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 like 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, coconut curried fish coated in “kroeung” spice paste and cooked in a container 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 (five courses for $27 or six courses for $31) 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.
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 Charcoal restaurant, meanwhile, offers two exquisite Cambodian fusion food set menus for a pair to share – the North Discovery set or the South Discovery set, both of which feature six different local dishes.
HUNKAAR Table & Lounge also boasts some delectable contemporary Khmer fusion creations – the ideal place to discover new flavours and aromas. Enjoy a sophisticated lunch or dinner in a bright, vibrant space including a terrace overlooking the stunning swimming pool.
Embassy‘s exclusive fine dining experience includes mouth-watering set menus from $27.
On Pub Street, you’ll also find Cambodian BBQ for a little DIY dining. A special metal contraption called a “Phnom Pleung” (Fire Mountain) is placed on your table letting you grill your meat, seafood and vegetables over glowing charcoal while keeping the soup piping hot, so you can enjoy it just the way it should be!
You can also enjoy this filling grilling experience down Alley West or over on 2 Thnou Street at either of the two Original Khmer BBQ outlets.
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.
Malis provides customers a chance to experience a unique and contemporary take on traditional Khmer cuisine – we recommend their versions of Bang Kang lobster and fish amok.
Chi Restaurant serves up innovative Khmer and pan-Asian cuisine. Early risers can enjoy a sunrise breakfast, while couples can savour the intimacy of their Dining by Design. Signature dishes include Braised Lamb Shank Curry Saraman and Royal Seafood Amok, comprising squid, tiger prawns, Khmer spices and coconut milk.