Eating and Drinking in Cambodia

Eating and Drinking in Cambodia

By Wendy Updated Oct. 19, 2021

Cambodian cuisine is rich in flavors and has been influenced by a lot of different cultures. The dishes are fairly simple, but full of nutrients and perfect for a well-balanced diet. There is an abundance of tropical fruit to make fresh juice with exotic taste.

The flavors of Cambodian meals are strong and contrasting, with a lot of spices (often fermented) and fresh fish coming directly from the numerous rivers around the country. Rice, vegetables and especially fruit are an imperative for every Cambodian meal.

Here is a guide for eating and drinking in Cambodia, without forgetting table manners. Check it out!

Cambodian Drinking

Highlights

  • Taste delicious fish and meat dishes
  • Cambodian food is rich in seasonings and herbs
  • Every dish is a perfect combination of diverse flavors
  • Try the most renown of the traditional Khmer cuisine: the street food
Khmer Cuisine
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Flavors of Cambodia

The core of Cambodian cuisine is water, rice and fish. The Mekong River runs through the country with huge flows of water, and the rural life revolves around it.

Khmer cuisine has been heavily influenced by Thai and Vietnamese food, though it still conserves its traditional flavors.

Other strong influences come from 1) France, who dominated the country for 90 years: baguettes and many colonial products from South America such as butter, broccoli and chocolate, are its heritage; and 2) China: variations of rice noodles are extremely widespread.

Among the most common ingredients are:

  • Fermented sauces: There are a lot of different sauces, and the most common one is mam, usually made of fermented fillets of snakehead fish.
  • Spices: Black pepper is the most common spice, along with Kampot pepper. Jungle cardamom and tamarind are also commonly employed, along with palm sugar, chili, ginger, star anise and much more.
  • Vegetables: They come mostly from Chinese cuisine; for example, winter melon and bitter melon, luffa, water spinach and yardlong beans. Many stir-fried dishes use baby corn, cabbage, ginger and bamboo shoots.
  • Fruit: It is a fundamental part of Khmer cuisine. The most popular are mangosteen, durian, and sapodilla.
  • Fish and meat: Freshly caught fish is the most common meat in the Cambodian diet, but chicken and pork are popular as well.

Eating in Cambodia

Cambodian food is a combination of Thai, Vietnamese, French, Chinese and Khmer cuisine. Street food is extremely important.

Breakfast often consists of rice porridge or noodles. Broth with meat or fish is usually served during lunch or dinner, along with stir-fried dishes with beef, pork or chicken. Desserts often consist of fresh fruit such as coconut, banana or mangos.

Typical Khmer Dishes

Fish Amok

The most famous Cambodian dish is delicious stewed catfish with a curry-like cream, made of lemongrass, ginger, turmeric and coconut milk. The fish is soft and melts in your mouth. It is usually served in a basket made from banana leaves.

Everyone in Cambodia has a family recipe for this dish.

Lap Khmer

This popular dish is a beef salad, marinated in lime juice. It is seasoned with garlic, shallots, fish sauce, basil, mint, bell peppers and a lot of chili. It is extremely fresh and spicy, with a strong flavor that is hard to forget.

Nom Banh Chok

You can find this dish on the streets early in the morning. A lot of people eat it for breakfast. It is fresh and simple: Rice noodles in a green fish broth are topped with a lot of bean sprouts, cucumbers, banana flowers and other greens.

It costs about US$1 and is the perfect breakfast or a delicious afternoon snack.

How a Cambodian meal is served

A meal in Cambodia usually consists of more than one dish. People combine dishes of contrasting flavors, cooking styles, and ingredients.

Breakfast is eaten quite early in the morning, and lunch will be quick. The main meal of the day is dinner. Rice, meat and fish will be served, and there will be around five different dishes.

Rice is the staple of Cambodia, and it is used both as a side dish or as an ingredient. Plain white rice is served with every meal, but rice is also used to make desserts or street food snacks, such as deep-fried rice cakes.

Recommended restaurants in Cambodia

In Cambodia you can find a type of restaurant that you may not find anywhere else: Training restaurants. They try to teach disadvantaged young adults some useful skills. Among the most famous are:

  • Haven: This restaurant opened in 2011 in Siem Reap. It gives work and valuable training to kids from orphanages and safe shelters. Every year they take new trainees.
  • Marum and Romdeng: Both are part of TREE Restaurants, a global alliance that employs underprivileged teenagers and teaches them working skills. All the profits of the restaurants are invested in the students working there.

Or try the traditional restaurants. If you are in Phnom Penh, it is recommended to check out Mok Mony to taste some delicious Khmer food at a reasonable price.

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Drinking in Cambodia

Because of the high temperatures, it is important to drink enough. You can find a wide variety of drinks, ranging from fruit juices to local beers. Tea and coffee are very popular, mostly because of the French influence.

Fruit juices

Fruit is important to the local cuisine: Fruit juices are a must when you are travelling around the country.

Iced lemon tea and lemonade are the most popular fruit drinks. Smoothies are popular as well; they are an important part of night life. There are juice stalls everywhere, with their blenders and fruit displays. You can choose to add coconut milk, sugar syrup, condensed milk or a raw egg.

Local Beers

The two most famous Cambodian beers are Anchor and Angkor. Beer Lao and Tiger are also popular, but mostly among foreigners.

Cambodian beers are really affordable and offer a wide range of qualities.

Angkor is brewed in Sihanoukville, and it is considered Cambodia's national beer. The beer is light and refreshing; a must for many locals and tourists during hot days. The Extra Stout variety has a strong coffee-like taste and a dark, dense color.

Other popular brands are ABC, another dark beer with a strong flavor; Cambodia Lager, brewed with European ingredients, it has a golden color and is very drinkable. Klang Beer is extra strong and smooth: it is easily recognizable because of the elephant on the can.

Table manners

When travelling to a foreign country, it is important to know and respect local customs, especially when eating. It is easy to overlook local customs if you don't know them. Here a quick guide:

  • Meals are served with common dishes put in the middle of the table. Everyone picks up their own food and uses their own bowls to eat.
  • Cutlery: Cambodians usually don't use a knife, but just a spoon and a fork (or chopsticks). Use the fork to push the food on the spoon; it is impolite to put the fork in your mouth. Cutlery that has been in your mouth is not used to pick up food from common dishes.
  • Help yourself to spices, seasonings and sauces.pular are mangosteen, durian, and sapodilla.
  • Slurping and lip smacking are welcomed; it is a way to enjoy your food.
  • Discarded paper and bones go straight on the floor or in a bin.
  • Do not blow your nose at the table.
  • It is considered poor etiquette to finish everything you have in your bowl.
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