Best traditional food of Cambodia

Sebastien Chaneac

Cambodian (or Khmer) food is not really well known internationally but there are some unique traditional Khmer foods we discovered whilst eating our way around the country. Dishes like Amok are unique to Cambodia and others like Beef Lok Lak are influenced from its neighbour: Vietnam.

This is the best traditional food of Cambodia we tried, loved and want to shout to the world about:

Fish Amok

Amok is the most well known traditional food of Cambodia. It is a thick fish-based curry which is also very popular in Laos and Thailand.

The fish amok recipe involves freshwater fish, lemongrass, chilli, turmeric and coconut milk. It is served in a banana leaf with rice and sometimes a fried egg. A beef, chicken or vegetarian variant (with tofu) can be made.

Traditional food of Cambodia: fish amok
Stefan showing off freshly made traditional Cambodian fish amok in our cooking class in Siem Reap

Beef Lok Lak

Beef lok lak is the Cambodian version of the Vietnamese “shaking beef” called Bo Luc Lak.

Our recipe for Cambodian beef lok lak includes chopped thin slices of beef, stir-fried with onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. The traditional dish is then served with rice and a fried egg for extra protein.

Traditional food of Cambodia: beef lok lak
Stefan proudly showing off his freshly made Cambodian beef lok lak at our cooking course in Siem Reap

Bugs

Fried crickets and silkworms for lunch anyone?

How about a platter of spring rolls with chopped red ants with a fried giant water bug, tarantula and scorpion? All of this topped with a samosa containing chopped feta, spinach and tarantula…? YUMMY !!

The taster platter at the BUGS Cafe in Siem Reap
The taster platter at the BUGS Cafe in Siem Reap: fried tarantula, scorpion, water bug, ant samosa and fritter and stir fried crickets and silkworms #nomnomnom

Ok, we're showing off now, but Cambodians make the most of what they have and cook these high protein, easy to maintain creatures for a crunchy and quite chewy meal.

We were too shy about trying cooked bugs from the streets vendor, but instead visited the famous BUGS Cafe in Siem Reap and sampled their discovery platter.

The barbecued tarantula was the most memorable: chewy body and crunchy legs!

Stefan tucking into a fried tarantula
Stefan tucking into a fried tarantula at the BUGS Cafe in Siem Reap

Another part of the discovery platter was the fried scorpion, which a tentative Sebastien actually quite enjoyed:

 

Khmer curries

Cambodian curries are similar to Thai curries, both using coconut milk as a base with a subtle sweetness. However, the Khmer curries are not as spicy as the Thai, containing fewer quantities of chillies.

Sebastien cooking a Khmer curry in Siem Reap
Sebastien cooking a Khmer curry at our cooking course in Siem Reap

Fresh spring rolls

Fresh spring rolls are not only tasty but, unlike the more traditional crispy spring rolls, they are healthier as they are not deep-fried. This is another strong example of Vietnamese influence to the Cambodian cuisine, very similar to the “Summer Rolls” of Saigon.

The filling comprises various blanched cooked ingredients, fresh herbs and cooked meat (left out for vegetarians). Rice paper is used as the outside filling and the spring rolls are served with a dipping sauce consisting of chilli, crushed peanuts and lime juice.

Stefan with ingredients for fresh spring rolls
Stefan getting ready to make fresh spring rolls in Siem Reap

Khmer mango salad

Mango salads are popular in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia. They are similar to the Thai papaya salad but involve instead a grated mango as the base.

Sebastien grating the mango for his salad
Sebastien grating the mango ready for his salad at our cooking course in Siem Reap

The Khmer mango salad also uses ingredients similar to the recipe for som tam papaya salad, in particular, lime juice mixed with crushed nuts, dried shrimp, chopped garlic, shallots, chilli, mint and fish sauce. This is a really healthy dish, which can be adapted for vegetarians and vegans by not using the dried shrimps and fish sauce.

Sebastien with Khmer mango salad
Sebastien showing off his freshly made mango salad

Angkor Beer

The national drink of Cambodia is named after its world-famous wonder and is the most widely consumed beer in Cambodia.

It is traditionally brewed at the Cambrew Brewery in Sihanoukville (Southwest of the country) and is a great way to wash down all the lovely culinary prizes from the Khmer kingdom.

Stefan with Angkor beer and fish amok
Stefan about to tuck into his first fish amok in Phnom Penh washed down with an Angkor beer
Travel advice for LGTBQ community

Advice for LGBTQ travellers to Cambodia

Cambodia is very welcoming of LGBTQ travellers and ranks as one of our most gay friendly places in Asia. We never had any issues anywhere in Cambodia. We were also delighted to find quite a large gay scene in Phnom Penh. Put it this way, Cambodia has never had any anti-gay laws in its history and as of 2018, steps towards gay marriage were taken with the passing of the Declaration of Family Relationship laws. For more, read our interview with local boy Aaron from Phnom Penh about gay life in Cambodia.

For more, watch our video of our travels as a gay couple in Cambodia:

 
Sebastien Chaneac

Sebastien is the co-founder, editor and author of nomadicboys.com. He is a tech geek, a total travel nerd and a food enthusiast. He spends the majority of his time planning Nomadic Boys' travels meticulously right down to the minute details. Sebastien has travelled to over 80 countries with his partner in crime and the love of his life, Stefan. He regularly shares his expertise of what it’s like travelling as a gay couple both on Nomadic Boys and on prominent publications ranging from Pink News, Matador, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian and many more. Originally from France, Sebastien moved to London in the early 2000s where he pursued a career as a computer programmer for Thompson Reuters and Bloomberg. He subsequently left it all to explore his passion for travelling around the world with Stefan to hand, and thus Nomadic Boys was born. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

12 thoughts on “Best traditional food of Cambodia”

  1. We’ve still yet to try a vegan version of the ‘beef lok lak’ – saw one in town but just not got round to it… however, i’ve really taken a shine to Cambodian food and there’s just so much to try. I love the kroeung curry paste (so unique) and have been experimenting with using it in other dishes.

    Lovely pictures of you both!

  2. I remember the food in Cambodia being some of my favorite from all of Southeast Asia. It was totally surprising because I hadn’t heard much of Cambodian cuisine before visiting – Thai food usually makes the news… But the food I ate in Cambodia as out of this world! I’m going to check out your Lok Lok recipe – that was one of my fav dishes

  3. I was in Cambodia in 2010 and forgot how good the curries were until I read this post. I do enjoying trying different kinds of food, but the bugs are a hard for me to swallow (no pun intended). Great post! Happy travels!

    • Hi Wayne and thanks for your comment. Totally agree about Cambodian curries. We were pleasantly surprised. The water bug particularly hard to swallow for us 🙂

  4. heu ! Comment dire ? Tous vos menus me tentent à deux exceptions près !!!
    Le 3 !!!
    Les “bug dishes” me fichent la chair de poule ! Et toi Stefan avec une tarantule qui te sort de la bouche c’est terrible ! Pas plus que le scorpion frit pour toi Seb
    Sinon les gars vous nous faites bien rire ! Et votre voyage est vraiment exceptionnel. Merci. Bisous

  5. Hello , my friends

    We missing you. Cambodia food is looks nice but i never eat scorpion . It looks ……..
    I love to see your blog very very interesting. When we see your travel blog we take nice energy and new information bets is happy to see you guys . Good luck your travel. have a nice journey!
    We can not say any nice words. We all the time takes good travel info that is amaizing . Thank you .
    Big hug

    Sunpath team

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