Cambodian Cuisine and Food

Cambodian (Khmer) food, although not unknown in the United States, is not as familiar to most as most Americans as is other Southeast Asian cuisine. This is probably due to the fact that Cambodians are not aw widely spread in large numbers in the U.S. as are the Vietnamese, Thai and other Southeast Asians, and there are few Cambodian restaurants in this country.

The main staples of Cambodian food are rice and fish. Over 75 percent of Cambodian’s protein, in fact, is from fish and seafood.

Most Cambodian food is either boiled, fried, or stir-fried, although, due to the French colonial influence, bread is also common, and can be bought from street stalls in most of the towns and cities. Never bland, most Cambodian dishes contain a variety of spices, including chili, coriander, basil, ginger, mint and cardamom.

Sour soups made with fish or meats are quite popular, and are usually served with sauces made from shrimp paste, tamarind, or honey, with chili. Fish sauce serves as a basic substitute for salt in most Cambodian dishes. Noodle dishes, either soup or salads, are another popular Cambodian dish, and are served as snacks or main meals at street stalls all over the country.

Spicy salads made from raw prawns, meat, green papaya, crab, or chopped raw meat with chili and other spices are a Khmer specialty, and make a great mid-day or afternoon snack. They are also included in most multi-course meals.

A unique Cambodian specialty dish is amok, which is made from minced fish with coconut milk and a variety of spices. Cooked and served in a banana leaf, this dish has a tantalizing combination of sweet and spicy flavors that make it a memorable dining experience.

No Cambodian meal is complete without rice (the favorite is Angkor lar, or ‘beautiful rice’) and hot and sour soup containing chili and lemon grass.

As is the custom in most of Asia, the dishes, main dish and condiments, are placed in the center of the table, and diners help themselves. Traditionally, Cambodians sat on the floor around a low table, but Western influence has introduced the high table and chairs. As in Thailand, a fork and spoon are the main implements, knives being unnecessary since food is cut up into manageable portions during cooking. Chopsticks are also used, but not as often as in Vietnam or in East Asia.

Cambodian cuisine is distinctive and unique but, unlike many other Asians, Cambodians have few food biases. They are willing to try any sort of meat or seafood that is served, making dining in Cambodia a never-to-be-forgotten experience.