9 Foods to Try in Cambodia

Traditional Cambodian specialty Chicken Amok made with heavy flavor of coconut served in Banana leaves with garnish and dressing.
Gregory Warran / Getty Images

Sit down to dinner in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, and you’ll discover the multiple influences that literally flavor Cambodia’s food: Chinese noodle dishes, French baguettes, and Indian curries jostling with local specialties like amok. Cambodia’s abundance of freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams puts fish at the forefront of any Khmer meal, with local herbs and spices like garlic, shallots, galangal, and lemongrass rounding out the flavors. Boiled rice, of course, is a staple food for all hours of the day.

And so it goes for the dishes we’ve listed below: travel to Cambodia and you’ll be sure to chow down on these Khmer favorites.

01 of 09

Amok

Three amok pattiees wrapped in a banana leaf on a plate

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Take freshwater fish, dice its flesh and steam it with coconut milk, eggs, prahok, and a local spice paste called kroeung and you'll get amok. This curry-like classic Khmer meal that you can enjoy at home kitchens and prestigious restaurants alike.

Traditional amok is made with snakehead fish, catfish, or even river snails—but thanks to tourist demand, chicken and vegetarian amok can now be found throughout the country. High-end amok is steamed like a mousse in a banana-leaf cup, but home-cooked amok tends to have a soupier consistency.

Where to Try It: Malis Restaurant, Phnom Penh

02 of 09

Prahok

Cambodian person preparing prahok with a meat cleaver
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Fermented fish paste is not unique to Cambodia, but prahok tastes (and smells) like it’s in a league of its own. To make prahok, crushed fish flesh is exposed to the sun, salted, then fermented in massive clay jars for up to three years. A little goes a long way—it adds a distinct flavor to many meat and vegetable dishes.

Prahok is a key ingredient in dishes like amok and a pork dip called prahok ktis, where the condiment is mixed with minced pork, coconut milk, and spices. Provincial Khmer men often make prahok ktis to ingratiate themselves with their mothers-in-law!

Where to Try It: Cuisine Wat Damnak, Siem Reap

03 of 09

Samlor Korkor

Bowl of Samlor korkor soup with red chopsticks on the side of the frame

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A one-pot soup dish that combines catfish, pork, prahok, and the spice paste called kroeung, samlor korkor is found all over the country, thanks to its use of seasonal, local ingredients and complex flavors. The kroeung combines indigenous herbs and spices like turmeric, lemongrass, and galangal while the vegetables used can include green papaya, eggplant, and baby corn. Samlor korkor’s soup base is usually thickened with toasted rice.

The disparate ingredients help give the dish its name— korkor is Khmer for “mix things together.” Cambodians love to eat samlor korkor hot, with rice or on its own.

Where to Try It: Mie Cafe, Siem Reap

04 of 09

Nom Banh Chok

Nom banh chok

Turaids (CC BY-SA 4.0)

They are often called plain “Khmer noodles” in English, but nom banh chok has a much wider regional variation than the name implies. Made from rice noodles combined with a fish-based curry gravy and assorted local vegetables, nom banh chok is a favorite breakfast for Cambodians up and down the country. It's often sold on the street by women balancing the ingredients on bamboo poles.

Different cities throughout Cambodia have their own take on nom banh chok. Kampot’s version uses sweet dried shrimp and fish sauce as a flavor base while in Siem Reap it is served with a sweet sauce made from palm sugar, and cooks pile on the garlic and coconut milk.

Where to Try It: Preah Dak village near Siem Reap; its main road is lined with nom banh chok stalls

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Kari Sach Moan

bowl of Cambodian chicken curry and a plate of rice

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Cambodia's local chilies are much less fiery than their counterparts in Thailand—thus kari sach moan (the local chicken curry) has a balance to its richness that will keep you coming back for more despite the large pepper pieces sprinkled throughout. A kroeung spice paste is cooked in coconut cream with chicken and sweet potatoes; the resulting dish is eaten with rice, noodles, or even sliced baguettes.

Traditionally, kari sach moan wasn’t eaten as an everyday dish but reserved for special occasions like weddings.

Where to Try It: David’s Noodle, Phnom Penh

06 of 09

Cha Kdam

Plate of crabs with tomatoes and lettuce

Christian Mark Inga Osorio / Getty Images

The seaside town of Kep makes the most of the abundance of crabs in its waters. In the dish called cha kdam, locals stir-fry slices of crab with green Kampot peppers. The melted fat from the crab blends with the sharp spiciness of the peppercorns, transforming the seafood with the distinctive aroma and flavor of the indigenous spices.

Forget about using utensils when chowing down on cha kdam—this dish is best eaten with one’s hands (the crab meat is impossible to extract from the shells otherwise).

Where to Try It: Mr. Mab Phsar Kdam, Kep

07 of 09

Ongkrong Saek Koo

A dish of Ongkrong saek koo, beef with holy basily and red ant larvae, served with rice and spoon and fork

Michael Rheault / Getty Images

Sure, tarantulas take most of the spotlight for insect-based foods in Cambodia—but indigenous red tree ants offer a more wholesome meal, a “spice” of sorts for ongkrong saek koo. The ants add a tangy flavor dimension to this dish of beef cooked in holy basil.

Beef is not a traditional Cambodian dish—for millennia, Khmer subsisted on fish as their main protein, but adapted after Europeans introduced beef to local tables. Cambodian cooks stir-fry thin slices of beef with ginger, garlic, lemongrass, shallots, and chilies along with whole ants and larvae.

Where to Try It: Marum, Siem Reap

08 of 09

Chruok Svay

wooden plate with fresh mango salad

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The Khmer love unripe fruit in their salads, relishing their tangy sharpness that perfectly complements the umami of their roast meats and curries. Green mango salad, or chruok svay, combines sour green mango slices with fish sauce, dried shrimp, peanuts, tomato, shallots, onions, Asian basil, and mint.

Chruok svay is in abundance during mango season from March to July; if not eaten with a full meal, you can also enjoy it as a light snack or appetizer.

Where to try it: Khmer Cuisine Watbo, Siem Reap

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Beef Lok Lak

Beef lok lak (stir fried beef cubes on lettuce tomatoes and raw onion) with a mount of rice in the background

 MosayMay / Getty Images

The name beef lok lak literally translates to “shaking beef,” so named because of how cooks shake the skillet as they stir-fry beef cubes in pepper sauce or oyster sauce. The “shaken” beef is then served on top of tomatoes, lettuce, and raw onions. 

The French introduced beef as a foodstuff to Cambodia during their 19th- and 20th-century colonial rule. The dish was then localized into the form we know today, served with a dipping sauce of lime juice, fish sauce, and pepper. It is eaten with rice, but very occasionally it’s served with French fries on the side. 

Where to Try It: Chanrey Tree, Siem Reap

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