Delicious Cambodia

Malaysia, September 2013

The Khmer food of Cambodia can be a real treat. As bike tourists we cycled through the countryside, far away from Western restaurants with Pizza and Burgers. Instead we had the fortune to try the local food. The base of Khmer food is rice. Usually a pot of rice and a can of hot or cold tea with a glass full of ice cubes come with the food. Drinking water is rather expensive, that’s why most people boil the water from the tap (if there is no tab water they use the river water) and add tea leaves for the taste. The ice cubes are sold per meter and the salesmen drive from house to house and cut the sold parts off with a saw. These giant ice cubes are chopped into smaller pieces and stored together with canned drinks in big cooling boxes. Every time the shop owner needs some small ice cubes he chops some pieces off the big block with a small axe.

The everyday food: street food and local restaurants

Typical local Cambodian restaurant with pre-cooked food in pots

Typical local Cambodian restaurant with pre-cooked food in pots

Some parts are prepared freshly

Some parts are prepared freshly

Khmer food

Just open the pots, look, smell, compare ask for the type of meat with hands and noises and enjoy

Simple but delicious on rice

Simple but delicious on rice

Khmer food: Freshly prepared fried noodles with egg

Freshly prepared fried noodles with egg

Slimy noodles with vegetables. Feels funny but tastes very good

Slimy noodles with vegetables. Feels funny but tastes very good

Some food will be freshly prepared, but in some of the street side restaurants it is prepared in the early morning and reheated once sold. Customers can either ask for their favorite dish or open the pots with the food and choose the dish that looks and smells best. That is what we did, because we did not understand any Khmer.

The food for curios people: dog meat and bugsWe ate plenty of rice with side dishes as grilled or boiled chicken. These dishes are simple, cheap and come with a spicy sauce and a bowl of chicken broth. The Khmer eat with fork and spoon. They push the food with the fork on the spoon. You will not find a knife on the table since the pieces are usually small enough to eat them in one piece or soft enough to chop them with the spoon. Some people also eat with the hands or with chopsticks. Meat usually comes with all bones and small animals sometimes even come with guts.

The food for curios people: dog meat and bugs

Khmer food: bugs

The bugs are collected, separated and picked in pieces.

If the insects break your sleep: collect them and have them for breakfast!

If the insects break your sleep: collect them and have them for breakfast!

The Khmer like their bugs well roasted. These are still raw and alive

The Khmer like their bugs well roasted. These are still raw and alive

Khmer food: dog meat

I was surprised to see that the street dogs outside this restaurant were not too nervous.

Since we cycled along the Mekong River and nearby the Tonle Sap Lake, we found fish to be present in most dishes. Many families own a rice field that they harvest once, few families twice a year. They fish their own seafood, hunt small animals as frogs, bats, squirrels, mice, rats and sometimes even deer or wild pigs in the forest and either buy or hold chicken. Bugs and spiders are local specialties as well. There are many cows in Cambodia, but they are used for transportation and plowing of the fields rather than for their milk. In different regions we found pot-bellied pigs, goats and goose running through the streets.

The treat: Fruit shakes

Cambodian fruit shake

Cambodia was the country with the most delicious fruit shakes I have ever tasted.

Fruit shakes (called Krou Lok) consist of one or more fruits, sweet condensed milk,  plenty of crushed ice and raw egg to make it fluffy and bubbly

Fruit shakes (called Krou Lok) consist of one or more fruits, sweet condensed milk, plenty of crushed ice and raw egg to make it fluffy and bubbly

 

Manual crushed ice machine. They are not only very easy to handle but also beautiful to look at!

Manual crushed ice machine. They are not only very easy to handle but also beautiful to look at!

In the local restaurants you will find fish sauce, soy sauce, fish paste (the smell is something I needed to get used to) a sweet and spicy sauce and sometimes vinegar on the table. In local houses the families often eat sitting on the floor. It is mostly the women who prepare the food. Restaurants will provide tables and chairs.

The regional specialty: Kro Lan

Kro Lan is a snack from the Kratie province. It consists of Sticky rice with coconut juice and red beans.

Kro Lan is a snack from the Kratie province. It consists of Sticky rice with coconut juice and red beans.

Khmer food: Kro Lan from Kratie

The ingredients are filled into a bamboo stick and toasted over a fire. Peel the bamboo off and enjoy.

In Cambodia you have two options: eat in Western restaurants that are recommended in tripadvisor or Lonley planet or accept that the local cleanliness standards are not as high as you may be used to it in other countries. Even though the saleswomen on the markets try their best to keep the flies away from their meat, there are just too many. I do not think that the water is always perfectly purified and I never knew how long the meat has been laying in the sun before I came and bought it. But the food tastes great and neither Roberto nor I had any stomach problems to fight with. In Cambodia anthelminthics (medicine against worms and parasites) are sold for a dollar. We took some just to be on the safe side. So don’t worry for food standards and dip into the exotic Khmer cuisine!

The dessert: Ovaltine

A fresh Ovaltine is a great drink for a break. It is full of sugar and calories and brings plenty of power to tired cyclists

A fresh Ovaltine is a great drink for a break. It is full of sugar and calories and brings plenty of power to tired cyclists

Yammi! Khmer Ovaltine. Never tasted a better ice chocolate in SE Asia.

Yammi! Khmer Ovaltine. Never tasted a better ice chocolate in SE Asia.

A lot of sweet condensed milk and / or sugar cane sirup with even more Ovaltine powder mixed with a dash of boiling water and served on a glass full of ice cubes. Now the only thing you have to do is to wait until the drink has the consistence that you like best: not too watery but yet not too concentrated.

A lot of sweet condensed milk and / or sugar cane sirup with even more Ovaltine powder mixed with a dash of boiling water and served on a glass full of ice cubes. Now the only thing you have to do is to wait until the drink has the consistence that you like best: not too watery but yet not too concentrated.

 

 

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  1. Carolyn in Nashville, TN says:

    I am guessing that if you had eaten any bugs you would have told us what they tasted like, and about their crunchiness. Pretty sure you did not order any dog meat.

    • admin admin says:

      No no dog meat for us! I prefer them waggling their tail at us. On the other hand I did try in Thailand dehydrated silk worms. What is more astonishing is that the taste resembled a common Lay Potato Chip. It was crispy, salty and well it tasted just like that. Are we probably being feed compressed insects in chip form…who knows ha ha. Some say (including a BBC reporter) that insects could solve the world hunger problems. In Yunan province in China, Cambodia, Malaysia and Mexico some insects are part of their dietary tradition and they say they are also very nutritious, the protein content and lack of blood supports this affirmation. To this I say Hakuna Matata. – Roberto

  2. Alex says:

    I am part Cambodian and I would love to learn more about my mother’s culture. Could someone tell me a lot about clothing, their gods and goddess, food (that would be easy to make in the U.S. and I’m a picky eater. :P) their language and other suft like that. Thanks! 🙂

    • admin admin says:

      For sure. I am preparing a post about the culture of Cambodia, so stay tuned!

  3. Hi! From a Khmer woman living in America. I have not had the pleasure of visiting the Motherland yet, as my parents migrated here during the war. I am so proud of my heritage and so joyful to see other people embrace our culture. I don’t discriminate against the type of protein People eat, but I probably would have steered clear of the insects and dog dishes also. Did you guys try the Durian? Or Prahok? To me, the smells are actually quite endearing, but I know that there are other opinions that differ on that subject. 😉 anyway, i really enjoyed this post, I look forward to catching up on the others.

    • admin admin says:

      Hey Elaine! Thank you for commenting, we did try the Durian Choco Milk Shake! hahah strong flavour but highly energetic.

  4. Hi, thanks for your great blog. My name is Veasna Kay and i’m a local chef here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My love of Khmer food has led me to create regular video recipes which I upload online weekly. If Visitors of this page are interested they can see them on my website – I also teach private cooking classes for visitors here in Phnom Penh. I believe Khmer Food is the best in the world and slowly but surely people will become more aware of our amazing food heritage and natural culinary skills. Thanks again for writing this blog

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