“Nyam bai howie nov? (តើអ្នកបានញ៉ាំអង្ករហើយឬនៅ?)” is a common greeting in Cambodia which means “Have you eaten rice yet?”. A piece of very strong evidence that the history and culture of Khmer are written in their food. In this blog, you will learn about Khmer Food / Cambodian cuisine or mhoub Khmer (ម្ហូបខ្មែរ ).
It is undeniable that Cambodian cuisine / mhoub Khmer (ម្ហូបខ្មែរ) has much in common with the neighboring countries in Southeast Asia like Vietnam, Thai, and the Philippines. This fact can be drawn to their rich history that influenced their food.
Due to the fact that Cambodia and Vietnam has a history of being colonized by French, Cambodian cuisine / mhoub Khmer (ម្ហូបខ្មែរ) has a trace of French cuisine. The Chinese began arriving in the 13th century bringing their influence of Chinese cuisine like stir-frying and variations of rice noodles. Indians also brought their influence through curry dishes known as Kari (ការី) in Khmer.
Wandering around the biggest cities in Cambodia like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will give you a variety of food choices starting from traditional food, street food, down to modern food. But you should always remember that behind the unique taste of Cambodian cuisine / mhoub Khmer (ម្ហូបខ្មែរ ) lies a long history.
Cambodian Cuisine has many similarities to other countries but Cambodians ability to blend flavors and spices made them set their cuisine apart from others. It is composed of fresh herbs and condiments that add flavor to their food. Here are some ingredients and spices behind its distinct flavor.
Did you know that Cambodian Cuisine was established before the introduction of chili? This is a piece of perfect evidence that Cambodians mastered the use of spices and herbs to create natural flavors. Below are some of the common fermented sauces used in Cambodian cuisine.
|ប្រហុក||prahok||The taste of Cambodian food will not be complete without prahok (ប្រហុក). It is a fermented fish paste made from a small fish trey riel used in many dishes. It is considered to be a hallmark of Cambodian cuisine. It adds a salty tang to many dishes that are perfect to add flavor to Cambodian food or used as a dipping sauce.|
|គ្រឿង||kroeung||It is a spice paste made with pounded spices and other ingredients, such as turmeric, kaffir lime, lemongrass, and shallots. It is also one of the foundations of Cambodian Cuisine.|
|ទឹកត្រី||teuk trey||It is known as “fish sauce” in English. It is used to add salt to food and marinating meats. Just like in other cuisines, fish sauce can also be used as a dipping sauce.|
|ទឹក ||teuk si-iw||It is known as “soy sauce” in English. It is used the same way as fish sauce. It is a common ingredient and condiment used across the world.|
There are many other ingredients that Cambodians typically use to add flavors to their dishes like Mam – fermented fillets of snakehead fish and Kapi – (fermented shrimp paste). Knowing at least the common ingredients may give you a good start on knowing the taste behind the distinctive taste of Cambodian food.
Cambodian cuisines’ strength lies in their spices that make them distinct from other cuisines. Here are some common spices that Cambodians use in their food:
|ម្រេច ||m’rech||Black Pepper|
|ទិះដូង||ktih dohng||Coconut milk|
|ស្ករត្នោត||skor thnoat||Palm sugar|
Fruits are one of the key components of Cambodian food especially when it comes to beverages. From the large cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap down to rural areas, fruit beverages, or as they call them tuk krolok (ទឹកក្រឡុក) are very common thirst quenchers. As a matter of fact, they have their own fruits royal court:
|Khmer||Pronunciation||English Translation/ |
|ទុរេន||turen||Durian – The “King”|
|មង្ឃុត||mang khu||Mangosteen – The “Queen”|
|–||l’mut||Sapodilla -The “Prince”|
|ផ្លែទឹកដោះគោ||phlae tirk doh ko||Milk fruit – The “Princess”|
On the other hand, vegetables are also part of Cambodian cuisine. It is used in soups and stews. Stir fry vegetable dishes are the one of biggest influences of Chinese cuisine. Here are the examples of vegetables in Khmer.
|សណ្ដែកកួរ||sandaek kua||Yard-long bean|
|សណ្ដែក ||sandaek bandoh||Bean sprouts|
|ស្ពៃក្តោប||spei sor or spei k’dob||Cabbage|
|pot lueng |
|Yellow corn |
Thanks to Cambodia’s richness in waterways like Mekong River, Bassac River, and Tonlé Sap lake, their access to fresh seafood and freshwater fish and prawns are massive. Aside from seafood, a variety of meats, although considered luxurious, and also insects are also part of Cambodian food. You can also see the influence of Chinese cuisine through Char siu and Siu mei (Kvai), one of the most popular food from Cantonese Cuisine. Let’s learn how to say the common meat and seafood in Khmer food:
|សាច់ ||sach moan||Chicken|
Can you imagine visiting a country without trying their food? Of course not. A travel experience is not complete without trying their cuisine. When we talk about Southeast Asian countries, Cambodian dishes are not typically mentioned. But now, we are going to discover some of Khmer food that you must taste when visiting Cambodia.
It is impossible to visit Cambodia without tasting or even hearing about Amok which is their national dish. You might be offered different variations of Amok but you must first try the most authentic one – Fish Amok. This famous Khmer food is made of freshwater fish are smothered in coconut milk or coconut cream, fish sauce, eggs, and palm sugar. Kroeung is also added to add a distinct Cambodian food taste. Traditionally, it is cooked by steaming and served in banana leaves shaped into a bowl. So if you are planning to visit Cambodia, Fish Amok should be on your list.
This Khmer food is well-known as you walk to the streetside vendors and restaurants. Nom Banh Chok means “rice noodle”. This dish is often eaten during breakfast. It is topped with turmeric root, kaffir lime, and a fish-based green curry gravy made from lemongrass. Sometimes, cucumbers, banana flowers, bean sprouts, and green beans are also added up to add more taste.
Do you want a perfect day to start your day? Try some Kuy Teave or noodle soup that is perfect as a breakfast dish. It is made originally developed of Chinese descent. It is served with garnishes such as bean sprouts, lettuce leaves, lime juice, fried garlic, and many other ingredients. But the most extravagant version of Kuy Teave is from Phnom Penh wherein all the garnishes are included topped by pork belly, chopped pork offal, Mekong river prawns, and many others. This dish has evolved in different versions through time.
This dish is a simple thinly sliced pork marinated in garlic or coconut milk before grilling. This is served with white rice as well as some fresh vegetables. It can be easily found in the street and restaurants.
One of the famous traditional Cambodian dishes is made with stir-fried strips of beef and served with lettuce, tomatoes, rings of onions, and cucumbers. It is also served with rice to complete your meal. This is known across the country so expect that it tastes different depending on the chefs and location.
It is a dish popular in any household because of the fondness of the Cambodians in sourness. The taste of the sour soup comes from prahok, tamarind, lime juice, kaffir lime, or herbs. One of the common versions is Samlor Machu Siem Reap which is made of bamboo shoots and tiny freshwater shrimp.
In English, it is called Green Mango Salad. It is a dish made of sliced green mango, pickled cucumber, sliced tomatoes, fresh chili, onions, peppers, basil, and fish sauce.
This dish is made of whole fresh crabs fried in garlic sauce topped with Kampot green peppers. The combination of the sweetness of crab meat together with the spices and crunch of Kampot pepper will surely satisfy your taste buds.
This dish is a marinated beef salad with lime juice, fish sauce, bell peppers, mint, garlic, and spicy chilies. So if you are looking for a perfect snack in a beer garden, this is perfect because of its bold flavors.
From the variety of seafood, meat, and soup dishes, Khmer food also includes insects like red tree ants and tarantula. If you have bold taste buds and brave enough to try it, this dish can be easily seen in the streets of major cities. It is commonly deep-fried with chili.
Traditional Khmer food may be an acquired taste for foreigners who visit Cambodia but eventually, you will also find yourself craving the local food in Cambodia. Cambodian cooking styles have varieties from steamed dishes down to deep-fried dishes. Treat your taste buds to another cuisine that is different from where you came from. Now that you learn the different dishes, what dish in Cambodia that you want to try?
After knowing the different dishes, let us now learn some helpful words and phrases that may come in handy when you have your food trip in Cambodia.
Learning languages such as Khmer will really help you enjoy your whole adventure. Can you imagine going on a trip without even talking with the locals? So, to help you learn some essential words, Ling App is a good option. Make your language learning experience fun and convenient.