More subtle than Thai food, and not quite as intricate as Vietnamese, Cambodian cuisine came as a delightful surprise to our palates mid-way through our SE Asian journeys.
Characterized by gentle curries and warm spices, we were pleasantly surprised with the offerings of Khmer Cuisine.
Many Cambodian dishes are based around the use of the coconut. Above, a lady makes her own coconut milk on the side of the street by grating coconut flesh, and then running it through a press to separate out the milk from the pulp.
Cambodian’s national dish is the fish Amok. Traditionally steamed and served in a coconut or in a dish formed from banana leaf, this gentle but flavourful dish is a real delight for the tastebuds.
Beef Lok Lak is another dish that Cambodia is well-known for. You consume it by wrapping portions of the meat and salad ingredients in a lettuce leaf, then dipping that in a tasty dipping sauce (the best part of it, Brendon reckons.)
Though we didn’t indulge in any of these ourselves, frog legs were a common menu item in restaurants. We did, however, have a rather close encounter with them at a local market.
If you fancy some Western comfort while in Cambodia… perhaps a nice sandwich on a French baguette, a slice of cheesecake, or some gelato, look no further than the Blue Pumpkin. This French bakery/restaurant is a haven for tourists seeking the comforts of home. The unique white couch set-up lined with pillows is the perfect place to crash while you enjoy a yummy bite or two, use the free wifi to plan the next leg of your adventure, and take a break from the scorching temperatures outside.
At the Singing Tree Cafe, we enjoyed an excellent mango salad, along with a generous serving of home-made kumara chips.
Khmer soup, from the Khmer Soup Restaurant, was a bowl of flavourful goodness topped with fresh herbs.
We found Cambodia to be extremely tourist-friendly, with many appealing dining options.
The decor in Cambodian restaurants is usually very colorful, with napkins and tablecloths in bright hues.
Our favorite Cambodian dining experience was at Sugar Palm in Siem Reap. Set up in a historic villa, the restaurant had rave reviews, so we decided to check it out.
Almost soufflé-like in texture, Sugar Palm’s Amok was quite different than most other Amoks we had tried, but lived up to the hype and won our vote for best Amok in Cambodia.
Another culinary masterpiece that we had the pleasure of consuming was Pro-Hok Khtiss, a pork dipping sauce, similar in texture to a bolognese sauce, which is served with a plate of raw vegetables for dipping. The sauce had fantastic flavour.
With not as many dishes based around grains in Cambodia, I found it was the easiest country in which to stick to a Paleo lifestyle.
It was in Cambodia that we first came across the opportunity to support local businesses trying to make a difference in the lives of the marginalized. Friends is one example. As a reputable restaurant, “Friends” has worked to build the futures of former street children and marginalized young people in Phnom Penh since 1994. The restaurant employs teens who have had a rough go, and they work their way up through the hospitality chain- greeting, serving, and then working in the kitchen. They gain valuable training from hospitality and culinary professionals that will help them build a future for themselves.
We had a great dining experience there, and definitely recommend it to anyone looking to enjoy a tasty meal while supporting an excellent cause. Next door to the restaurant, there is a gift shop which sells some super cool jewelery and other products hand-made by at-risk youth. “Friends” is just one of many organizations established to help make a local impact. In a future post, we will highlight other local businesses trying to make a difference for their communities.
We felt especially inspired by Cambodian cuisine, perhaps because because of its novelty… or perhaps because of its awesomeness. It’s not everyday you get the chance to indulge in Cambodian delicacies… but let us tell you, should you ever get the chance, indulge away!