Written off as a poor man's version of Thai or Vietnamese food, Cambodian cuisine has a flair of its own that might surprise you. A study in contrasts of flavors, textures, temperatures, combining different grains, meats, vegetables, herbs garnishes and sauces.
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Similar to many Asian countries, rice and noodles factor heavily into almost every dish. Rice porridge (bobor) is a typical breakfast item. Nom banh Chok, a dish composed of rice noodles along with curry and a variety of spices, is sometimes called Cambodia's national meal.
Rice indeed forms the backbone of the diet, and not just the indigenous Khmer rice, but other varieties of wild rice, brown rice, and sticky rice make up a bulk of the Cambodian diet. Plain white rice, which is perhaps the most popular, figures into many lunch and dinner meals, most often with soup (samlor), and some fish. Cambodians eat freshwater fish from the Mekong or Tonle Sap rivers, and use a fish and vegetable based pastes to flavor other meals. These are powerful flavoring agents, and take those new to Cambodian cuisine a little while to get used to.
Two of the most widely used are Prahok (fermented fish paste) and Kroeung (spice paste made from lemongrass and galangal).
What are some distinct items you'd find on the local menu? There's a lot to choose from, but some standouts include Fish Amok, a kind of fish curry mixed with coconut milk and steamed in a banana-leaf cup. It's seasoned with kroeung, and garnished with kaffir lime leaves. Its popularity is undeniable. Indeed, it's known as Cambodia's other national dish due the frequency with which it is prepared and consumed. There's Bai Sach Chrouk, a kind of BBQ pork and rice. The pork is sometimes marinated in garlic and coconut milk, and the dish comes with a hearty side of cucumbers and radish.
It's easily one of the most delicious offerings Cambodian fare has to offer, and for good reason. There are, of course, some things on the Cambodian menu that might cause you to do a bit of a double take, but that doesn't mean they are any less tasty. There's the green mango salad, a citrus blend of sweet, sour, savory, and crunchy elements. Lort Cha, short noodles served with bean sprouts, fried eggs, and sweet chili sauce.
Perhaps you'd be interested in a bit of grilled squid, brushed with lime juice of fish sauce? Ang drtray-meuk is a popular item in towns along the coast.
It's tough being in direct competition with powerhouse food giants such as Thailand and Vietnam, but once you peel back the layers and delve into the complexity of the cuisine, you too will be stunned by what Cambodia has to offer. Getting a visa to Cambodia online is the most efficient way to go for gaining access to the country, so apply today and see what you've been missing.