The Food Culture in Cambodia: 9 Dishes You Must Try!

A person holds a bowl of noodle soup filled with fresh herbs and chilis
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels
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The food in Cambodia is a delicious collection of simple dishes packed with complex flavors, and this country should be on any food lover’s travel list. Although it’s often overshadowed by Thailand and Vietnam’s huge culinary reputations, the food culture in Cambodia contains many of the same elements. 

Like them, Cambodia’s history has included a variety of influences from other countries, including China, India, Laos, France, and Spain. So you’ll find plenty of dishes that remind you of other places. But you’ll also find some with ingredients and flavors that are uniquely Cambodian.

Cambodians pride themselves on using freshly grown ingredients instead of dried herbs and spices. And the menus are full of locally grown rice, freshly caught fish, and noodles that are still made by hand. We’ve listed 9 dishes here that we think make a great introduction to the food culture in Cambodia, but don’t stop at these; try everything! 

Fish Amok

Fish Amok is one of Cambodia's signature dishes and a big part of the food culture
Photo by Dion Hinchcliffe on Wiki Commons

This richly flavored coconut fish curry is perhaps the country’s most well-known meal and is definitely one of its signature dishes. You’ll find it on the menu everywhere, from roadside stalls to high-end restaurants, and it should be top of your list for something to try while in Cambodia. 

It encapsulates many elements important to the food culture of Cambodia, the rice and freshwater fish that are so abundant in the country, fresh herbs and spices, and kroeung, the signature curry paste that gives Cambodian food such a unique flavor. 

Small pieces of fish are placed with the kroeung and herbs such as lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves into banana leaf ‘pots’ and topped with coconut milk or cream. This is then steamed and served with rice. You’ll find slight differences in texture depending on where you try it, with some restaurants serving it like a soup or broth and others adding eggs to make a thicker, almost mouse-like sauce. Either way, it bursts with flavor and is always delicious.  

Bai Sach Chrouk – Pork And Rice

Pork and rice is a popular breakfast dish in Cambodia food culture
Photo by Amanda Lim on Unsplash

This is a deceptively simple dish that looks plain but tastes anything but. Bai Sach Chrouk is pork that has been marinated in a combination of garlic, coconut, palm sugar, lime juice, fish paste, and peppercorns. The pork is slow-grilled to give it a smokey flavor and served thinly sliced atop a small mountain of rice. The dish usually comes with a side of pickled vegetables and a small bowl of chicken broth and shallots. It’s a winning combination and a great way to start your day!

Bai Sach Chrouk is a popular breakfast dish in Cambodia, and you’ll find it at many markets and transport hubs in the early mornings. Although you can obviously eat it at any time of day, popular vendors will run out of marinated pork, so if this is one of your favorites, then look for it early in the day. 

Nom Banh Chok – Kymer Noodles

Nom Bahn Chok is a light and refreshing way to start the day and a popular breakfast food in Cambodia
Photo by Louistrinh on Wiki Commons

If you don’t fancy starting your day with pork, try this instead. Nom Banh Chok is another popular breakfast dish and is so common in Cambodia that it’s often known elsewhere simply as Kymer noodles or Cambodian noodles. It consists of rice noodles coated in a green fish curry sauce and topped with fresh light vegetables like bean sprouts and cucumber, herbs such as basil and mint, and edible banana blossoms. It’s a lovely light way to start the day, especially during hot weather. 

Like Amok, Nom Banh Chok is an excellent signature dish because it contains many elements essential to the food culture of Cambodia. The freshly foraged crisp greens and herbs, the lightly fermented hand-made vermicelli noodles, and the green fish curry, which contains both kroeung and prahok, a fermented fish paste that Cambodian’s are fiercely proud of. 

You’ll find this one being sold by women strolling the streets carrying it on long poles across their shoulders. And also by vendors on bicycles with pre-bagged portions ready to deliver to residential areas and anyone who stops them along the way. 

Prahok Ktis – Prahok Pork Dip 

Prahok is one of the most important ingredients in the food culture of Cambodia
Photo by Louistrinh on Wiki Commons

One of the ingredients most important to the food culture of Cambodia is Prahok, a fermented fish paste with a potent salty flavor. It is used to season most Cambodian dishes in the same way that fish sauce is used in Vietnam and Thailand. It’s also often served as a condiment so that diners can add a little more punch to their meal. But in Prahok Ktis, the paste takes center stage to be enjoyed in its own right. 

Prahok has such a strong flavor that many tourists trying it for the first time dislike it immediately. Some say it’s too fishy, and some have nicknamed it Cambodia’s blue cheese, because of its strong flavor and smell. But in Prahok Ktis, the robust flavor is toned down a little (or a lot if made to appeal to more western palettes) and is an excellent introduction to the taste. 

For Ktis, the prahok paste is mixed with minced pork, coconut cream, herbs, spices, fresh chilies, and pea eggplants – a traditional Southeast Asian vegetable with a unique texture and slightly bitter flavor. The dish is then served with fresh raw vegetables and eaten as a dip. We recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the most authentic of Cambodian flavors.

Kuy Teav – Noodle Soup

flavour your own noodle soup with aromatic herbs, spices and sauces
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Cambodians love their soups and broths and have the talent so common to Asian countries of packing a whole world of flavor into the most simple-looking soup. Kuy Teav is no different. It consists of traditional vermicelli noodles in a clear broth made from beef or pork bones. Spring onions, garlic, bean sprouts, and aromatic herbs are added to the salty broth along with pork, beef, chicken, or seafood. Diners can then add fresh chilies, lime juice, prahok, or hoisin sauce to further flavor the broth to their taste. 

If you’re a fan of Vietnamese Pho, you’ll love this one, and if you’re anything like us, you will be heading back to try another version again and again. Luckily it’s a cheap and readily available meal, and you’ll find it being served all over the country in markets, restaurants, and by street vendors.

Beef Loc Lac – Stir-Fried Beef

Beef Loc Lac is beautiful due to the Kampot Peppercorns in the sauce, a world famous pepper corn grown in Cambodia and important in the food culture.
Photo by HM Grand Central on Pexels

Another of Cambodia’s signature dishes, Beef Loc Lac, stems from the country’s Vietnamese and French influences. Like Bai Sach Chrouk, this is another dish that looks almost plain but whose flavors will have you clamoring for more. 

The beef (although it can be made with any meat) is cut into small cubes and marinated in a sauce of lime juice, garlic, ginger, fish paste, fresh chilies, and palm sugar. It’s then stir-fried and served on a bed of lettuce, tomato, and raw onion, and sometimes with a fried egg. Once again, the dish might seem simple, but the joy is in the beautiful marinade, the perfectly cooked meat, and the sauce that accompanies it. This sauce is traditionally made from lime juice, salt, and Kampot Peppercorns.

Dedicated foodies will know that these peppercorns, grown only in the Kampot and Kep areas of Cambodia, are considered some of the best in the world. They’re so good that they have achieved the status of Protected Geographical Indication. This PGI protects Kampot pepper and means products, not from the region can not use the name – in the same manner as Champagne or Parmesan Cheese. The pepper has a unique flavor and the sauce that accompanies Beef Loc Lac is hot, slightly sour, and delicious. 

Balut

Cambodian's are known for their enjoyment of Balut, the partially developed  duck fetus.
Photo by Nepenthes on Wiki Commons

Ok, so this one’s not for everyone, but we had to include it because it’s such a quintessential part of the food culture in Cambodia. And it comes with serious bragging rights for anyone brave enough to try it. 

Balut are steamed eggs – usually duck – that contain a fertilized embryo. This egg is allowed to develop for 2- 3 weeks before being cooked and served. The duck embryo is eaten whole from the shell – watch the locals to see how they do it – and is a much loved, high protein, street food snack. 

You can generally choose how developed you want your Balut to be. The least mature have little difference from a regular boiled egg, while inside the more mature ones, you’ll find an almost fully developed duckling complete with bones, beak, and sometimes feathers. These are still soft enough to be eaten easily but have a very unique texture. We recommend starting small and progressing if you enjoy the experience. 

Chet Chien – Fried Banana

deep fried bananas coated in a sesame seed flavoured batter
Photo by Takeaway on Wiki Commons

Another street food favorite that goes down a little better with the tourists is Chet Chien, a sweet Cambodian dessert. It consists of ripe banana wrapped or dipped into batter flavored with sesame seeds. These parcels are then fried and covered with sugar. Sounds good? They are, and they’re easy to find too. They’re served in most markets, along busy streets, and anywhere that crowds gather in the evening. Just follow the delicious smell of frying batter and sugar! Or order them for dessert in a restaurant where they often come served with a side of vanilla or coconut ice cream. 

Sankhya Lapov – Pumpkin Custard 

Pumpkin custard is sweet, thick, creamy, and flavored with coconut.
Photo by Takeaway on Wiki Commons

You might not think of pumpkins when you picture Cambodian cuisine but once you’ve tried this dessert, you won’t soon forget it. 

A thick custard made of eggs, sugar, and coconut milk is poured into a hollowed-out pumpkin and then steamed. Once ready, the pumpkin is cut like a cake and served in slices. The sweet, creamy custard has flavors of both coconut and the softened sweet pumpkin and is simply delicious. It can be served hot or cold, although there’s something particularly wonderful about it when it’s warm. 

Unfortunately, this sweet treat is generally saved for special occasions and celebrations. If you visit during some religious festivals, you might be lucky enough to sample this tasty dessert, but if not, consider making it yourself at home; it’s a simple recipe and is a guaranteed winner at parties!

Photo by Daniel Bernard on Unsplash

What is the most popular food in Cambodia?

Rice and freshwater fish are the most popular foods in Cambodia because of the abundance of both, noodle dishes and stir-fries are also popular and a big part of the food culture.

What is a typical breakfast in Cambodia?

In Cambodia, a typical breakfast isn’t much different from lunch or dinner and will generally involve rice or noodles. Marinated pork and rice, Kymer noodles, and noodle soup are all popular breakfast dishes in Cambodia. 

What is Cambodia’s national dish?

Amok is Cambodia’s national dish, a delicious coconut fish curry steamed inside banana leaves and served with rice. 

What food is Cambodia famous for?

Cambodia is famous for its national dishes of Amok, Beef Loc Lac, and Kymer noodles and for exporting Kampot Pepper, one of the best peppercorns in the world. The Cambodian people are also renowned for their enjoyment of Balut, a steamed egg containing a partially developed duck fetus.

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Anita is from Wales and has been a travel addict since her first trip to Australia ten years ago. Since then she's lived and worked in Oz, New Zealand and Canada, worked many ski seasons and travelled widely through South East Asia, Morocco, India and Europe. She's a nomad, freelance writer, foodie, compulsive reader, tea addict and animal lover.