I bet that Angkor Wat is the very first thing coming into your mind when we mention Cambodia. No doubt that it has been famous all over the world; but I strongly believe that there are many other things that motivate travelers to visit Cambodia from a faraway country, transit a couple of times and long-haul flights. One of those is the culinary culture. Not as famous as the neighbors Vietnam and Thailand, still Khmer food especially treats on the streets would definitely make your trip memorable. Let’s explore top 7 must-try street food in Cambodia in this article.
It is believed that Lort Cha is the most popular dish on Cambodia streets. “Lort” means the kind of short flat rice noodle (rice pin noodle) and “cha” is stir fry. So basically it is stir-fried short noodles with broccoli, beans, chives, and scallions. It is typically mixed with beef and finally topped with a fried egg. It tastes sweet and a bit spicy which reminds me of Pad Thai but with different ingredients. This could be a perfect lunch while roaming around the vibrant streets of Phnom Penh or Pub Street in Siem Reap. It is easy to find a Lort Cha food stall which is with a big fry pan and a collection of fresh ingredients making your tasty plate of noodles.
This is a traditional dish that you must try at least once in Cambodia. You will this on menus around the country, from luxury to the low budget. This is the cooking fish with coconut curry served onto a banana leave which is like a bowl. In the traditional way, banana leaves are also used to steam the fish. The wide selection of spices such as lemongrass, kaffir lime, turmeric, and the local herb slok ngor creates the thick layers of flavor.
Visiting Phnom Penh night market, you will be surprised by the various vendors selling different types of insects: spiders, grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches, worms, scorpions, ant eggs, etc. These are usually grilled or fried with different spices. It is a common food for Cambodia since the late 1970s when they had to live mostly in the forests – the natural habitat of these insects. Crickets, like most insects, are rich in protein and some research suggests they help lower cholesterol. Also, Khmer women believe that eating spiders would be good for their beauty and hair.
Most people are brave enough to try just one of these insects but it turns out to be quite good. While the crickets or cockroaches are crunchy, worms are juicy and buttery.
It is really bizarre for most tourists so that taking photos is what all of us want to do. However, the sellers will not let us do so unless you buy something from them. It is sold in a can or cup which costs about 4000 Riel – quite reasonable!
Here is what a vegetarian feel happy about – Kralan or bamboo stick stuffed with the sticky rice. It is actually not just sticky rice, Khmer people added back eyed beans or soybean and coconut milk making it a mixture. Then put all together into a bamboo tube and roast these tubes on a charcoal or wood fire. The smoky flavor just brings the taste to another level.
According to tradition, Khmer soldiers from Angkorian times would take Kralan on patrols. Nowadays, it is like a sort of snack which people can have it any time of the day. It tastes best right on the day of cooking, since it has coconut milk, it does not keep well beyond two or three days.
Street food BBQ is very much common in South East Asia and Cambodia is not an exception. Definitely this is one of the most easy-to-eat dishes anywhere in the world. The skewers on coals filled with pork, beef, chicken, seafood (squid, prawn), sausage, quail eggs, etc. are really attractive on the streets of Cambodia.
A noodle soup is something that originated in South East Asia and Cambodia is one of the best places to have the dish. Here, the soup is usually made with local greens along with rice vermicelli, scallions, and pork or chicken bones. For the adventurous, you can choose to add livers, intestines, tongue or even blood to the soup. The soup is quite filling, which is why you will find hordes of people lining up against the stalls in the night to have it.
Surprisingly, Hu Tieu noodle in Vietnam is a creation from kuy teav. It is most famous in the Southern part of Vietnam, like a symbolic dish.
If you are a traveler who loves to explore new things and dare to try exotic cuisines, Balut cannot be skipped. It is duck’s fertilized embryo and served as a whole. To eat balut, you just need to crack the shell on its top and firstly sip the liquid right off the actual eggshell. You are able to add spices up to your liking, like pepper salt, lime juice or chilli.
What scares people the most is sometimes, they choose kind of older eggs then you will see the embryo which has turned to be semi-grown duck.
A bit of ginger slices and a special herb would balance the taste as the egg alone is very rich in protein.
Suggested Cambodia tours
Daniel Nguyen – Travel Specialist