Cambodia was a jaw-dropping place to visit, but the biggest surprise was the food. I’d never tried Cambodian food before, and everyone would agree Khmer cuisine is somewhat overshadowed by its Vietnamese and Thai neighbors, so I went with pretty low expectations and zero knowledge… and let’s just say I was completely blown away.
Cambodian cuisine withdraws influence from various countries, its neighbors as well as French and Chinese (since there are many Chinese immigrants). Seafood is abundant and the common ingredients in meals are much like those of other Southeast Asian countries: rice, coconut milk, garlic, palm sugar, fish sauce, chillies, kaffir lime, lemongrass, galangal (whose flavour is sharper and more citrusy than common ginger’s), shallots, etc. But, the flavors are blended uniquely to Cambodia. The menus are fairly similar all over the country, but each area prepares the dishes in its own unique way, slightly different from others, because there are so many options regarding the spices and herb blends.
Fish Amok in Phnom Penh
This is by far the most popular Cambodian dish. It’s a fish mousse made with fresh coconut milk and kroeung, which is a type of Khmer curry paste. You can find similar meals in Thailand and Vietnam, but what makes the Cambodian version completely unique is the added slok ngor, a local herb with a subtle hint of bitterness. Restaurants steam the fish amok in a banana leaf and smaller local places serve a less creamy, boiled version.