Cambodian Street Food
We will delve into Khmer cookery and Cambodian street food. 1st we will visit Cambodia’s capitol Phnom Penh. After whetting your appetite, we will have a look at the different type of street food you should sample. And finally, a venture into Khmer cookery.
This is a big read so we have split it into 3 sections
One thing you will discover throughout Cambodia are places where you can eat well for not a lot of riel. There are European restaurants and global chains. However, when in Rome – eat Cambodian Street food! No big Macs or pasta or Sunday roasts in this voyage of adventure into Asian culinary delights.
Phnom Penh’s Best Cheap Eats
Cambodia is awash with great places to eat. Not only local cuisine, but food from all over the world. You name it, it is here. However, what is on offer in terms of cheap eats? This is typically street food served up by vendors lugging their fare around on carts laden with great food. It is also readily available 24/7 and tends to be kind on the pocket. So, swing into action and give it a go; you will not be disappointed. You will delight your taste buds.
Cambodian street food also offers unique and surprising delicacies that can be foreign to the eyes and stomachs of most visitors. And sometimes, it is not for the squeamish.
That said, street food will give you an amazing experience, a real culinary adventure. As you dive deeper into the Khmer street food culture, you will find rare treats and wonderful delicacies.
Street food is everywhere across Cambodia.
Probably the most ubiquitous treat is Num Pang or the Cambodian sandwich. This is a baguette typically packed with meaty ingredients such as pâté, ham or pork with cucumber, carrots, chives, onions, or a salad. And it really hits the spot. The num pang carts are everywhere. Simply find one and ask for “muoy”, one, and you can watch the sandwich being made. Within five minutes you have one of these delicious sandwiches all for the princely sum of 7,000 riels to 8,000 riels. Less than $2 or £1.50.
Sometimes the street vendor has a couple of chairs and tables available. However, many people grab a sandwich, buy a few beers, and sit out front of a mini mart to enjoy their snack.
You will typically find Num Pang street vendors outside of markets or near office buildings. The carts are easily identifiable with the baguettes clearly visible through glass windows on the cart.
A Num Pang can differ in flavour and content depending on where you buy one. Point or shrug your shoulders.
Another dish is short stir-fried egg noodles. Lort Cha, as the locals call it, is one of the most popular street foods. Lort Cha is a stir-fried dish consisting of short fat rice noodles with bean sprouts, Chinese broccoli, and chives.
It is typically cooked with beef and topped with a fried egg. This food is usually prepared in a large stir-fried pan. The dish is served with a thick red sauce, which is sweet and spicy. If you want more spice, you can add red chilies to taste.
Lort Cha vendors can be found pretty much everywhere on the streets but especially at markets. The local market variety tend to be the best. Vendors are easy to spot and hear as you see them cooking with the large stir-fried pan while the metal spatula clacks on the pan’s surface.
Cambodian bamboo sticky rice is a type of rice roasted in bamboo sticks. It is mixed with black beans, grated coconut, and coconut milk. The mixture is packed into a bamboo stick and slowly roasted over a charcoal fire until cooked. The rice used is a special kind of fragrant rice from the terraced rice fields of Battambang and Kratie provinces.
The taste is sweet, slightly salty with a hint of a smoky flavour. Unbelievably delicious and a filling snack any time of the day.
The city of Battambang in the Northwest region of the country is the bamboo sticky rice capital. It is Cambodia’s second largest city and a leading rice-producing province in the country. The sticky rice from here comes highly recommended as the area is referred to as ‘sticky rice villages’ by locals.
Sticky rice is sold in three sizes, small, medium and large and the costs about 2000 riels to 4000 riels.
How about freshwater snails! This might be the most prolific cambodian street food cart you will find in the Kingdom. From Phnom Penh to the smallest village.
When you first arrive in the capital, there is one type of street food you will quickly notice. Street vendors with long flat carts on wheels are placed under the burning sun loaded with freshwater snails. The snails have been seasoned and are pre-cooked before being dried under the sun.
The snails are spiced either with red chili sauce or with garlic and salt. Sold by the bucket or the cup, it makes for an interesting treat.
A word of warning, as with any street food, make sure the snails are thoroughly cooked: nothing worse than a rumbling stomach after a meal. Try a sample and decide if you ready for more.
There are plenty of carts loaded up with snails around the towns, so it is an easy snack to find. Prices are about 2,000 riels per cup of snails. Princely sum of 50 cents.
You could also try Amok Chouk. This is Amok with snails and made with the traditional curry.
These Cambodian chive cakes are fried in shallow pans. Made with glutinous rice flour and served with a sweet spicy fish sauce, also known as Num Kachay, are a popular street food in Cambodia.
They are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. When dipped into the sweet spicy fish sauce, the flavours blend together deliciously. This is a favourite street food amongst locals as well as visitors.
Street vendors usually sell the small chive cakes on bicycles. You will find mobile street vendors with chive cakes nearly everywhere. Look for the vendors at busy street corners in the afternoons. You may also find chive cakes at a local market.
They are sold hot, which reduces the risk of stomach troubles. And you can buy them for about 500 riels per chive cake.
Noum Ka Pong
At markets, you see vendors at various stalls bending over the hot flames to produce golden, crispy French bread topped with delicious fried shrimp. They are cooking deep fried bread and shrimp cakes, also known as Noum Ka Pong. It is Cambodian street food must!
The cakes are delicious and with the bread soaking in fat, you are left with the taste of perfectly spiced shrimp. After that first cake, you will simply just want to buy the shrimp cakes many more times.
When searching for this tasty food, look for the vendors with large deep fryers at the outdoor food stalls at markets. Freshly cooked, a cake will cost between 500 riels and 1000 riels.
But the treats do not stop here. Read more about Cambodian street food.
Cambodian Street Food: The Lowdown
So, you have jumped into Cambodian street food. You have tried a sandwich or some noodles perhaps some snails, let us plunge a bit deeper and see what additional eats are available, perhaps a little more exotic flavour.
Bai Sach Chrouk
This breakfast special is easily spotted. Just look for the places grilling pork in the morning. The smoky grills are usually surrounded by people planning for a sit-in meal or a takeaway. These places open early and typically finish once the morning crowd has moved on.
Pork rice, or Bai Sach Chrouk, is a simple dish of thinly sliced, charcoal-grilled pork (sach chrouk) served with rice, pickled vegetables, and a soup. Most vendors will include a spicy sauce with garlic. If you sit down at the vendor’s venue for a meal then there will be bottomless cups of tea, a broth, and spices and sauces to enjoy this local favourite.
A pork rice will set you back as little as 4,000 riels. Not a bad way to start the day.
Bobor Sach Trey | Borbor Sach Mouan
Another breakfast food is fish or chicken congee. If you’re feeling under the weather, this dish is believed to do wonders for the immune system.
This full, balanced meal will cost you just 4,000 to 5,000 riels in markets. Bobor, or rice porridge, is a national institution.
When you order your Bobor with either fish or chicken, the meat will be shredded into the bowl before the vendor adds porridge. Normally you should get a couple of cubes of congealed pork blood in the porridge as well as thin-sliced root ginger, bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime.
If you choose to sit in, then the table condiments are there. Try adding fermented cabbage to the porridge, and of course lashings of ground black pepper.
Usually on the table are long, straight oily bread sticks for this dish. They are called Chakquai and are a light, airy batter that has been deep-fried. Dip one into the porridge, and they become soft and tasty. Not bad at all!
A quick mention of some other breakfast treats. There are also several other options such as chicken leg, or Bai Sait Moan. You can also order rice with fried duck egg, known locally as Bai Sait J’ruuk Nang Pohng Tia Jien. And there is fried rice, Bai Chaa, and fried noodles, Mee Chaa.
If you order fried noodles, there are two kinds: one is the inferior instant kind named after a brand called mee Mama, but the better kind is Mee Dm, which is a long, fresh, yellow noodle.
Nhoim Troyong Chiet
Cambodian banana flower salad includes the tasty banana flower, or Nhoim Troyong Cheit, accompanied by loads of fresh herbs, chopped vegetables, chopped nuts, lemon, and a light sweet-salty-spicy-sour dressing. Of course, it has fish sauce. The salad includes many wonderful flavours. It is crispy and fresh. This dish can also be prepared with pork or chicken depending on your preference. However, it can be prepared without meat. Just the thing if you are trying to lay off the meat.
Whatever it is, Nhoim Troyong Cheit is an incredibly refreshing and quite a festival to eat.
The salad is available at markets. Typically, the price for one salad starts at 7,000 riels.
Street food BBQ is quite a common Cambodian street food and quite popular. At dusk, vendors appear near markets and on busy streets, grilling various dishes.
For seafood BBQ then grilled squid, Ang Dtray-meuk, served with chili sauce is a tasty choice.
Grilled squid is a popular street snack. It is prepared with lime juice or fish sauce before being grilled or skewered and served with a local sauce made of garlic, fresh chilies, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar.
Grilled squid can be found at many street vendors or walk around any of the local markets. These street vendors also set up shop after the markets have closed.
Khmers like their pork. The locals especially like to use it when making sweet Khmer sausages known as Kwah Ko. On street carts around local markets and on the streets, you will find vendors with different kinds of pork sausages hanging off their carts; amazingly easy to spot.
The sausages are sold either on skewers or as small sausage balls. Their red colour makes them easy to identify in your search for these tasty snacks. The taste is special as the sausages are extremely sweet and quite fatty. In fact, the sausages are made with palm sugar and consist of half pork and half fat.
Locals enjoy them a lot and like to eat them with a cold beer.
Expect to pay about 500 riels for one sausage. Be careful not to overdo it as these tasty morsels are addictive. 6 or more for 1 USD. Ideal food if your cycling in Cambodia and need some energy reserves. Actually, a cycle food tour is available. From breakfast through lunch and evening meal.
This is a classic Cambodian noodle soup featuring a complex beef or chicken bone broth, vermicelli noodles, and slices of meat and/or meat balls. This dish can also be found at markets.
This dish starts at 4,000 riels.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of Khmer street eats It is literally the author stumbling on a street vendor when out and about looking for a meal. Nonetheless, this list is a good start. Begin with some of these then explore further and start to enjoy the wonders of Cambodian cuisine. And remember, if you utter the words Knyom Khleam, you’ll be ushered to the nearest street stall.
For most visitors to the Kingdom, chicken, or pork Amok and Lok Lak are their Cambodian cooking experience. However, Cambodia cookery has a treasure trove of dishes on offer. Khmer food has influenced its neighbours and in return, Cambodia’s neighbours have influenced Khmer cooking. Add to that the French connection, and you have a recipe for delicious eating. In addition, Cambodia’s food is often all about contrasts: sweet and bitter, salty and sour, fresh and cooked. For those of you unfamiliar with Khmer cuisine, read on as you will be surprised and delighted by the variety of dishes available in Cambodia.
Khmer Style Cookery
Mealtimes have more than one dish with contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures. Meals use plenty of herbs, leaves, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces and other garnishes and condiments. Water, rice, and freshwater fish exert the most influence on the Cambodian style.
Rice is the staple food in Cambodia, and it is part of every meal, both as a side and as an ingredient. Cambodians prefer either jasmine rice or sticky rice. It is eaten throughout the day as street-side snacks, such as deep-fried rice cakes with chives and spinach; for breakfast, as in Cambodia’s famous rice noodle soup kuy teav or rice porridge; and in many desserts. Meals are also typically served with grilled freshwater fish, a samlor or soup, and an assortment of herbs and vegetables.
Coconut milk is the main ingredient of many Khmer curries and desserts. It is also used in desserts with fruits, such as durian.
Cambodian meals ensure that the diners get a bit of every flavour to satisfy their palates.
Regional and local Cambodian Dishes
Cambodian cooking shares similarities with Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines. Khmer cooking uses fish sauce in soups, stir-fried dishes, and as a dipping sauce. The Chinese influence can be noted in the common chha, or stir-fried dishes, and in the use of many variations of rice noodles. One popular dish of Chinese origin is “pork broth rice noodle soup”. It is similar to Vietnamese phở and is called kuy tieu.
Indian influenced dishes include many types of curry known as kari that use dried spices such as star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel as well as local ingredients such as lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots and galangal that give dishes that unique Cambodian flavour. Banh Chaew, the Khmer version of the Vietnamese Bánh xèo, is also a popular dish. Curries are a common staple of Khmer food, although they tend to be less spicy than their Thai counterparts. Khmer food also has a larger variety of stir-fried vegetables and uses more garlic than its neighbours.
Cambodian Street Food Breakfast
One of the most popular Cambodian breakfast dishes is bai sach chrouk, or pork and rice. This simple dish comes with plain rice and an egg on top, sliced grilled pork, pickled vegetables, and soup. A great way to start the day.
Cambodia’s Most Famous dish
Amok is another popular dish in Cambodian cookery, especially with foreigners. This dish is a thick soup cooked with fish or meat, vegetables, eggs and coconut milk. It is available at most eateries.
Cambodian Stir Fry
There is also loc lac. What could be more authentically Cambodian than beef stir-fried with ketchup and soy sauce, set on a bed of lettuce, onions and tomatoes then served with fries?
Then there is prahok which can be smelt long before it is seen. This secret ingredient – a salty, pungent paste made from fermented fish – is used in many dishes as a distinctive flavouring. Prahok is fried and usually mixed with meat and chilli. It can be eaten with dips, vegetables like cucumbers or eggplants, and rice. When prahok is not used, it is usually replaced by kapǐ, a kind of fermented shrimp paste.
Regional Cambodian Cookery
Regional Cambodian cooking offers some unique dishes influenced by the traditions of local ethnic groups. In Kampot and Kep, known for its Kampot Pepper Crab or Kdam Chha Mrich Kchei in Khmer. This dish is prepared with a local crab fried with the black pepper from local pepper fields. Kula people, an ethnic group of Pailin Province, created Mee Kola, a vegetarian rice stick noodle dish.
In Southeastern Cambodia, the influence of Vietnamese cuisine is strong, evidenced by Bánh tráng which is everywhere in the region but virtually unknown elsewhere.
The Siem Reap and Kampong Thom regions, areas with many Chinese Cambodians, has Khmer versions of many Chinese dishes.
Soups are popular with Cambodians. Popular ones include Kuy teav or Kway teow, flat rice noodles with pork stock and toppings. Ko Kho, which is caramelized rice noodles, is created from the stewed/braised flavours of beef combined with flat rice noodles. It also includes potatoes and carrots topped off with chives and cilantro. Num banh chok is a typical breakfast food and was originally a speciality from Kampot. It consists of rice noodles topped with a fish-based green curry gravy made from lemongrass, turmeric root and kaffir lime. Fresh mint leaves, bean sprouts, green beans, banana flower, cucumbers and other greens are put on top.
Fruit in Cambodia
Fruit in Cambodian cuisine is so popular that they have their own royal court. The durian is considered the “king”, the mangosteen the “queen”, sapodilla the “prince” and milk fruit the “princess”. Other popular fruits include jan, kuy, romduol, pineapple, star apple, rose apple, coconut, palmyra fruit, jackfruit, papaya, watermelon, banana, mango and rambutan. Although fruit is usually considered a dessert, some such as mangoes and pineapples are eaten with heavily salted fish and plain rice. Fruit also comes as beverages called tuk krolok, mostly shakes.
Dessert in Cambodia is typically a simple fare such as sticky rice or just fresh fruit. Mango, coconut milk, banana, and other ingredients are sometimes used to make puddings, tarts, or sticky rice: Cambodians have a sweet tooth. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, the durian is king.
So, when in Cambodia here is a list of some other local dishes that are a must try:
- Fiery black pepper chicken
- Green peppercorn prawns
- Chargrilled eggplant with pork
- Prahok with port belly
- Chicken coconut soup
- Stuffed Kampot squid
- Claypot cola chicken
- Tamarind crab
- Royal seafood amok
- Wok-tossed squid with Kampot pepper
- Kampot cold noodles
- Khmer beef skewers
- Pan-fried prawns with prahok rice
- Water spinach and fermented soy beans