South East Asian food culture has permeated right throughout Western society. As any Australian can attest to, Thai and Vietnamese food in particular has established itself as a staple of the Australian food culture. Often overlooked, Cambodian cuisine is some of the most unique and interesting that South East Asia has to offer.
Cambodian food has common elements with its neighbors (Thailand, Vietnam, Laos) and also has significant influence from its French colonial past. For example, the famous ‘banh mi’ or as more commonly referred to by a Sydney native ‘Vietnamese Roll’ has its equivalent in Cambodia called num pang pâté – and it is just as delicious!
Upon arriving in Cambodia, you’ll notice right away the abundance of food stalls, restaurants and markets sprawled across the major cities. Everywhere you go there is something to snack on or fresh produce that will catch your eye. However, it is when the sun sets that Cambodian food culture comes to life.
From sweet tamarind to crocodile jerky the local night markets throughout Cambodia are sure to re-introduce you to the flavors you thought you knew, and flavors you didn’t know existed. As a self-confessed ‘Foodie’ I love the adventure that is the weird and wonderful tastes of Cambodia.
Speaking of weird… this brings me to the insects. Depending on the season Tarantulas are a delicacy (yes, Tarantulas and yes, they have seasons) however on any given day there are a variety of crickets, worms and grasshoppers that provide an important source of protein for locals (here I was spending money on protein powder!). Lightly fried with chili, lime, spices and VOILA! A crunchy little snack to match that ice cold Angkor Beer. Now I’d be lying to you if I told you the insects are delicious but surprisingly they actually aren’t too bad! And besides, eating a worm is a great snapchat story for all your mates back home.
There is however more conventional food options which are authentic to Cambodian culture. Street food favorites like fried noodles (mi char), fried rice (bay cha) and chive cakes (num kachay) are readily available. For more substantial meals, Lok Lak is a beautiful dish with zesty marinated meat (usually beef/chicken) served with boiled rice and a fried egg. Try a local favorite Amok Trey which uses a freshwater fish fillet covered in aromatic spices, peanuts, coconut milk and egg, wrapped in banana leaves a steamed. Or if you need a little ‘pick me up’ try some freshly made coffee served on ice with sweetened condensed milk.
Thai and Vietnamese food is becoming increasingly available in western nations and for travelers, it is hard to know what to expect from Cambodian food. It will remind you of other South East Asian dishes but will surprise you with its own uniqueness which reflects the rich ancient history of the Cambodian people. It is an extension of their history, their region, their family, their traditions and is sure to have you coming back for more!