Sometimes, I think Suraj and I are closet hedonists. We derive way too much pleasure from good food and drink. When we travel, we get just as excited by what is the local delicacy or drink as we do about discovering a hidden alley or seeing a forgotten monument. Everything tickles our fancy – where to eat the best truffle pasta in Amalfi, what to eat at the neighborhood taverna in Fira, what is the best coffee joint in Ubud, what is the drink I must absolutely taste while in Florence? Endless questions that fascinate us and drive us to discover little epicurean secrets even at the end of an exhausting day.
While everyone else might not have the same keen appreciation for food (let’s call it that, and not hedonism. :P), I think a good meal while traveling is definitely one of life’s finer pleasures. So, here is the list of things you must eat or drink while in Cambodia.
Angkor/Cambodia Beer: This is the cheapest beer option in Cambodia, and you will definitely drink a lot of it while in Pub Street in Siem Reap. This is not your fine Craft beer, just the local lager that you will enjoy knocking back at the end of a hot day in the temples.
Rice Wine: The only equivalent to rice wine that I can think of is Fenny from Goa. It will burn down your gullet like a missile shot down your throat, and truly, the one reason you will drink it is to have had the experience. If you can go beyond that first sip, well, you have my everlasting respect!!
Cocktails on Pub street in Siem Reap: I am not really a cocktail person; I do not enjoy drinking my sugar calories. However, in Siem Reap, I would suggest you try out the Tomb Raiders and Singapore Slings. They are truly delicious and feel like the perfect way to unwind, watching the sun set and the lights go up while in Siem Reap.
Amok: Fish is the staple protein of all Cambodians, and the most famous dish in Cambodia is Fish Amok. In it’s basic form, it is fish simmered in a mix of Cambodian spices and creamy coconut milk that will play a symphony on your taste buds. Each restaurant has its own twist on Fish Amok and there are chicken and vegetarian versions available as well.
Beef Lok Lak: This is a savory beef stir fry consisting of beef stir-fried in a brown sauce. It is usually served with a lemon pepper dipping sauce that is the perfect complement to the earthy and heavy beef.
Noodles: Noodles are an art form in Cambodia. The freshest noodles are the ones that are carried by women in baskets on top of their heads in the markets or side streets, but the restaurants are equally good too. Tossed with fresh vegetables and a green curry paste, these noodles will make you fall in love, even if you are not a noodles person like me.
Khmer Curry: Available in both the red and green versions, Khmer curries are also coconut-milk based, but less spicy than those found in neighboring Thailand. This dish can star beef, chicken or fish, and include vegetables like eggplant, potatoes, green beans , lemongrass and kroeung – the special Khmer ingredient. This curry is mostly served with rice, but sometimes, it is served with bread, courtesy of the French influence.
Lap Khmer: Thin slices of beef are marinated in lime juice with fish sauce, garlic, shallots and bell peppers. Locals prefer the beef to be nearly raw, in that sense, this dish is a bit like ceviche. It comes topped with a lot of Chili, so be prepared for it!
Stir-fried insects: On all the streets of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Battambang, you will find little food carts serving up various fried insects. We saw lots of cockroaches and crickets, and in one instance, fried rats and snakes as well. We did not have the stomach for it, but for those more adventurous souls out there, let us know what you thought of these fried goodies!
Bai Sach Chrouk: Mostly a breakfast dish, thinly sliced pork is marinated in coconut milk and garlic, grilled and then served over broken rice, with a side of pickled cucumbers, radish and fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to taste Bai Sach Chrouk. Oh well, there is always a next time. 🙂
Sticky Rice: Sticky rice is a staple breakfast/snack in all parts of Cambodia. Sticky rice is cooked with coconut milk and sugar in bamboo sticks. Sometimes, it has some black beans in it as well. It is ubiquitous in the countryside, and is one of the most delicious things you will taste in Cambodia. South Indians might understand when I say it is a bit like Puttu, just sweeter.
The same sticky rice can also be made into desserts, sweetened more and served with various tropical fruits. This is a MUST EAT while in Cambodia.
Steamed pork buns (basically a bun stuffed with eggs and pork), chive cakes (made with flour and chives, served with a spicy fish sauce) and various pickled fruits are all some of the other Khmer delicacies.6