Cambodia is a food lover’s paradise, and no matter what part of the country you are in, there is always that café around the corner, that stall on the street and the cool bar in the city center that you are tempted to check out! The variety is immense, the flavors are explosive and the prices, fantastic.
Below are my top picks of the most drool worthy dishes, drinks and restaurants that you should definitely try out while you are there –
1. Khmer Fish Amok
This is undoubtedly THE most popular Khmer dish, and you will find it on the menu of every restaurant serving local food. A thick fish curry, steamed in banana leaves, with strongly flavors of coconut and galangal, this dish is to die for. I observed some variations in how this is cooked and served in different places. Though the traditional way is to serve this as a really thick, mouse like fish curry in banana leaves, some places also serve a more runny version in a green coconut shell, accompanied with rice. The best that I had was in Siem Reap, at a local restaurant at Pub Street called Angkor Famous – it was so wholesome, with the perfect consistency to be had with rice, I could happily live off this every single day!
2. Angkor Beer and Mekong Whiskey
What Fish Amok is to food in Cambodia, Angkor beer and Mekong whiskey are to the drinks department. Local alcohol, fairly unadulterated and sharp, even though you may not develop a love for this, you should definitely not leave without having a taste. At most places, you can get Angkor beers for 50 cents a can, and Mekong whiskey with Coke for under $1.5 a drink.
3. Grilled meats
Whether you are in Siem Reap, Sihanoukville or Koh Rong, you will undoubtedly find street stalls displaying a huge variety of meats and serving it fresh off the grill in your choice of sauce. Pub Street, Siem Reap had by far the most elaborate selection of meats to choose from including chicken, beef, and sea food to even crocodile meat and frog meat if you are willing to experiment 😛
4. Sister Srey
If you want a break from Khmer food you should definitely visit Sister Srey in the Old Market area in Siem Reap. The mister and I chanced upon this place as we were walking aimlessly, and we were immediately drawn into this airy café, with a fun sign outside which said “Life’s too short for bad coffee”. Being a coffee lover, I just HAD to check out the menu and there, Sister Srey had us enchanted. Run by two Australians, the café has an easy peasy vibe and wonderful wholesome food. It was fairly full though it was post lunch time. We started with the coolers – watermelon + mango and apple + lemongrass + mint and they came in chunky glasses and were totally refreshing. For the main course, we ordered the Summer Mango and Chicken Burger along with the Potato Hash(topped with grilled Bacon, Poached egg and Spinach) , finishing the meal with the wonderfully sinful chocolate cake.
5. Pancakes on Pub Street
I don’t have a crazy sweet tooth, but I JUST could not get over these pancakes. Freshly made with a variety of toppings and fillings such a banana, Nutella, cream, chocolate, these are just what you need when you are wandering around Pub Street and need a quick snack to up your energy levels.
Now I am no stranger to weird foods I tell you, but this was stretching it a bit far, even by my standards. You can find roaches, crickets, and tarantulas in some dry masalas, with legs, head and everything intact. I ventured close but the creepy crawlies gave me a semi fit, it almost looked like they were ready to take flight any minute! Couldn’t click a picture as you have to “pay for it” but sharing something similar to give you an idea. Try at your own risk (and let me know if you do 😉 ) !
7. Romdeng and Friends
Romdeng and Friends are probably two of the best restaurants in Phnom Penh, while the former serves Cambodian cuisine, the latter is more focused on Asian and Western Fare. Enter these restaurants and you will be immediately drawn to the artistic setting, the beautiful lighting, the local products on sale and the interesting paintings on the wall.
I learnt that both Romdeng and Friends are run by a local NGO called Mith Samlanh, which works for the rehabilitation of former street children and marginalized young people. The restaurants act as training ground for the students so you will see the staff wearing T-shirts marked either a “student” or a “teacher”. The staff is so pleasant and friendly, it is tough to imagine the hardships that they may have undergone in their lives.
Coming to the food, I have no word to describe it other than “mind-blowing”. This is the more “high-end” experience of my trip but it is definitely accompanied with substance and quality. At Romdeng, we began with the Chicken and Vegetable curry served with Baguette as well as the Famous Fish Amok in Banana leaf. Both dishes were great. We were full after these but not satisfied enough so we ordered the Pork and Pumpkin Laap with fresh local herbs which was like a spicy pork salad and a very unique combination of flavours. I also tried the local rice wine which came in shot glasses and was very sweet and strong (not my type of alcohol really!). We then finished with dessert – a scoop each of lemon (with pepper) sorbet and mango sorbet. This was literally to die for, I can tell you that I have never had better. The mango was so flavorful and the lemon perfectly tangy with a kick of pepper (just drooling thinking about it).
At Friends, we started with a crusty french bread and Angkor beer and fresh lime soda. This we followed with the Grilled Fish Filet with Salsa Verde, the fish was just melt in the mouth with a perfect accompaniment of juicy tomato salsa. We also tried their giant burger with a side of salad which we split into two and it will still a large enough serving to fill us up.
8. King’s Court Restaurant in Phnom Penh
After some tough bargaining for souvenirs at the Russian market, we headed for a walk at the waterfront in Phnom Penh and came across this restaurant called King’s Court. This place seemed very nondescript but we were tired and hungry so decided to stop for a quick drink and snack. The food turned out to be an extremely pleasant surprise, we ordered thin rice noodles, a stir fry chicken with greens and of course the Angkor Fish curry, which was one of the better ones that I had in Cambodia.
9. Fresh fruit shakes
If you love fresh fruit, then you will be thrilled to see street carts selling shakes throughout Pub Street, Siem Reap. While you will get the regular mango, banana, strawberry shakes, if you are in the mood to try more exotic stuff like avocado, passion fruit, dragon fruit etc. you will find those options too. I discovered that their taste and creaminess is because of the condensed milk added, I am now totally tempted to do this at home in the summers 🙂 .
10. Cold Coffee at Koh Rong
I chanced upon this coffee rather funnily – now I am one of those who can’t get out of bed without a cup of tea but in Koh Rong, no accommodation has an in-house restaurant or a tea coffee maker in the room (it’s pretty primitive but more on that later), so I went to a local café asking for tea. The owner couldn’t understand what I wanted and after a few minutes of me acting like “sipping tea”, she had a eureka moment and took out a big flask and poured some of its insides into a big plastic cup. I was relieved because it definitely looked like tea, but strangely she just filled it with a little shot. I thought, never mind, probably that is the way they make it here. She then added a little condensed milk and before I could stop her, bucket loads of ice. Now this definitely wasn’t the tea I wanted so I struggled some more to explain and finally resigned, paid her and left with this cup. When I had a taste, I was blown away – it was the strongest coffee, extremely icy with just a hint of sugar and it was AMAZING! I discovered that all places in Koh Rong served cold coffee this way, and it was one of my favourite drinks to have during the day, especially after some time in the water and sun.
11. Wood fired pizzas at Tree House, Koh Rong
Tree House is the ONLY place in Koh Rong that has a wood fired oven and their pizzas are extremely thin with a smoky flavor from the wood and some killer toppings. This place has a very bohemian feel to it, it’s open on all sides and overlooks the clear blue waters. The seating is extremely comfortable and the vibe is relaxed, you could sit here all day with your books and just while your time away. Their Khmer food isn’t bad either, but there is nothing to beat the pizzas here.
12. Coconut water
Ending my bucket list with something that is totally good for you and acts as a great cleanser after all the (over)eating 😉 . I love coconut water so much that if it’s available, I am drinking it constantly. The great thing about the Cambodian coconut is that it way larger in size than what I get in Delhi (extra goodness) and it’s really sweet – generally served chilled in the shell itself!
Have you been to Cambodia? If so, what were your favorite foods and experiences?