Phnom Penh food could be understood as being very different from foods from other countries because of the authentic ways of how it is cooked. Traditional spices and herbs known mainly to be used since before our grandparents’ time on Cambodian’s strange yet tasty foods. It might take expats and tourists a while to get used to Khmer food due to that very fact.
Almost being wiped from existence during the darkest year of Cambodia’s history 1975-1979, our ancestors has fought and tried to find ways to save those incredible recipes. In hournor to them for their hard works, we are going to present you 11 amazing dishes you should try if you get a chance to visit our capital city, Phnom Penh.
This is the list of foods that we recommend you to look at:
Delicious Khmer Food You Should Try
1. Pork Rice (Bai Sach Chrouk)
Pork rice or best known as Bai Sach Chrouk in Khmer is the most popular Phnom Penh and other regions in Cambodia alike. The pork (sach chrouk) is boneless, thinly sliced and charcoal grilled. It is cooked slowly over the fire to soak up the fat-induced smoke. Then the pork is served with rice (bai). Moreover, the pork rice usually comes with cucumber pickles that were mixed with ginger and radish. It is very usual that bowl of broth topped with spring onions will be offered to you as well. The pork rice goes well with sweet chili sauce or known as Terk Trey Koh Kong. Pork rice is super affordable. You can find it in small food stalls in the local markets with price as cheap as below $1 USD or in the big fancy restaurants up to $2 or $3. Pork rice is always served as breakfast.
2. Num Banh Jok (Khmer Noodle – Somlor Prahar and Somlor Kiri)
Num Banh Jok, an iconic and well known among local people, is a Cambodia-style rice noodle. You can choose between two types of soup to be served with this noodle. Either The first type is Somlor Prahar. Somlor Prahar is a soup made of ground fish meat and coconut broth. Num Banh Jok Somlor Prahar is usually served for breakfast. On the other hand, Another type of soup is Somlor Kiri. Somlor Kiri is red curry, which is made with ground yellow “kroeung” and chicken. Cambodian people usually serve Num Bank Jok Somlor Kiri for dinner or during a celebration. Moreover, people always top Num Banh Jok with refreshing, crispy raw vegetables, including cucumbers, banana blossom, mint, basil, and water lily stems.
Num Banh Jok is an amazing dish for spicy lovers as well because you can eat it with chili flake or fresh chili peppers, which go perfectly well together. The classic rice noddle is super affordable. You can find it at most of Khmer restaurants and local markets. Additionally, there are a lot of mobile Num Banh Jok stalls that sell it along the street throughout the day.
3. Kuy Teav
Kuy Teav is a classic Cambodian noodle soup and a famous Phnom Penh food featuring beef or pork bone broth and thin rice noodles. It is served with beef or pork meat, meatballs or even seafood such as shrimp and squid. Phnom Penh city has its signature Kuy Teav, which is known as Kuy Teav Phnom Penh. It is one of the most famous Phnom Penh food. Unlike Chinese noodles or Vietnamese pho, Kuy Teav broth has a smooth and light aroma and a clean taste. Additionally, it would be better to serve Kuy Teav with chili and bean sauce.
Kuy Teav usually costs around $2 to $4 depending on restaurants and location. Kuy Teav is usually served for breakfast. Whenever locals say “let’s have breakfast, they most likely refer to “let’s have Kuy Teav”. In addition, locals also have Kuy Teav in the evening around 5 to 6 pm as evening snack as well.
4. Prohok Ktis (with raw vegetables)
Prohok Ktis is a Cambodian dip, which made of Prahok (fermented fish) and the Khmer curry paste called Kroeung. Besides these two main ingredients, there are minced pork, coconut milk, and some chilies. Prohok Ktis serves with fresh, crispy raw vegetables like cucumbers. Due to the fact that Prohok is the main ingredient of this dish and it has a strong fishy smell, so Prohok Ktis also has a strong smell as well. You might think that there is something wrong with Prohok Ktis due to its smell. However, it is totally normal.
The fermented aroma of Prohok Ktis is one of the main reasons in which makes the dish as one of the signature dishes of Cambodia. Prohok Ktis is the chef recommended dish in most of the Khmer authentic restaurants in Phnom Penh, which makes it as the most-loved Phnom Penh dish. You can consume Prohok Ktis with rice in the afternoon for lunch or in the evening for dinner.
5. Fish Amok
Fish Amok is Cambodia’s most famous dish. It is a sweet fish curry dish that has thick coconut milk, palm sugar, and a lot of spices such as basil, mint, lemongrass and other ingredients. The fish is usually catfish or snakehead fish. Additionally, the dish is always presented in a banana leaf boats. Fish Amok is very popular that you can find it in almost every Khmer restaurant in Phnom Penh, from luxurious Khmer restaurants to local Khmer restaurants due to the fact that it is the must-have Phnom Penh food on the menu. Furthermore, this dish does not serve with any sauce. It is usually served in the afternoon or evening for lunch and dinner.
6. Num Krouk
We are not quite sure that Num Krouk should be called a rice ball or rice cake. Num Krouk is made from a watery dough of rice flour and coconut milk and scallions. Then, people fry the mixture of watery dough and scallions in a half-sphere metal clay. Cambodian Num Krouk is similar to Japanese Takoyaki. People eat Num Krouk with coconut sauce. Num Krouk is crispy on the outside and soft like pudding on the inside. The first bite of Num Krouk is crispy, but each bite afterward becomes softer and softer. When the soft cake on the inside of the Num Krouk mix with the sauce, it becomes soup that you can drink.
You can find Num Krouk in the local market or along the street in Phnom Penh city. Num Krouk is a well-known Phnom Penh food. Some people eat it for breakfast. But personally, we like eating Num Krouk around the evening as an evening snack. Num Krouk is very affordable. 10 of them might cost you around 5,000 Riel or $1.25 only.
7. Deep-Fried Meatball
You can imagine what is it when you hear the word “ deep-fried meatball”. Deep-fried meatball is just like western fast food deep-fried chicken nuggets. It is the most popular Phnom Penh street food, especially for teenagers and young adults. Beef meatball, fish meatballs, and a wide range of meatballs are available in almost every corner in Phnom Penh city. Fried meatball is served with cucumbers, carrots, and cabbages. Moreover, in order to enhance the flavor, chili sauce is the best match for meatballs. You can eat fried meatballs on the sidewalks, near high school and mobile vendor carts. Fried meatball is a convenient snack and it is super cheap. A group of four people can spend as little as $2.50 for a meal of meatballs.
8. Khor Ko
Khor Ko is Cambodian thick beef stew soup. It is a favorite dish for Cambodian people. Khor Ko is flavored with kaffir lime, lemongrass, basil leaves, and tamarind. Beef in Khor Ko is thick and has a chewy texture. Khor Kor or beef stew soup goes well with Kuy Teav, noodle, and even bread. If you are having Kuy Teav Khor Ko or Mee (noodle) Khor Ko, it is better to have some chili sauce to accompany the dish. Locals usually add some fresh basil on Khor Ko in order to enhance the flavor and add aroma to it. Khor Ko is usually served for breakfast in most restaurants. However, people like to eat Khor Ko for dinner as well. Khor Ko can be as cheap as $1.50 and it gets a little expensive in high-end Khmer restaurants which can be up to $5 to $6.
9. Samlor Kokor
Samlor Kokor or stirring soup, is the most popular traditional Khmer soup dish, which is often considered as one of Cambodia’s national dishes. This dish consists of many Cambodian spices, such as ginger, lemongrass, turmeric and a lot of vegetables, including papaya, banana, eggplant, etc. Samlor Korko has a great flavor if it is served hot. For spicy lovers, you can add chili to this soup to enhance the best flavor of the soup. Samlor Kokor is available in any Khmer restaurant in Phnom Penh, which makes it a famous Phnom Penh food to try. Moreover, it is usually served for lunch and dinner.
10. Samlor Machu Kreoung
Samlor Machu Kroeung is a kind of Cambodian soup that has a mixture of salty, and sour flavor. The main ingredient of Samlor Machu Kreoung is beef, water spinach and obviously yellow “Kreoung”. Kreoung refers to grounded Cambodian spices and herbs, including lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, turmeric, and galangal. Samlor Machu Kreoung is slightly different in different areas in Cambodia. Samlor Machu Kreoung is usually served for lunch and dinner. For me personally, I like Samlor Machu Kreoung with a little bit of spiciness and it’s best served when it is still hot.
11. Sach Ko Ang ( with Terk Prohok sauce)
When we hear about Sach Ko Ang or grilled beef, our mouths are watering. However, if Sach Ko Ang comes with Terk Prohok sauce, it is going to be a super-duper amazing meal. Sach Ko Ang is beef grilled slowly over the charcoal. The meat is chewy and flavorful. But it is not enough just having Sach Ko Ang alone. Terk Prohok sauce and Sach Ko Ang is the best combination. Terk Prohok is the fermented fish sauce. It has a strong fishy smell. You can add fresh chili peppers to cut down the fishy smell and it would be the best for people who love the taste of spiciness.
Sach Ko Ang Terk Prohok is so popular among people of all ages. When there is a celebration, Sach Ko Ang Terk Prohok is the first choice to serve. Sach Ko Ang Terk Prohok can be served throughout the day, although it is rare to serve for breakfast.
Food in Phnom Penh is so varied and so distinct from Western cuisine. However, we encourage you to try Khmer food as much as you can. You might not like the food in Phnom Penh at the first try, but we believe each bite is going to be better and tastier. Food is not only served to fulfill your stomach, but it is also a part of the country’s culture. To truly understand one country, you should taste and study its cuisine as a part of the journey. There are so many stories hidden behind an authentic dish. Hence, Phnom Penh food will give you a deep insight into the culture of Cambodia.
You should also visit our other post on: Where to Find Cheap Eat in Phnom Penh