Khmer cuisine can be classified into peasant, elite and royal cuisine, although the difference between the royal and popular cuisine is not as pronounced as in the case of Thailand and Laos. The royal and elite dishes use more varied and higher quality ingredients, and contain more meat, while the peasant food is made from simpler and more accessible ingredients.
Because of Cambodia's geographic location, rice and fish, especially freshwater fish, are the two most important sources of nutrients in the Cambodian diet. Rice is a staple food generally eaten at every meal. It is believed to have been cultivated in the territory of Cambodia since 5,000 to 2,000 B.C. The advanced hydraulic engineering developed during the Khmer Empire allowed the Khmer to harvest rice and other crops three to four times a year. According to the International Rice Research Institute, there are approximately 2,000 rice varieties indigenous to Cambodia bred over the centuries by the Cambodian rice farmers. One of them – "Malys Angkor" (ម្លិះអង្គរ, Mlih Ángkô) – has been regarded the world's best rice.
Many spices in Khmer cuisine were introduced by the Indian merchants around the 2nd century. The Indian influence on cuisine among other aspects of Khmer culture was already noted by a Chinese visitor around 400 AD. The trace of Indianization can be seen in the coconut-based curries (ការី, kari), as well as boiled red and white sweets. The Chinese began arriving in Khmer Empire in the 13th century, bringing their cuisine with them, from which Cambodian cuisine adopted an extensive use of noodles and stir frying.
From the 9th to the 15th century the culinary influence of the growing Khmer Empire spread beyond the borders of modern-day Cambodia into what is now Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The Khmer palace food developed into a refined royal cuisine and through the Khmer royal cooks brought to the Ayutthaya Kingdom strongly influenced the Thai royal cuisine. The original Khmer palace recipes were modified in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, where during the reign of King Narai they also acquired a Portuguese influence and were eventually reintroduced back into Cambodia as the Siamese armies attacked into Cambodia. New Zealand Cambodian chef Kethana Dunnet has even dubbed Cambodian cuisine "the original Thai cuisine".
In the decades after World War II, many Cambodian urban middle-class and elite families employed cooks trained to prepare French dishes, and the children of these households often did not learn cooking themselves. The transmission of Cambodian traditional culinary knowledge was even more disrupted by the subsequent war, starvation and refugee crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1975 when the Khmer Rouge gained power the rice production in Cambodia had dropped by 84% in comparison with 1970, and the policies of the Khmer Rouge (such as the ban of private cultivation of food crops, ban of foraging, ban of private ownership of foodstuff, ban of private cooking and ban of private eating combined with the unattainable rice production quotas, forced labour and insufficient food rations) resulted in one of the deadliest famines in modern history, during which from 1975 to 1979 an estimated 500,000 to 1.5 million Cambodians perished (10–20% of the country's population).
With the fracturing of the Khmer society in recent years, like many of its cultural treasures, the finest of the traditional cuisine of Cambodia – both simple and elaborate – stands to be lost forever. Most of the people who cared deeply about food have been killed, have fled the country or have died of old age. At this point, I wouldn't know where to begin to look for the old women who used to guard the secrets of the best spice mixes for curry, preserving them for future generations to enjoy. I assume that these women are all gone.
— Longteine de Monteiro, "The Elephant Walk Cookbook" (1998)
Since the late 1970s, approximately 200,000 Cambodians have settled in the United States of America, nearly half in Southern California, fleeing the Khmer Rouge and the following economic and political turmoil in Cambodia. Cambodian Americans own about 9,000 businesses, predominantly restaurants and grocery stores catering to the local Cambodian American community. Interestingly, Cambodian Americans own around 90% of the 5,000 independently owned doughnut shops in California. The most successful of them was Ted Ngoy who at the peak of his success owned about 70 doughnut shops in California and was nicknamed "The Donut King".
Over time the food cooked by Cambodians in the United States developed into a distinct Cambodian American variety. Meat, especially beef and chicken, plays a much more central role in Cambodian American meals, which also make much more extensive use of tomatoes and corn. The unhealthy eating habits, such as consumption of fatty meat, and obesity rates are higher for the Cambodian Americans who experienced a more severe food deprivation and insecurity in the past. The food of second and third generation Cambodian Americans has become more Americanized. Cambodian cuisine is not well known within the United States and is usually compared to Thai food by many Americans. Most Cambodian restaurants are located in cities with a significant Cambodian population, such as Lowell, Massachusetts, Long Beach, California and Seattle, Washington. Some of the Cambodian-owned restaurants, however, served other Asian cuisines, especially Thai and Chinese, whereas in the ones that served Cambodian cuisine Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese-influenced dishes usually dominated over Khmer dishes.
Long Beach, California has the most Cambodian restaurants in the U.S. – twenty two, including Phnom Penh Noodle Shack and Sophy's. Some Cambodian-owned restaurants in the city, such as Little La Lune Cuisine and Crystal Thai Cambodian, serve Thai food, while others, such as Hak Heang or Golden Chinese Express, serve Chinese food.Lowell, Massachusetts, has at least twenty Cambodian restaurants, among them Tepthida Khmer and Simply Khmer. Other notable Cambodian restaurants include Sok Sab Bai in Portland, as well as Phnom Penh Noodle House and Queen's Deli in Seattle. The most famous Cambodian restaurant in the U.S. is The Elephant Walk serving French-inspired Khmer cuisine. It was opened in 1991 in Cambridge, Massachusetts by Longteine de Monteiro. The restaurant also created a cookbook of the same name, which is the first Cambodian American cookbook.
In 2000 a part of Central Long Beach was officially designated as Cambodia Town, where since 2005 an annual parade and culture festival takes place there that also features Cambodian cuisine. Since the late 2010s there has been an emerging wave of second-generation Cambodian American chefs and restaurants in the U.S. focusing on Cambodian cuisine. Among them is the award-winning restaurant Nyum Bai opened in Fruitvale, Oakland, California in 2018 by chef Nite Yun.
Among other Southeast Asian cuisines
Due to extended culinary contacts and shared extraregional influences from India, China and France, modern Cambodian cuisine has many similarities with the neighbouring Thai, Vietnamese and Lao cuisines. Nowadays, the flavour principles of many Khmer dishes, such as sour fish soups, stews and coconut-based curries, including fish amok, are very similar to Central Thai cuisine, although Khmer dishes contain much less chilli and sugar and make greater use of aromatic herbs and spices. Both Thai and Khmer royal cuisines use special herbal spice pastes for curries, soups, and stews.
Khmer cuisine has relatively less in common with Northeast Thai and Lao cuisines, however, they all utilize a fish paste in their cooking (called prahok in Khmer, pla ra in Thai and padaek in Lao), which is believed to be a Khmer influence as both Laos and Northeast Thailand historically was part of the Khmer Empire. With Vietnamese and Lao cuisine it shares the French influence as Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were all part of the French Indochina. Khmer dishes are less salty than Vietnamese food in general, and less sweet, sourer and more citrusy than South Vietnamese food. The ingredients and dishes of Mekong Delta's indigenous Khmer Krom, most notably spices (cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, clove, ginger, turmeric and ground coriander), curries and fermented food (such as mắm and mắm pò hóc). have influenced the cuisine of modern-day Southern Vietnam.
Metal containers with fermented seafood (mam) at the Prahok market (Psah Prahok) in Battambang.
In Khmer, a distinction is made between fermented seafood depending on its consistency and the ingredient. Mam (មាំ) is the general term for seafood fermented with a special technique and usually includes more solid pieces of the fermented ingredient, whereas prahok (ប្រហុក, prâhŏk) and kapi (កាពិ, kapĭ) have more homogenous consistency than mam.
Mam is prepared by adding a mixture of salt, roasted red sticky rice and palm sugar to snakeheadfillets and fermenting them for more than a year. The palm sugar and rice give mam an earthier and sweeter flavour and a reddish tone.Prahok, on the other hand, can either be made from small fish with all the bones and less salt (called prahok chhoeung) or large deboned fish and more salt (called prahok sach (ប្រហុកសាច់, prâhŏk săch)), which in turn can be made from larger fish (such as the striped snakehead (ត្រីរ៉ស់)) or smaller fish (such as trei kamplienh), with or without roe. Roe can be removed from the fish, cleaned, drained, and fermented separately. Lastly, kapi is made by pounding cleaned, dried and salted shrimp into a homogenous paste, sun-drying it for one day, pounding the paste again, sun-drying it for two more days and pounding the paste for the final time to attain a viscous consistency.
Prahok is used as flavouring for almost every Khmer dish, mixed with rice or served as a dipping sauce (ទឹកជ្រលក់, tœ̆k chrôluŏk). It can also be prepared into dishes of its own, such as prahok k'tis (ប្រហុកខ្ទិះ, prâhŏk khtih), prahok kap (ប្រហុកកប់, prâhŏk káp), teuk khreung, teuk prahokprahok ang (ប្រហុកអាំង, prâhŏk ăng), and prahok chien (ប្រហុកចៀន, prâhŏk chiĕn). Fermented roe (ពងត្រី, pông trei) are primarily eaten with steamed eggs, omelettes and other hen or duck egg dishes.Kapi is often mixed with sugar, garlic, lime juice, chilli and crushed peanuts and used as a dipping sauce for vegetables, fruit, meat and fish.
Other sauces used in the Cambodian cuisine include fish sauce (ទឹកត្រី, tœ̆k trei), oyster sauce (ទឹកប្រេងខ្យង, tœ̆k préng khyâng), soy sauce (ទឹកស៊ីអ៊ីវ, tœ̆k si-iv; តៅអ៊ីវ, tau iv; សាអ៊ីវ, sa-iv or ស៊ីអ៊ីវ, si-iv), tamarind sauce (ទឹកអម្ពិល, tœ̆k âmpĭl) and hoisin sauce (ទឹកសៀង. Fish sauce is an important ingredient in Khmer cooking, used to add saltiness to soups and noodle dishes, marinating meats or as a dipping sauce for fish. Oyster sauce was introduced by Chinese immigrants and has become a common ingredient in Cambodian cooking used to add a tangy-sweet flavour to meats and stir-fried vegetables. Oyster sauce, along with fish sauce, and soy sauce, is commonly used together when seasoning foods. Soy sauce is also a common ingredient and condiment, mixed with garlic or aged radish to be eaten with primarily high protein dishes, as well as used to add saltiness when fish sauce is not used. Tamarind sauce is made from tamarind paste mixed with fish sauce, garlic, chilli peppers, lime juice, palm sugar, and vinegar. Hoisin sauce is used to marinate grilled meat and especially for kuyteav or soups with hand pulled noodles.
The cultivation to peppercorns in Cambodia dates back to at least the 13th century and because of its "uniquely strong yet delicate aroma" and "slightly sweet, eucalyptus taste" Kampot pepper is often regarded as the world's best pepper.
Kroeung (គ្រឿង, krœăng[krɨəŋ] – 'ingredients') is a Khmer fresh flavouring paste commonly used in curries, soups and stir-fries, one of the essential ingredients of Cambodian cuisine. The base of the paste consists of pounded lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric. There are five common types of kroeung: yellow kroeung (kroeung samlar m’chu), green kroeung (kroeung prâhoeur) and red kroeung (kroeung samlar kari), as well as k’tis kroeung (kroeung samlar k’tis), and saraman kroeung (kroeung samlar saraman) each with different uses.
Although fruits are usually considered desserts, some such as ripe mangoes, watermelon, and pineapples are eaten commonly with heavily salted fish with plain rice. Fruits are also made into smoothies (ទឹកក្រឡុក, tœ̆k krâlŏk). Popular fruits for smoothies are durian, mangoes and bananas. Sun-dried limes boiled in sugar and salt water are used in chicken and duck soups, sauces with fish, as well as beverages.
Since 2018, Koh Trong pomelos (ក្រូចថ្លុងកោះទ្រង, kroch thlŏng Kaôh Trông) are recognized as one of the geographical indications in Cambodia. Pomelos grown in the Kratié Province's Koh Trong commune are known for their sweeter taste and the absence of seeds after ripening.
Dried fish and pork sausages for sale at Psah Chas in Siem Reap
There are more than 900 different freshwater and saltwater fish species found in Cambodia. Approximately 475,000 tons of fish (ត្រី, trei) are caught in Cambodia every year and a Cambodian annually consumes 63 kg of fish on average. They are fried, dried, smoked and fermented into prahok and fish sauce. Fish and fish products are eaten two to three times a day. Popular fish are snakeheads, snappers, catfishes (ត្រី, trei chleang), and mackerels. Cambodian chef Luu Meng has estimated that approximately 40–50% of Cambodian dishes are made with fish.
It is known that in the late-13th century Khmer Empire cows were not used for riding, meat or hide, and the geese had been recently introduced by the Chinese sailors. Since the 1980s, the role of meat in the Cambodian diet has increased significantly and nowadays the consumption of meat, such as beef (សាច់គោ, săch koo), pork (សាច់ជ្រូក, săch chruk) and poultry, has become common, especially in the capital region. In Siem Reap ground pork or beef is made into spicy or sweet and savoury sausages (សាច់ក្រក, săch krɑɑk (pork); ខ្វាគោ, săch krɑɑk (beef)) that are eaten with steamed white rice, congee or baguettes. Beef and chicken (សាច់មាន់, săch mŏən) is stewed, grilled or stir-fried, while duck meat (សាច់ទា, săch tiə) roasted in char siu style, is popular during festivals.
In Cambodia, street food (ម្ហូបតាមផ្លូវ) is considered a snack rather than a meal. Food stalls are called hang bai (ហាងបាយ) or simply hang (ហាង) in Khmer, which is a borrowing from Chinese háng ("store", "business"). More specifically the stalls are referred to by the main food served, for example, rice noodle stalls (ហាងគុយទាវ, hang kŭytéav) or coffee stalls (ហាងកាហ្វេ, hang kafe).
A Cambodian rendition of the Chinese wonton noodles. The broth is clear topped with garlic chives and the dumplings are filled with seasoned minced pork and shrimp. Variations are often served with wheat vermicelli, a mixture of rice-wheat noodles or flat rice noodles (គុយទាវមីគាវ, kŭytéav mii kiəv).
A popular Chinese Cambodian breakfast rice vermicelli soup with meat (chicken, beef or pork) garnished with bean sprouts, chopped scallions, chopped coriander, fish sauce, lime, and sriracha. It can either be served with all the garnish in the soup or the soup on the side. There are many regional variations of kuyteav. In the Phnom Penh version (kuyteav Phnom Penh) pig blood, liver and heart are added, while near Mekong prawns and fish cakes are included. In modern versions of kuyteav pork is sometimes replaced with beef, seafood or chicken. It is similar to Vietnamese hủ tiếu, Malaysian and Singaporean kway teow and Thai kuai tiao (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว).
A rice noodle dish created from the stewed/braised beef combined with flat rice noodles. It features French influences including potatoes and carrots topped off with chives and coriander. It is eaten with bread as well. A similar dish exists in Vietnam called hủ tiếu bò kho.
A popular Cambodian breakfast soup, consisting of lightly fermented rice noodles with a fish gravy made from prahok and yellow kroeung topped off with fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts, green beans, banana flowers, cucumbers and other greens. There is also a red curry version usually reserved for ceremonial occasions and wedding festivities.
Num banhchok samlar kari
Num banhchok samlar kari (នំបញ្ចុកសម្លការី)
A rice noodle dish eaten with a Khmer curry soup. The curry may be yellow (turmeric soup base) or red (chilli curry soup base) depending on the type of soup created and generally include chicken (including legs) or beef, potatoes, onions, and carrots.
Num banhchok samlar namya (នំបញ្ចុកសម្លណាំយ៉ា)
A rice noodle dish featuring a Thai sour soup base (Thai: นำ้ยา, RTGS: nam-ya) popular during festivals and family gatherings. It features the same vegetables and herbs in num banhchok teuk prahok (នំបញ្ចុកទឹកប្រហុក) although the base is created with Thai green curry paste.
Num banhchok Kampot (នំបញ្ចុកកំពត)
A speciality of Kampot featuring a cold rice noodle salad rather than a soup base. It features cuts of spring rolls, a variety of herbs, ground nuts, pork, and fish sauce.
Num banhchok teuk mrech (នំបញ្ចុកទឹកម្ហេច)
A speciality soup of Kampot that features a clear fish broth (that does not feature the use of prahok) cooked with chives and vegetables. It is a regional speciality not found in Phnom Penh and other parts of Cambodia where Khmer and Vietnamese varieties of num banhchok are eaten.
Num banhchok samlar yuon
A rice noodle soup originating from the Vietnamese Cambodians living in the urban areas of Cambodia. It is most similar to Vietnamese bún riêu featuring a red blood pork soup base and balls of minced crab meat. It also features more variety of herbs and vegetables not used in Vietnam.
Soups, stews and curries
Samlar (សម្ល) refers to soup dishes that are eaten with rice, while the loanwordsup (ស៊ុប) refers to dishes that can be eaten without rice, these usually being dishes of Chinese or French origin.
Braised pork and egg stew flavoured in caramelized palm sugar, fish sauce, and Kampot black peppercorns. It may contain tofu or bamboo shoots and often substitutes quail eggs for chicken eggs. A typical Khmer Krom dish.
Curry soup (សម្លការី, samlar kari)
An Indian-influenced Cambodian soup. It is a traditional wedding and celebration dish, featuring coconut chicken curry gently spiced with paprika, with a soup-like consistency, often cooked with sweet potatoes, and juliennedonion. The soup is also used as a dipping sauce for fresh baguettes, while num banhchok samlar kari is often served for breakfast the next day, featuring the same ingredients to make num banhchok but using the samlar kari broth instead of the traditional turmeric and fish-based broth that goes into making num banhchok.
A Cambodian dish of Chinese origin. A type of white rice porridge with or without meat (chicken, pork, fish, dried fish, seafood, snails, or frog legs) served with a wide array of condiments (fish floss, pickled vegetables, fried garlic, fish sauce, chilli flakes, chilli oil, and fresh herbs).
Hot pot (ឆ្នាំងភ្លើង, chnang phləəng – 'pot fire')
The most common form of hot pot in Cambodia contains shared meat and assorted vegetables cooked in a heated pot with a clear broth. There are different hot pot variations with other names and mixed influences from China. It is generally eaten during the colder dry season and during late-night gatherings. Chap chai soup eaten with hand pulled noodles or wheat vermicelli is called chhnang dei, whereas a banquet-style hot pot for dipping beef, shrimp, spinach, dill, napa cabbage, rice noodles and mushrooms is called yao hon (យ៉ៅហន). It differs from the standard Cambodian hot pot or other Asian hot pots in that it features a tangy coconut broth rather than a clear broth. Chhnang phnom plerng or volcano hot pot is a Cambodian-style barbecue similar to Lao and Thai counterparts. It is served on a hot pot attached to a grill that allows meat to cook and release juices into the broth, making the soup tastier over time.
Koh Kong coconut-pineapple curry (សម្លខ្ទិះកោះកុង, samlar khtih Koh Kong)
A Koh Kong speciality dish made out of red kroeung, coconut cream, palm sugar and fish sauce with pieces of pineapple, eggplant, and shallots. Garnished with coriander and basil and eaten with steamed rice.
An entire class of samlar, whereby the dominant flavour is an aromatic, citrusy tartness, and there are many different versions. Almost every town or province has its own unique version of samlar machu including samlar machu kroeung (featuring kroeung, turmeric, water morning glory, coriander, stewed beef ribs and tripe), samlar machu Khmer Krom (featuring tomato, pineapple, catfish, lotus rhizome and holy basil) and samlar machu Siem Reap (containing bamboo shoots and tiny freshwater shrimps). The sourness and citrus flavour can come from prahok, tamarind, lemongrass, kaffir lime, lime juice, or herbs such as lemon basil. It is similar to the Vietnamese sour soup canh chua.
Traditional Cambodian stirring pot soup, one of Cambodia's national dishes. It consists of green kroeung, prahok, roasted ground rice, catfish, pork or chicken, vegetables, fruits and herbs.
Samlar prahal (សម្លប្រហើរ)
A fish soup flavoured with prahok and a kroeung made from lemongrass, turmeric, fingerroot and garlic. The primary vegetables included in the stew are kabocha, taro and various mushrooms. Other local vegetables are added according to taste and availability.
A common breakfast street food featuring rice, char siu barbecue pork, egg (scrambled, steamed, fried, or caramelized), chive soup, chrok (pickled vegetables) or preserved radish, and soy sauce or fish sauce condiments.
A beef dish of French Indochinese (specifically Vietnamese) origin. It contains stir-fried marinated cubed beef with fresh red onions, served on a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and dipped in a sauce of lime juice, sea salt and Kampot black peppercorns. Regional variants include lok lak Americain distinguished by the addition of French fries instead of steamed rice and a fried egg.
A Cantonese Cambodian dish derived from the Cantonese chow fun. It is made by stir-frying flat rice noodles in soy sauce and oyster sauce with eggs, carrots, Chinese kale, and marinated meat (pork, beef, chicken, shrimps or mixed seafood), and sometimes topped off with a tapioca or corn starch gravy. The Cambodian-style Cantoneese noodles are related to Thai pad see ew and rat na and Lao lard na.
A signature seafood dish from the coastal provinces of Kep and Kampot. Crabs are stir-fried with garlic, spring onions, ground Kampot black peppercorns or Kampot green peppercorns, soy sauce and herbs.
A Cambodian version of the Chinese fried rice which includes pork, sausages, eggs, garlic, soy sauce, and herbs. There are numerous variations of the dish in Cambodia, including shrimp fried rice (បាយឆាកាពិ, bay cha kapĭ) made with shrimps and shrimp paste.
Grilled eggplant with pork (ឆាត្រប់សាច់ជ្រូកចិញ្ច្រាំ, cha tráp săch chruk chenh chram)
A typical dish from Kampuchea Krom consisting of chargrilled eggplant halves with stir-fried ground pork, garlic, shallots and lemongrass garnished with herbs.
Kroeung fishcakes (ប្រហិតត្រីគ្រឿង, prohet trei krœăng)
Whitefish fillets mixed with kreoung and pounded in a mortar and pestle. The mix is shaped into patties or meatballs and deep-fried. They are eaten with a sauce made out of Kampot black peppercorns mixed with lime juice.
A Cambodian version of a stir-fried flat rice noodle dish that is a speciality of the southern regions of Cambodia. It often features dark and sweet soy sauce and an assortment of meats. It is topped with sautéed scallions, egg, pork ham, and cuts of spring rolls.
Stir-fried silver needle noodles (លតឆា, lot cha)
A Chinese Cambodian dish. Silver needle noodles stir-fried in fish sauce, soy sauce and palm sugar, with garlic, bean sprouts and scallions or chives, served with a fried egg.
Wheat vermicelli stir-fried with garlic, vegetables, mushrooms, and oyster, fish, and soy sauce. The dish is most commonly made for religious festivals such as Pchum Ben, or during temple festivals as a food offering to monks.
A fresh salad consisting of cut banana flowers, shredded poached chicken, crushed roasted peanuts and various herbs and vegetables with a dressing made out of garlic, chillies, fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar.
Wheat vermicelli served in a bowl with assorted vegetables, stir-fried ground pork in soy sauce, oyster sauce, and fish sauce, and topped off with fish sauce and sweet coconut milk. Other variations include pork ham and grilled meat. Variations of this dish exist all over Southeast Asia.
A Cambodian version of the Chinese fried spring rolls. Despite originating in the Chinese Cambodian community, nowadays fried spring rolls have spread throughout the country. They are different from Chinese spring rolls with their filling often not being cooked before frying, making Cambodian spring rolls lighter. In addition to that, fish sauce is usually used in the filling, instead of oyster or soy sauce, and Cambodian spring rolls, if not reheated, are fried only once.
Lime and prahok-cured beef salad, sometimes also including beef tripe, tossed with thinly sliced purple Asian shallots, finely shaved radish, crushed roasted peanuts and fresh herbs such as mint and basil. It is very popular at weddings and for special occasions.
Steamed rice noodle rolls with minced pork filling cut into smaller pieces. It is served with assorted vegetables, cut spring rolls, nuts, fish sauce, and pork ham. It is a speciality in the Phnom Penh and Ta Khmao areas.
Most Cambodian pastries use either rice or tapioca flour, whereas in Chinese and French-influenced pastries (such as num pao) wheat flour may also be used.
Cambodian doughnuts (នំកង, num kong – 'bracelet cake')
Rice flour pastries glazed with palm sugar and garnished with sesame seeds. Sold in markets and usually eaten as a to-go breakfast food.
Chive cakes (នំកាឆាយវៃ, num ka'chai)
A Cambodian street food snack of Chinese origin. It is made from a mixture of glutinous rice flour, tapioca flour, chopped chives and garlic moulded into a flat dumpling shape and fried in oil in a large pan. In Cambodia, the cake is eaten in combination with other dishes to add texture or with sweet fish sauce.
Boiled thin long rolls of glutinous rice dough filled with a mixture of mung beans and coconut milk, topped off with coconut shavings, and white sesame seeds.
Num pang (នំបុ័ង – 'bread')
A baguette with braised beef, chicken curry, raw and pickled vegetables as well as pâté (ប៉ាតេរី), butter, and mayonnaise. It is similar to Vietnamese bánh mì and Lao khao jee pâté.
Num pao (នំប៉ាវ)
A popular Cambodian street food of Chinese origin, leavened dumplings made from wheat flour, sometimes with the addition of milk and lemon juice, filled with a savoury, spicy or sweet filling. Savoury fillings are usually made from pork and different vegetables.
A Chinese Cambodian cake popular during the holidays. It is a speciality in the Siem Reap, Kampot, Phnom Penh, and Ta Khmau areas, and unique given the special red stamp on the top of the cake.
A steamed cupcake made from rice flour combined with palm sugar to create white (coconut), yellow (palm sugar), and pandan (green) variations. This is a popular dessert and street snack as well as being served during traditional weddings.
Pandan rice cakes (នំបាញ់ឌុក, num banh duc)
A dessert made with pandan, rice flour and tapioca.
Pandan tapioca balls (saku dom)
Sweet tapioca balls (គុជខ្យងតាហ្គីកា, kŭch khyâng tagika) flavoured with pandan leaves and salt.
A tapioca dessert in different colours with a palm sugar filling, topped with coconut shavings. It is a traditional dessert featured in weddings alongside husband and wife cake, and pandan desserts. The dessert is humorously nicknamed "husband killer" because of how easy it is to choke on when consumed.
Glutinous rice flour pastries steamed in banana leaves with different sweet or savoury fillings. The pyramid-shaped num chang are filled with pork, sausage, and beans and are derived from Chinese zongzi, the pyramid-shaped num bot (នំបត) are filled with mung bean paste and the pyramid-shaped num kom (នំគម) are filled with a mixture of coconut shavings, toasted sesame seeds and palm sugar. The cylinder-shaped num ansom (នំអន្សម) can either be filled with sugar bananas (នំអន្សមចេក, num ansom chek) or jackfruits (នំអន្សមខ្នុរ, num ansom khnao), or pork (នំអន្សមជ្រូក, num ansom chrouk). In addition to steaming num ansom can also be fried or grilled depending on the occasion. The cylinder shape represents a phallus, symbolizing Shiva, the masculine principle of God, while the pyramid shape symbolizes the Shakti, the feminine principle of God. Sticky rice cakes are given as offerings to the manes of the ancestors on Pchum Ben to gain their blessing to the rice fields.
Tapioca pearl balls (នំសាគូ, num saku)
Tapioca balls with a meat filling. Minced meat is seasoned and cooked then wrapped in a tapioca mixture and steamed. The dish is often served with vegetables and sweet sauce. It is similar to Thai sakhu sai mu, Lao khao nom sakoo and Vietnamese bánh ít trần.
Puddings, sweet porridges and jellies
Cambodian desserts include puddings (ចាហួយទឹក, cha houy teuk), sweet porridges (បបរផ្អែម, babor p'aem) and agarjellies (សារាយ, sarai).
Banana coconut tapioca pudding (ចេកខ្ទិះ, chek k'tis)
A Khmer porridge made out of sago or tapioca pearls, slices of banana, coconut milk and palm sugar and garnished with grated coconut and toasted white sesame seeds.
A watery sugar-based dessert that can be served cold or warm. It features longan and lotus seeds and can also be served as a drink.
Mung bean pudding (បបរសណ្តែកខៀវ, babor sɑɑ tek khiəw)
A dessert of Chinese origin that is very popular in the Chinese diaspora across Southeast Asian countries. It is made of split mung beans, palm sugar, flour and coconut milk. Chinese Cambodians prefer this bean pudding with fried breadsticks (ឆាខ្វៃ, cha kway).
A green or white dessert made from rice flour in a liquid of coconut, milk, water and sugar. A similar dish is Indonesian cendol.
Pandan coconut jelly (សារាយខ្ទិះ, sarai k'tis)
A dessert with layers of pandan and coconut agar jelly.
Red lotus seed jelly (tur tim krop)
A coconut milk-based dessert that is very popular during hot weather. The small reddish/pinkish jewels are water chestnuts covered with tapioca, served with sweetened coconut milk and shaved ice. Shredded jackfruit and jellied coconut flesh can also be added to this dessert. Jellied coconut flesh occurs when the coconut lacks an enzyme that turns its flesh into normal coconut flesh. The flesh continues to develop in the jelly state. In Khmer, tur tim means either "ruby" or "pomegranate". Similar to Thai thapthim krop.
Sweet corn porridge (បបរស្ករពោត, babor skor bot)
Sweet cornkernels and glutinous rice boiled in coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar.
Water is the most popular drink. As drinking water sources are not always easily accessible in rural areas water is boiled at home and consumed hot. In urban areas bottled water, as well as soda and sweetened fruit beverages, is available. Green tea (តែបៃតង, tê baitâng) is consumed throughout the day. It is believed to have been introduced in the Khmer Empire by the Chinese, but despite the growing consumption and suitable climate nowadays most green tea is imported and very little is actually grown locally.Camellia sinensis cambodiensis, a local strain of the tea plant, grows in the Kirirom National Park, in the remnants of a former 300-hectare tea plantation established in the 1960s by the King Norodom Sihanouk, and the area around Chamkar Te village in Mondulkiri Province. Recently, there have been efforts to revive the Cambodian tea production.Lemoniced tea (តែទឹកក្រូចឆ្មា, tae krouc chmaa) is also prepared and consumed.
In urban areas coffee (កាហ្វេ, kaafee) is also popular and is usually served with sweetened condensed milk rather than black. Coffee can be consumed either iced (កាហ្វេទឹកកក, kaafee tœ̆k kɑɑk) or hot. It is sold in coffee carts, coffeehouse chains and specialty coffee shops. More than 90% of all coffee in Cambodia is imported from other countries, such as Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand.
Smoothies (ទឹកក្រឡុក, tœ̆k krɑlok) are an important part of an evening's consumption available at juice stalls in towns all over the country from the late afternoon. They can contain a mixture of fruits or just one or two; coconut milk, sugar syrup, condensed milk and shaved ice are also added, as is a raw egg (unless specified otherwise – ot yoh pong mowan). Soy milk (ទឹកសណ្ដែក, tœ̆k sɑndaek) is sold in the morning by street vendors; the green version is sweetened and thicker than the unsweetened white. Served either hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened. Sugarcane juice (ទឹកអំពៅ, tœ̆k ʼɑmpɨw) is also a popular street drink made by pressing the juice out of sugarcane stalks with a special machine. Served with ice and sometimes flavoured with citrus to balance the sweetness.Pandan juice (ទឹកតើយ, tœ̆k taeuy) is made from the extract of pandan leaves and usually sold in Cambodian food stalls.
According to the Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan, five fermentedalcoholic beverages were produced in the late-13th century Khmer Empire: mead, pengyasi made from the leaves of an unidentified plant, baolengjiao made from rice hulls and rice leftovers, "sugar-shine wine" made from sugar and palm starch wine made from the starch of the leaves of a palm growing on the riverbank.
Nowadays, the most popular alcoholic beverage is beer (ប៊ីយេរ, biiyɛɛ). The first domestically brewed beer was produced in the 1930s during the French Indochina period by the Brasseries & Glacières de L'Indochine company in Phnom Penh. In 1995 the annual beer consumption per capita was only around two liters, but by 2004 it began to rise significantly and in 2010 beer overtook spirits as the most popular alcoholic beverage in Cambodia. Currently, the four biggest beer producers in Cambodia are the Cambrew Brewery, Cambodia Brewery, Khmer Brewery and Kingdom Breweries. Recently there has also been a quickly growing craft beer scene with 12 brewpubs or microbreweries operating in Cambodia in 2019.
A popular traditional alcoholic beverage is rice wine (ស្រាស, sra sa). It is produced by fermenting boiled and dried rice with a natural fermentation starter (dom bai) for at least 24 hours and distilling the resulting mixture. Modern distillation methods were introduced during the French Indochina period. Occasionally, there have been instances of methanol poisoning from low quality home-made rice wine. Rice wine can also be infused with various herbs, roots, bark and insects to create medicinal rice wines (srah tinum). A popular drink infused with deer antlers and different herbs is the Special Muscle Wine manufactured since 1968 by Lao Hang Heng Wine. The company also produces popular Golden Muscle Liquor and Wrestler Red Wine, whereas Sombai manufactures a line of premium infused rice wines.
A modern four-person Cambodian restaurant meal consisting of steamed rice, samlar machu kroeung, bitter melon omelette, fried quails, fried chicken, sweet-and-sour stir-fried fish and sweet fish sauce
In Cambodia, meals are usually freshly prepared three times a day (for breakfast, lunch and dinner), although in rural areas only breakfast and dinner may be eaten. Due to a general lack of refrigeration, leftovers are usually discarded. A typical Cambodian breakfast consists of rice porridge with dried salted fish, rice with dried salted fish and vegetables, baguette with condensed milk or rice/egg noodles with meat and leaf vegetables. For lunch and dinner, Cambodians usually eat steamed rice, soup with meat (fish, pork, chicken or beef) and leaf vegetables, fried fish or other meat and fruit.
In Cambodian meals just like the rest of Southeast Asia, all dishes are served and eaten simultaneously, as opposed to the European course-based meal format or the Chinese meal with overlapping courses. The only exception is if the meal contains French-style dishes, in which case the dishes are served in courses. A number of side dishes are usually served alongside the main dishes. In addition to that, a variety of condiments, such as chili jam, pickled green chillies, sugar, garlic flakes, fish sauce and soy sauce, are also available. While steamed rice and soups are usually served hot, side dishes may be served at room temperature. The balance of flavours and satisfaction of individual preferences are achieved by combining the individual dishes and rice. For example, a Cambodian meal may consist of a sour soup, a salty fish, fried vegetables and plain rice, which is different from Thai food where sourness, saltiness, sweetness and spiciness are usually contained within a single dish.
Khmer food is traditionally eaten with hands, but nowadays spoons, forks and chopsticks are also used. Knives are rarely used as the majority of Cambodian food is already cut into bite-sized pieces. Forks and spoons were introduced by the French and are used for eating rice and/or soup-based dishes, whereas chopsticks were introduced by the Chinese and are used only for eating noodle dishes.
Restaurant "Le Cambodge" in Paris, France, offering a mix of Cambodian and Vietnamese specialties
Cambodian cuisine is not very known across the world. The website Far & Wide has listed Cambodian cuisine as one of the 25 most underrated cuisines in the world and Food Republic has described Cambodian as "The Greatly Underappreciated Outlier In Asian Cooking".Fodor's Travel has called Cambodian cuisine "the most underrated in Southeast Asia" and Siem Reap "SE Asia’s Most Underrated Food Destination", while the magazine Time Out has named Kep one of "18 of the world’s most underrated food cities"
Over the past three decades, the West has fallen in love with the cuisines of Thailand, southern China, Vietnam and Malaysia, even Burma (for its barbecue), but somehow, Cambodia's food has slipped through the cracks.
— Matthew Fishbane, "Will Cambodian food ever catch on in America?" (2007)
Outside of Cambodia, Cambodian cuisine can generally be found in countries with sizeable Cambodian immigrant communities, such as the United States, France, Australia and Canada, especially in the Little Cambodiaethnic enclaves, but it is often aimed towards the local Cambodian community. Due to commercial considerations and the ethnic composition of the Cambodian diaspora many Cambodian-owned restaurants have chosen to serve the better-known Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese food instead.
Cambodian chef Luu Meng (second from right) with his business partner Richard Gillet (second from left) in Avignon, France in 2016 promoting Cambodian cuisine
In February 2021, the ministry published a cookbook "The Taste of Angkor" as a culinary promotion tool for Cambodian diplomatic missions abroad. A 1960 Cambodian cookbook and culinary guide "The Culinary Art of Cambodia" by Princess Norodom Rasmi Sobbhana republished in May 2021 by Angkor Database was also included in the campaign. In June 2021, a series of promotional videos under the slogan "Taste Cambodia" featuring Khmer foods and culinary activities in different Cambodian regions commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia were released. In May 2022, culinary training and representation facilities under the name of "Angkor Kitchen" were unveiled at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
The cookbook "From Spiders to Water Lilies, Creative Cambodian Cooking with Friends" published by non-governmental organization Friends-International has received the 2009 Gourmand World Cookbook Award as the "Best Asian Cuisine Cookbook", becoming the first book from Cambodia to win the award.
The French-language Khmer cookbook Au Pays de la Pomme Cythère, de Mère en Fille, Authentiques Recettes Khmères written and self-published by Kanika Linden and her mother Sorey Long has won the 2010 Gourmand Awards as the world's "Best Asian Cuisine Cookbook". The English-language version of the book "Ambarella, Cambodian Cuisine" has won the 2013 Gourmand Awards as the "Best Asian Cuisine Cookbook" in the UK and world's "Best Asian Cuisine Cookbook" in 2014.
The republished Cambodian cookbook and culinary guide "The Culinary Art of Cambodia" has received the "Special Award of the Jury" at the 2022 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
Joannès Rivière's Cuisine Wat Damnak has been included in position No. 50 of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants in 2015, becoming the first Cambodian restaurant to make the list. In the 2016 list it rose to the 43rd position. In 2020, the restaurant Embassy spearheaded by the Kimsan Twins was included in the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants newly created 50 Best Discovery list.
Cambodian chef Luu Meng has received Asia's Top Chef award from the Malaysia-based business and lifestyle magazines "Top 10 of Malaysia" and "Top 10 of Asia" in 2014.
Cambodian chefs from the Cambodia Chefs' Association have won the 2019 ASEAN Gourmet Challenge with three gold medals, as well as received six silver and 17 bronze medals in the Global Pastry Chefs Challenge and Global Young Chefs Challenge categories at the Thailand Ultimate Chef Challenge taking place from 28 May to 1 June in Bangkok.
^Dunston, Lara (26 June 2020). "Mahob Khmer Chef Sothea Seng on Cambodia's Culinary Heritage". Grantourismo Travels. Retrieved 7 January 2021. Khmer food refers to the food cooked by Cambodia’s predominantly Khmer population, while Cambodian food takes in everything: Khmer food, as well as Chinese-Cambodian, Chinese, and the specialties of Cambodia’s Cham Muslims, such as Saraman curry, a cousin to Thailand’s Massaman curry.
^Kimani, Rosemary (20 June 2017). "What Makes Cambodian Food Rich And Unique With Chef Joannès Rivière". Authentic Food Quest. Retrieved 7 January 2021. Cambodia is the country and therefore encompasses the ethnic majority, the Khmers, along with the Chinese, the Lao, the Cham, the Viet, the Samre, the Jarai. Cambodian food is a mix of all those cuisines. Khmer cuisine relates to a specific group without the capital idea of the influence of other groups.