From rice to spice
Cambodian cooking boasts a fusion of strong and vibrant flavours and is much milder than its neighbours, ensuring each dish contains the perfect blend of salty, sour, sweet and bitter flavours.
Many of the dishes draw inspiration from China and India, with the Chinese leaving the legacy of stir-frying and the Indians introducing dried spices such as star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel.
Cambodia has a rich network of rivers and the ocean in the south, offering a plentiful supply of fish, which is a popular addition to the plates of Khmers. Prahok, a fermented fish paste, is another staple that gives Cambodian cuisine its unique flavour.
You may have also seen from the many street vendors that Khmer snacks includes a variety of insects to eat, as you’ll discover at Bugs Café. Siem Reap’s first and only specialists in insect-based cuisine proves they can be delicious – creativity, presentation and quality is key.
No visit to Cambodia would be complete without tasting fish amok – steamed, curried fish coated in kroeung paste and cooked in a cup made from banana leaves. Lok lak is another signature dish made with cubed beef and garnished with a lime and pepper dip.
One restaurant that sets out to truly reflect the ethos of Cambodian cooking is Cuisine Wat Damnak, which offers a choice of two set menus ($19 and $27) that will make your taste buds dance for joy.
For authentic Khmer cuisine at reasonable prices, try The Sugar Palm. Now in a new location on Street 27 opposite Pannasastra University, their menu covers all the Khmer hit dishes, from curries to satays, soups to salads.
Square 24 has made a big name for itself with a short menu offering mouth-watering stir-fries, and covering all the Cambodian classics in fine style. Also in the Wat Bo area, Viroth’s is one of the longest established Khmer midmarket dining establishments, with it’s well-prepared plates served in a stylish, modern setting.
Cambodian food is mostly about using fresh vegetables and herbs, and expensive meat and fish are added sparingly, making it perfect to adapt for vegetarians. Chamkar on The Passage and its newer branch on Airport Road do an excellent job of preparing veggie dishes. Champey serves up marvellous meals in a beautifully designed restaurant that evokes a gentle, old world charm.
At Embassy, meanwhile, you’ll be treated to an exclusive fine dining experience, including mouth-watering set menus from $27.
On Pub Street, you’ll also find Cambodian BBQ for a little DIY dining. A special metal contraption lets you cook your meat on charcoal while keeping the soup piping hot, so you can enjoy it just the way it should be!
The unique Madame Butterfly offers the best of authentic Cambodian cuisine mixed with Thai and Chinese influences, while pampering guests in a cosy traditional wooden house surrounded by lush tropical gardens.
Chanrey Tree boasts fine dining in super-chic style, serving up traditional Khmer food with a modern twist. L’Auberge des Temples is the perfect place for the more discerning gastonome in the form of top-quality Khmer fare served in a highly refined setting, so get the glad rags out.
Anyone looking for a fun, informative eating experience should check out the Cambodia Vespa Adventures’ After Dark Foodie Tour, which will guide you on the back of a Vespa through the hustle and bustle of street vendors, their aromas and sounds, with points of local interest highlighted along the way.
Malis has now opened up in Siem Reap, giving customers a chance to experience a unique and contemporary take on traditional Khmer cuisine from renowned local chef Luu Meng. We recommend the Bank Kang lobster and Cambodia’s famous fish amok!