Sick of fried rice, spring rolls and noodle soup? Here are 7 amazing Cambodian dishes to make you fall in love with Khmer food all over again.
1. Amok Trey
Okay, so Cambodia’s national dish is hardly a hidden treasure. But there’s a world of difference between the salty congealed-egg mush that’s ladled up in tourist trap cafes and the divine combination of tender fish and smooth, rich, coconut-and-lemongrass curry that takes two hours to prepare and comes steamed in a delicately folded banana leaf and finished with a chilli flower. Just beautiful.
Prahok isn’t so much a meal in itself, as the staple that underpins just about every “authentic” Khmer dish. Jokingly called Cambodian Cheese due to its pungent smell, this salty and strangely addictive fish paste is fermented for up to three years before being baked, fried with pork or mixed with spices and eaten raw. Personally, I love it the classic way: baked in a banana leaf and served with white rice, crunchy raw vegetables and fresh Khmer herbs.
3. Khmer Borbor
Similar to Chinese/Thai congee, done right, this Cambodian “porridge” is the king of breakfasts. It’s not so much about the rice porridge, which by itself would be a little bland and watery, but what you add to it: fish, chicken or pork, plus fried garlic, lime, beansprouts, fresh herbs, shallots, peanuts, dried chillies, prahok and typically a range of other sauces or condiments, all provided on a plate for you to mix to your taste. Borbor manages to be both light and incredibly filling and delicious – a perfect start to Cambodia’s scorching summer days.
4. Lort Char
Simple but incredibly satisfying, these soft, fat, short noodles are wok-fried with greens in soy and fish sauce, mixed with beansprouts for texture, and topped with a fried egg that’s just runny enough to coat the noodles when you break into it. Add a touch of chilli (or sweet chilli) sauce and you’re onto a winner. Incidentally, these make for an excellent hangover fix, too.
5. Green Mango Salad
This is the Cambodian equivalent to Thailand’s famous papaya salad, with the same winning blend of textures and balance of sweet and sour flavours. Unlike the Thai version, though, green mango salad uses more fragrant herbs – and far less chilli. So, if you’re not a hot food fiend, this version will be far more up your street.
6. Lok Lak
I have a confession to make: being a pescatarian, I’ve never eaten “proper” (i.e. beef) lok lak, Cambodia’s second-most-famous dish. But the classic gravy-like sauce – which after all is what makes this dish unique – is excellent, as are the sprigs of fresh green Kampot pepper that give this Khmer classic its kick.
7. Samlor Kako
There’s an old Khmer legend behind the complex flavours of “Stirring Soup”, and it goes like this: there was once a Cambodian woman who decided to kill her cruel, abusive drunk of a husband. Attempting to poison him, she gathered up every unusual herb, root and fruit she could find and mixed them all in a soup, adding roasted rice and stirring constantly to conceal the ingredients and disguise the bitterness of the leaves. But, instead of killing him, the health-giving properties of the soup transferred the evil husband into a sweet, kind (and sober) man, and they lived happily ever after. Personally, I’d recommend divorcing the husband and keeping twice and many portions of this gorgeous soup to yourself, but each to their own.
Have we missed your favourite Khmer recipe on this list? Leave us a reply below!