplest and most delicious breakfast options (made of pork and rice).
Snacking is a popular Cambodian pastime, particularly snacking on street food. If you’re worried about getting sick, the safest street foods are those that are cooked in front of you and served hot, which kills off bacteria. Ice in Cambodia is also usually fine; it’s specially made in ice factories. You will find all kinds of snacks in Cambodia so we suggest that you pick some of them and just taste them!
One of the most popular among young Cambodians is the Cha houy teuk (jelly dessert). After school in Phnom Penh, young people crowd around street stands serving Khmer desserts for 1,000 riels (US $0.25). Some have sticky rice or sago drenched in coconut milk and topped with taro, red beans, pumpkin, and jackfruit.
Lunch and Dinner
- Fish amok: Fish amok is one of the most well-known Cambodian dishes. It is a fish mousse with fresh coconut milk and kroeung, a type of Khmer curry paste made from lemongrass, turmeric root, garlic, shallots, galangal, and finger root, or Chinese ginger.
- Khmer red curry: The dish features beef, chicken or fish, eggplant, green beans, potatoes, fresh coconut milk, lemongrass, and kroeung and it is mess spicy than the curries of neighboring Thailand. This delicious dish is usually served at special occasions in Cambodia such as weddings and religious holidays. Khmer red curry is usually served with bread (a heritage from the French Colony)
- Red tree ants with beef and holy basil: You'll find all sorts of insects on the menu in Cambodia. Tarantulas included. In this dish, ants are stir-fried with ginger, lemongrass, garlic, shallots and thinly sliced beef. Lots of chilies complete the aromatic dish, without overpowering the delicate sour flavor that the ants impart to the beef. This meal is served with rice, and if you're lucky you'll also get a portion of ant larvae in your bowl!
Those who are looking to follow a vegetarian, vegan, or halal diet will find many options in Cambodia.