10 Khmer Food That Will Satisfy Your Cravings

April 5, 2021

"Nyam bay howie nov? (តើអ្នកបានញ៉ាំបាយហើយឬនៅ?)  is a common greeting in Cambodia that 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 ).

 

Cambodian Cuisine: A Taste Of Their History

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 Food: Ingredients Behind Its Taste

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.

Fermented Sauces

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.

Khmer Pronunciation Definition
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​ស៊ីអ៊ីវ 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.

Spices

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:

Khmer Pronunciation English Translation
ម្រេច​ខ្មៅ m'rech Black Pepper
រមៀត romeat Turmeric
ដើមអម្ពិល ampil Tamarind
ផ្កាយ poykahk Star anise
ទិះដូង ktih dohng Coconut milk
ស្លឹកគ្រៃ slirk krey Lemongrass 
ស្ករ skor Sugar
ស្ករត្នោត skor thnoat Palm sugar
អំបិល ambel Salt
ខ្ញី khnhey Ginger
រំដេង romdeng Galangal

Fruits And Vegetables

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/
Definition
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.

Khmer Pronunciation Translation
សណ្ដែកកួរ sandaek kua Yard-long bean
សណ្ដែក​បណ្ដុះ sandaek bandoh Bean sprouts
ម្រះ m'reah Bitter melon
ត្រឡាច tralach Winter melon
ស្ពៃក្តោប spei sor or spei k'dob Cabbage
ត្រយ៉ូងចេក phkachek Banana flower
ត្រសក់ trasak Cucumber
ពោតលឿង
ពោតស
pot lueng
pot s
Yellow corn
White corn
ការ៉ុត ka rot Carrot
ដំឡូងជ្វា damlaungochvea Sweet Potato
វ៉ាន់ស៊ុយ veansaouy Cilantro/Coriander
ផ្កាខាត់ណាខៀវ spei khieu Broccoli

Meat And Seafood

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:

Khmer Pronunciation English Translation
ត្រី trey Fish
សាច់គោ sach ko Beef
សាច់​មាន់ sach moan Chicken
សាច់ជ្រូក sach chrouk Pork
សាច់ទា sach tia Duck 

 

Discovering 10 Crave-Worthy Khmer Food

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.

1. Fish Amok / Amok Trey (អាម៉ុកត្រី)

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.

2. Num Banh Chok / Nom Banh Chok (នំបញ្ចុក)

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.

3. Kuy Teav (គុយទាវ)

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.

4. Bai Sach Chrouk (សាច់ជ្រូកនិងបាយ)

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.

5. Lok lak (ឡុកឡាក់)

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.

6. Samlor Machu (សម្លម្ជូរ)

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.

7. Salat Svay Baitang (សាឡាត់ស្វាយបៃតង)

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.

8. Kampot Pepper Crab (ក្តាមម្រេចកំពត)

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.

9. Lap Khmer (ឡាបខ្មែរ)

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.

10. Fried Tarantula

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 are 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?

 

Khmer Food Phrases

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.

  • Food/ ma-hoob (អាហារ)
  • Eat / briphok (បរិភោគ)
  • Restaurant /  phochniyodthan (ភោជនីយដ្ឋាន)
  • Delicious / ch-nang (ឆ្ងាញ់)
  • I’m hungry / knoym-kleam (ខ្ញុំ​ឃ្លាន)

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.

 

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2 comments on “10 Khmer Food That Will Satisfy Your Cravings”

  1. តើអ្នកបានញ៉ាំអង្ករហើយឬនៅ? on your first sentence
    Please correct តើអ្នកបានញ៉ាំបាយហើយឬនៅ?
    បាយ means rice that you already cooked.

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