On the basis of a subsistence culinary tradition inherited from the most rural population of Southeast Asia, the Cambodian or Khmer gastronomy has a marked gastronomic influence from China and India and moves between the flavors of the Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.
The Khmer tradition dictates sitting in a lotus position on a rug where all dishes are placed and usually using the hands to eat. Often, the Cambodians abstain from breakfast, enjoying only two main meals throughout the day: a first between 10 and 11 in the morning and another in the form of a dinner around 5 in the afternoon. There is a large variety of ingredients in the traditional Khmer kitchen, often using lots of spices, herbs, curries and spicy dressings. Among the ingredients of their most typical dishes, you can find a wide variety of foods, although the preferences of Cambodians is most often for sour and acidic flavors.
Amok is one of the favorite dishes for travelers visiting the country. It consists of some kind of fish cooked with coconut milk and spicy vegetables and served on a banana leaf or inside a coconut. Sometimes the fish can be replaced by chicken. It is a creamy, filling dish which is widely available and popular with almost everyone that tries it.
Exotic fruits are abundant in Cambodia. Many of these like the Durian, are generally unknown in the West. The durian or durion is a species of tree native to South Asia. Its fruit weighs between two and three kilograms and is known throughout the region as "the King of Asia." Although the fruit itself carries a strange smell, the taste is extremely sweet. The seeds are also edible and once roasted and crushed they are used to make cakes.
Another of the dishes that can be found frequently in the restaurants or street stalls in Cambodia are frog legs, usually smeared with a preparation of pepper, salt and lemon like one used in the dish Lok Lak. They are either served stuffed or crispy and are two of the most popular dishes of Cambodian cuisine
Cambodians are not used to eating desserts at the end of a meal, but instead, enjoy them between meals. In Cambodia, most desserts are made from coconut or glutinous rice, a type of short grain sweet rice that becomes very sticky when cooked. It is often served on street stalls and in most casual eateries
As it is in the rest of Asia, spices and herbs have a privileged place in Cambodian cuisine. Kroeung is a kind of curry paste that is often adapted and added to depending on the region and the preference of the restaurant or cook who prepares it. The most traditional recipe includes turmeric roots, citronella lemongrass, kefir lime leaves, garlic, shallot, fresh red chili peppers and galanga, an Asian herbaceous plant of the ginger family. Together they produce a pleasant aromatic curry paste which has endless uses.
Lok Lak is probably one of the most well-known dishes both within Cambodia and worldwide. Traditionally made with beef, it is a meaty dish which is wrapped in a lettuce leaf and served on a bed of seasoned rice. Like all dishes, it can be adapted using different meats to suit different tastes and variations can be found throughout Cambodia.
Essential in Khmer cuisine is prahok, a fermented fish paste with a strong smell and taste. It is sometimes called "Cambodian cheese" due to its strong flavour and is an acquired taste for many. It can be eaten alone or mixed with other spices or meats and is generally used to enhance the taste of otherwise bland the dishes.
Somlas or samlor, soups in Khmer, are the staple food in Cambodia, especially during the morning break to eat. One of the most popular is the somla machou banlé, an acid-flavored soup prepared with fish and pineapple. Somla machou bangkang, is another soup which is extremely spicy and made with fresh prawns. Also very popular among the preferred soup variants by Cambodians is the Somla Chapek, which combines pork and ginger and has an enjoyable subtle warmth to it, thanks to the use of ginger.
Although it may seem extravagant, one of the real delicacies in Cambodia is Swallow's nest juice. There are entire buildings in the country dedicated to the breeding of these birds that, unlike other species, build the nests with their own saliva. Cambodians take the nests from these aviaries and make a refreshing drink with them. It is so popular that the drink is even sold in cans.
Trey Ahng means grilled fish in Khmer and it is one of the specialties of Cambodia. From the Tonle Sap Lake to the Mekong River, there are several varieties of freshwater fish that are consumed in the country. Traditionally after being grilled, the shredded fish is wrapped in lettuce or spinach leaves and dipped in teuk trey, a fish sauce similar to Vietnamese mom nuoc.