With the enormous Tonlé Sap lake in the north, the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers running through the center, and the Gulf of Thailand at the southern coast, seafood is part of daily eating and always sparkling fresh. Often, it’s simply grilled or fried. These small squid were grilled on a tableside brazier, and like so many Cambodian dishes, this dish is all about the trimmings: sliced cucumber, Asian basil, and a combination of fish sauce, garlic, chili and lime juice. When you skewer a little of everything together, you get a delicious combination of flavors and textures: tender squid, cool cucumber crunch, snappy basil, and sweet-spicy sauce.
This fish curry is often called Cambodia’s national dish, and for good reason—its presentation is beautiful and it tastes even better. Fish amok gets its signature flavor from kroeung, an aromatic curry paste made with lemongrass, galangal, fresh turmeric, shallots, garlic, and a little chili. The kroeung is mixed with coconut milk, which turns a beautiful golden yellow. Mild white fish and shredded kaffir lime leaves are added to the curry, which is steamed in a banana-leaf cup.
This green vegetable grows profusely all over Cambodia in damp soil and watery patches near rice paddies
Morning glory has hollow green stems, thin leaves, and a mild, grassy flavor that tastes similar to spinach.
BAI SACH CHROUK (BBQ PORK AND RICE)
One of Cambodia’s most popular breakfast dishes, and one that would be great all day if there was any bai sach chrouk left past 9 am. No two recipes are the same, but all feature pork marinated in garlic, soy, and coconut milk slowly grilled over charcoal, where it becomes smoky and caramelized. The pork is sliced thin, sprinkled with scallions and served over rice and fresh sliced cucumbers and green tomatoes, with a small bowl of gingery, lightly pickled cucumber, daikon, and green mango on the side.
KUY TEAV (NOODLE SOUP)
This popular soup is made with clear, light, nourishing pork broth. People start eating kuy teav at breakfast, but you’ll find it all day.The meat toppings vary: it can have slices of pork, beef, meatballs, or chunks of juicy poached chicken. The soup also has some greens, and it’s garnished with scallions and fried garlic.
Sweet, sour, spicy, and salty: this addictive snack hits them all. Green, unripe fruit, including various types of mango, plus guava, ambarella, jujube, otaheite apple, tamarind, and more, are sliced and sprinkled with chili-and-salt spiked sugar. The fruit is juicy and crunchy, some bites have a hint of natural sweetness, and others are puckeringly sour.
These short, fat rice noodles are stir-fried with leafy greens, soy sauce and fish sauce. As the soft noodles cook, they pick up wok char and absorb the flavorful sauce.Lort cha is topped with a fried egg and squeezes of sweet chili sauce and spicy chili paste.
GREEN MANGO SALAD
Cambodians love mangoes and eat them at every stage of ripeness, and the greenest ones become shredded salad. Similar to Thai green papaya salad, Cambodian green mango salad is more refreshing and citrusy, and less pungent and spicy, with that same winning combination of sweet, sour, savory, and crunchy.
KHMER MUSLIM BEEF CURRY
Chunks of beef are cooked until spoon-tender in a red curry made from ginger, coriander, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, onions, cardamom and palm sugar. Khmer Muslim beef curry is served with baguette for dipping—or for making a delicious, and very sloppy, sandwich.
KHMER NOODLES / NOM BANH CHOK
This dish is technically called nom banh chok, but locals and visitors alike usually just call it Khmer noodles. Thin rice noodles, which are stored in their basket in a beautiful, flower-like spiral, are combined with handfuls of raw vegetables, including shredded banana leaf, bean sprouts, diced cucumber, and long beans, plus fresh mint and basil.
KHMER ICED COFFEE
It’s important to stay cool in such a hot country, and Cambodians have figured out a winning method: Rich, dark, strong-brewed coffee poured over a full cup of ice with sweetened condensed milk. The drink is similar to Vietnamese iced coffee, but Cambodian coffee beans are roasted with a little fat, either butter or lard, which deepens the flavor.
BANANAS, GRILLED AND FRIED
Bananas grow all over Cambodia and are available in an assortment of colors and sizes—red and green, standard yellow, large and small—and the baby yellow bananas are the star of the street-snack show.The heat makes them soft and a little gooey, with caramelized spots on the outside. Fried bananas become melty from their swim in the hot oil, and the crunchy outside is just a little sweet.
NUM SANG KHYA L’PEOU (PUMPKIN CUSTARD)
Local pumpkins, which look more like kabocha squash than jack-o-lanterns, are scooped out and filled with a mixture of egg yolk, palm sugar, and coconut milk, then baked or steamed.Slices of pumpkin custard are served at room temperature with a scoop of shaved ice and coconut milk poured on top—yet another dish where all the elements combine to make something more exciting than the separate parts.