International Cooking: Food from Cambodia

This is a country I’ve really been looking forward to as I love food from this part of Asia! I didn’t know exactly what dishes to expect, but I was sure food from Cambodia was going to be delicious.


Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia, bordered by Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The country has been inhabited since prehistoric times.

Cambodia was once known as the Khmer Empire, which facilitated the spread of Hinduism and then Buddhism to much of the surrounding area. The country built many religious buildings, among them the Angkor Wat which is currently designated as a World Heritage Site.

In 1863, Cambodia became a protectorate of France, and was later occupied by the Japanese during World War II. After that, they gained independence from France. Although they took a neutral stance during the Vietnam War, Cambodia was still affected. A period of upheaval followed, during which there were coups and a genocide.

Today, Cambodia is governed by the Cambodian People’s Party. It has been designated as a ‘least developed country’ by the United Nations, and corruption, poverty, and human rights are considered major issues. Per capita income is low, but Cambodia has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia so maybe that will change one day soon.

What Do People Eat in Cambodia?

Buddhism is practiced by more than 97% of the population, which would have led me to believe that most of the country’s dishes would be vegetarian, but that is not the case. Although there are definitely vegetarian dishes, meat and fish are common ingredients.

I found Cambodian cuisine to use a lot of the same flavors found in Thai and Vietnamese dishes. Many dishes enjoyed today are more specifically Khmer cuisine, which refers to the dishes made over the years by the Khmer people who are native to Cambodia.

Rice, noodles (especially rice noodles) and fish are very common ingredients as they are readily available.

A popular Khmer curry paste that forms the base of many dishes is called kroeung. It usually consists of lemongrass, galangal, makrut lime leaves, and/or zest, turmeric, garlic, and shallots. It comes in three colors: yellow, red, and green. Sometimes chili may be added, depending on what dish the curry paste is being used for.

Cambodian dishes tend to be very fragrant with fresh herbs and spices, and often chili. I really enjoyed how fresh everything tasted; even the soups were not too heavy which is a good thing since it’s still pretty warm here!

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Cambodian dishes I didn’t make!

Nom Banh Chok (Noodles with Fish Curry)

Nom banh chok

This is a breakfast dish consisting of noodles with a fragrant curry sauce, accompanied by fresh vegetables and herbs. There’s a lot going on here!

The curry paste is made of lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, makrut lime leaves, garlic, and shallots, pounded together in a mortar and pestle. There was also supposed to be makrut lime zest, but I used regular lime zest.

The fish is poached in water flavored with fish sauce and sugar. Then it’s mashed and mixed with the curry paste. I was a bit unclear on one part of the recipe, regarding whether the poaching liquid is supposed to be included with the mashed fish and curry paste. I decided it probably was, but there seemed to be too much so I didn’t use it all.

The fish curry is served over cooked rice noodles, and the accompaniments I included were cucumber, bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, and lime, plus a sprinkle of chili flakes.

This was a great dish! I’m not sure the fish curry consistency was completely correct but it tasted good.

I got the recipe from Gran Tourismo Travels.

Beef Lok Lak (Pepper Beef)

BeefLokLak

This is a popular Cambodian dish, consisting of marinated beef cooked with onions and served with lettuce, tomato, and rice. There’s also a tangy lime dipping sauce. I used shallots for the onions because when I went to the Asian supermarket for ingredients this week, I could only buy bags of shallots rather than individual ones. So I have a lot of shallots to use up!

This was probably the easiest dish I made all week, but it was also one of the tastiest. I really enjoyed it and I know I’ll make it again! The recipe is from Marion’s Kitchen. I did not have Kampot pepper, so I just used regular black pepper.

Nom Ka Chai (Chive Cakes)

Nom ka chai

I love chives and so I knew I had to try making these chive cakes. They are made with a blend of tapioca flour and rice flour, and a hefty amount of chives. I could only get Korean garlic chives at the Asian supermarket, so that’s what I used.

These were supposed to be steamed in ‘little cups inside a steam pot’ so I used my silicone cupcake liners inside my bamboo steamer. I think that worked well! After they were steamed, I let them cool before frying them for a few minutes until browned.

These were very garlicky! I had not tried Korean garlic chives before this and now I can say I like them! Though anyone who is sensitive to garlic should probably just use regular chives!

The recipe I used is from Khmer Food and More.

Mee Kola (Noodles with Egg and Pickled Vegetables)

Mee Kola

Mee kola is another dish with a lot of components! There’s a cucumber and carrot pickle, which was also supposed to have green papaya but I couldn’t find that. Then there’s a dressing made from fish sauce, sugar, garlic, shallots, and chilis. The noodles are boiled, then tossed briefly in a wok with some soy sauce. The noodles go in the bowl first, along with the pickled vegetables, some bean sprouts and boiled eggs. Dried shrimp, crushed peanuts, and fresh herbs are sprinkled on top, before finally the dressing is spooned over everything.

This was a delicious dish! I loved the dressing especially and I thought the chili brought just enough heat. I got the recipe from Gran Tourismo Travels.

Fish Amok (Steamed Fish Curry)

Fish amok

Fish amok is Cambodia’s national dish. It’s a kind of steamed custard containing curry, fish, and coconut milk. The curry paste is made with lemongrass, galangal, makrut lime zest (I used regular), turmeric, garlic, shallots, and chili. The fish amok is supposed to be steamed in noni leaves, but I couldn’t get those so I just used a ramekin.

I used the recipe from Gran Tourismo Travels. My fish amok came out looking much paler than the one in the photo; I probably messed up the ratios of ingredients when reducing the recipe. It did taste good though! I served it with rice and bok choy.

Cambodian Congee (Rice Porridge)

Cambodian congee

Congee is like a porridge made with rice, which has been cooked for a long time and in extra liquid so that it breaks down. I’ve eaten congee before and loved it, but this is a Cambodian version. Someone on Reddit recommended I try Cambodian congee, so here it is!

This is made with chicken, and also contains dried shrimp, garlic, rice noodles, fish sauce, and a little sugar. There was also supposed to be ‘preserved cabbage’ which could possibly be sauerkraut or something similar, but I omitted that. To finish, I garnished with green onion, fried shallots, and bean sprouts (since I had a whole bag I needed to use).

This was really good! I added a little sriracha after I started eating, and I think that made it even better.

I got this recipe from Cambodia Recipe.

Kuy Teav (Noodle Soup)

Kuy teav

Kuy teav is a noodle soup with a pork-based broth, rice noodles, various proteins, and a variety of toppings. I used homemade chicken stock because I forgot about the pork bones. For protein, I included chicken thighs, ground pork, and shrimp. For toppings, I added bean sprouts, cilantro, chili, green onion, fried garlic, and dried shrimp.

This was really delicious, and would probably have been even more so had I included the pork bones! The recipe is from Camille Styles.

Bai Sach Chrouk (Pork with Egg and Pickled Vegetables)

Bai sach chrouk

Bai sach chrouk is a popular breakfast dish consisting of pork, egg, lightly pickled vegetables, rice, and dipping sauce. The egg is often in the form of an omelet, which is how I served mine. This dish was easy and really delicious.

The recipe I used is from Chakriya’s Kitchen.

  • Salaw machu kroeung – a sour soup that gets its flavor from tamarind. This is just one of a variety of similar sour soups; this is the name given to the version made with beef
  • Samlor korko – a soup made from green kroeung, fish paste, roasted ground rice, catfish, pork or chicken, and various vegetables, fruits, and herbs.
  • Prahok ktis – a dip made from fermented fish, yellow kroeung, minced pork, and coconut milk. It’s usually served with chopped fresh vegetables.
  • Khor sach ko – a beef stew flavored with palm sugar and a variety of seasonings including onion, garlic, galangal, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, and chili. It is usually served over noodles or with bread, and topped with fresh herbs.
  • Num chek chien – bananas are flattened, dipped in a batter made from rice flour, sesame seeds, egg whites, and coconut milk, and deep fried to make crispy fritters.

Final Thoughts

This was a really good week! I was pretty confident that food from Cambodia would be delicious and it was. My favorite dish was probably the beef lok lak, with mee kola or perhaps kuy teav being second. It was hard to choose though because everything was so good.

Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Cameroon.

Join the Conversation

  1. Hi Rebecca, Lara here from Grantourismo. What a cool project. Looks like everything turned out really well. Love seeing the pics of the dishes. So pleased you enjoyed everything. I will let my friends here in Siem Reap know as they love it when foreigners cook and enjoy Cambodian food 🙂

    In case you decide to cook these again…

    For the nom banh chok poaching liquid, step 5 refers to mashing the fish with the poaching liquid or ‘juices’ (that’s my Australian showing). But if it’s not a soft fish and you’re opting to pound it a little in the mortar and pestle, then I recommend leaving the poaching liquid out, otherwise it will splash everywhere. The liquid can then be added to the pot after the fish is pounded. I’ll tweak that text so it’s clearer.

    Also to clarify: traditionally the fish is poached with prahok, which is a very funky fermented fish paste. But that’s tricky to find outside Cambodia (it tastes quite different to Thai pla ra, for instance, which is easier to source) — which is why I suggest the fish sauce and palm sugar (or other sugar) to balance it, as fish sauce can be very salty rather than fishy/umami tasting, depending on the brand.

    Re the mee Kola, you could also use green mango if you can’t find green papaya, or skip it. Some cooks will plop a fried egg on top — same with the beef lok lak.

    As for the colour of your fish amok – I’m guessing you may hve reduced the measures if you’re only cooking for one and might have only used a very small amount of the kroeung (herb and spice paste) as a fish amok should be yellow, yellow-green or even orange depending on the proportions and how fresh/strong the herbs/spices are — fresh turmeric tends to result in a more yellow colour (but even if you couldn’t find fresh turmeric and used ground turmeric, it should still be yellowish); with more fresh green herbs, it will be greener; and with the addition of fresh chilli, it will be an orange colour. I’m pleased you still enjoyed it 🙂

    Please don’t hesitate to leave any questions in the comments at the end of recipes on our site if we can help with anything you’re cooking for future destinations. Enjoy!

    1. Thank you so much Lara for visiting and leaving such a detailed comment!

      I think I was only confused when making the nom ban chok because I had a lot of poaching liquid vs fish and it seemed like too much, but that was because I was reducing the recipe. If I made the whole thing then the ratios would have made a lot more sense!

      I did reduce everything for the fish amok (I think I made 2 ramekins) and I’m pretty sure I didn’t use enough turmeric. I used frozen turmeric and my white kitchen towels can attest to its potency! But yeah, probably just didn’t put in enough. The main thing was that it did still taste good!

      I also want to let you know that my mother made the mee kola recipe after reading this post and she enjoyed it too!

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