As you stroll around Phnom Penh's busy markets and bustling streets, you will pass hundreds of food stalls selling delicious morsels, ranging from pat on fresh bread to barbecued shrimps. It seems as if the charcoal powered woks, grills, and ovens never have a chance to cool down.
Phnom Penh's food culture is a product of the long and rich history and influence from its neighboring countries. The Khmer period, from approximately 800 to 1400, is considered one of the most defining in Cambodian history in terms of art and culinary development. This is why many traditional Cambodian dishes are referred to as Khmer style.
Apart from Khmer and street food, Phnom Penh is quickly becoming a modern city with a wide range of international cuisine. However, Phnom Penh has long been influenced by China, Thailand, and Vietnam in terms of cuisine, and it is easy to find Cambodian versions of the Vietnamese Bah Minh and cold Thai Salads.
A Southeast Asia Overview for a Shorter Vacation
- Drink freshly squeezed juice while exploring a market
- Sit down to a cup of coffee at the Correspondents Club
- Sample one of Cambodia's many famous dishes such as Fish Amok
- Try a fusion dish or western classic at one of the numerous western restaurants
Eating in Cambodia
What is Cambodian food? Cambodian cuisine (commonly referred to as Khmer cuisine) is the traditional food of the local people. Most meals consist of multiple dishes, eaten in family style. Khmer cuisine features contrasting flavors like sweet-sour, spicy-savory, and bitter-creamy. The cuisine is heavy on herbs and spices, as well as on dipping sauces, garnishes and condiments.
When traveling, it is often most convenient to eat in your hotel. If you travel with Asia Highlights then every hotel you stay in will offer a full breakfast with western and local options.
While not every hotel will have the same spread, below are some of the dishes you might find in the morning. In addition to these, you can expect your traditional western fair like eggs, toast, and maybe even a little bacon.
Walk around any market (they open at sunrise) and you will quickly find a vendor slopping porridge into cheap throw-away bowls. The porridge itself is standard but the proof is in the condiments. Lime juice, spices, fresh herbs, and pickled vegetables are all offered as toppings.
Although you can find it all day, most locals prefer Kuy Teav soup for breakfast. This is your standard pork and noodle soup with a dash of Cambodian condiments. Nourishing and filling, this dish is a great way to start a day with something hearty yet simple.
Kuy Teav has been compared to Vietnamese Pho but anyone who has sampled both will advocate their differences. Toppings include: beef, pork, fried garlic, scallions, and even meatballs so you can try it in many different ways.
The standard Cambodian lunch is rice, the staple food, with some meat and vegetables. While there are more delicious dishes to try that deviate from this model, this is the standard lunch fair. You may be tempted to try something more interesting than a simple meal of rice and vegetables but do not shy away from the chance to eat like a local.
You might find yourself thinking, "is this Chinese food?" when looking at the simple meal of rice and vegetables. While Cambodian food has been heavily influenced by Chinese cuisine, you will find that the flavors are very different.
Green Mango Salad
Do not confuse this with Thai Mango Salad, especially not in front of a Phnom Penh local! Cambodians love the mangos that grow regionally, and this salad is made with magnum opus.
Sweet and sour, savory and tangy, crunchy and refreshing - Green Mango Salad has it all. Shaved green mango, fish sauce, lime juice, carrots, peppers, and fresh herbs like mint, make this dish a wild ride of flavors but without a heavy caloric intake to regret later.
During the middle of a hot Cambodian afternoon, a bowl of noodles might sound like a bit too much, so do not forget about this dish.
Try it at Friends' Restaurant. Friends' is a special restaurant that works to benefit local disadvantaged youths by offering them employment. They are also famous for their delicious Khmer style food.
Rice with Vegetables and Meat
Why get fancy with a dish like fried tarantulas or fish Amok (fish curry)? At RomDeng Resturant you can experience both of these options, or you can settle down to a simple lunch of rice with your choice of meat or fish and vegetables.
If you travel with Asia Highlights, our helpful staff can help you order just what you want! RomDeng is the sister restaurant to Friends' and also works to help get street children employment in the restaurant industry.
So no matter wether you are interested in the fancy, the exotic, or just in plain veggies and rice, then Cambodia, and RomDeng in particular, is a good place for you to eat lunch.
Fruit juice and iced coffee are the two main favorite drinks in Phnom Penh. Are you saying, coffee? Yes! Cambodia used to be a French Indochina Colony and has, ever since, been in love with coffee. Below are a few of the best places to stop for a drink.
Foreign Correspondents Club Phnom Penh
The FCCPP also has a complete lunch and dinner menu, meaning you can stop for coffee and stay for a meal. The building is home to the Foreign Correspondents Club, where international writers can receive a discount on food and drinks while getting the local scuttlebutt.
Location: 363 Sisowath Quay, corner Street 178, near the Royal Palace
Daughters of Cambodia - Visitor Center Cafe
Daughters of Cambodia is an organization that helps disadvantaged Cambodian women. A portion of all of the cafe's profits go to this cause. In addition to being in a place where you can learn more about these issues and daily life in Cambodia, the DoC Cafe has an excellent food and drink menu.
The coffee is a selling point, but they also have daily and seasonal specials to keep things interesting. If you are not looking for caffeine, their crumbled chicken is a big hit.
Location: 321 Sisowath Quay, The Riverside, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Central Market and Night Market
Both the Central and Night Markets are hotbeds for fresh fruit. What comes with fresh fruit? Fruit juice and smoothies! Walk around any market in Cambodia and you will find a local vendor pressing fruit with large metal machines.
Simply point to the fruit and the size you want and the pressing will begin.
If you prefer a smoothie to juice, or if you prefer to be in a shop while ordering and not in a crowded market, then head to Backyard Cafe. Backyard is arguably the most famous smoothie shop in the entire city.
They use the freshest ingredients and the size of their menu ensures that even the pickiest customer will leave satisfied.
Location: House 11b, Street 246, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The Asia Highlights Experience
Deciding where to eat can sound easy until you get to a new city and have no idea where to start. Avoid this confusion by letting one of our helpful guides point you in the right direction.
The Asia Highlights Experience includes knowledgeable and helpful guides and staff to make all of these arrangements for you. Want a room close to the pool? We can call and ask. Need a vegetarian option? We can do that too.
You might like to read
Best of Cambodia
Top Attractions in Cambodia
Family Holidays in Cambodia
Top Attractions in Siem Reap
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