The Delicious Khmer Cuisine

Khmer, or Cambodian cuisine is one of the most delicious and best-kept secrets of world cuisine. Flavourful, healthy and aromatic, Khmer cuisine is very similar to that of Thailand (although generally less spicy) as well as Vietnam. Like most Asian cuisines, rice is the staple food and is usually always served with main dishes. French bread, or baguettes, have also made their way into everyday cuisine thanks to the colonial influence of the French. Although the Cambodian cuisine is varied, and hundreds of obscure local delicacies exist, we'll introduce you to some of the more common dishes that you'll encounter during your stay in Sihanoukville.

Amok - The National Dish

Amok
Chicken Amok. Too delicious for words... but we'll try.
Amok is to Cambodia as curry is to India. Amok is a delicious, coconut cream-based curry made with coconut milk, a choice of meat or fish, served on a bed of white rice, similar to the Thai dish pad pong garee. Traditionally, it is served in plantain or banana leaves, but you're more likely to have it served in a bowl or on a plate, depending on the viscosity of the curry sauce. It's rich and aromatic flavours come from the garlic and onions, alongside a blend of herbs, normally lemon grass, ginger, kroeung (a blend of spices used in nearly all Cambodian curries) and curry powder, as well as the ubiquitous fish sauce or prahok which gives it a subtle, salty tang. It's hearty yellowish colouring comes from the curry powder, and turmeric. Saffron is preferable to turmeric, but it's use is not conducive to an affordable meal. Because Khmer cuisine is generally not as spicy as it's Thai counterpart, Amok is not normally a fiery dish, but for the Chiliheads out there who like a spicy meal, your wishes will always be accommodated to the amusement of the locals. No trip to Cambodia is truly complete without trying this dish at least once.

The Ubiquitous Beach BBQ

Beach BBQ
Khmer BBQ
One thing you're sure to notice are the sheer number of places selling Khmer BBQ along and near the beach. Virtually every shack along Ochheuteal Beach will have a $3 BBQ every night featuring freshly caught seafood (usually locally caught barracuda, squid, shrimp, prawns, tuna and snapper), as well as beef, chicken and pork spare (and sometimes babyback) ribs. It's at times dizzying to decide which place to sit - factors such as the price of beer, happy-hour cocktails and music all play a part in helping customers decide at which shack they will dine. One small issue some have with beach shacks is the fact that most places have the exact same menu - BBQ, Khmer dishes and select western dishes that are easy for Khmer cooks to prepare with the limited nature of their kitchen supplies. The flipside to this is that each place does their BBQ slightly different - it may be the same menu all over, but each is unique in proportions, the marinades and the side dishes. The more pedantic of travelers will argue that Khmer BBQ is not really what they consider to be BBQ, as most places "broil" the meat on foil before popping it onto the grill. Either way, you're sure to find somewhere along the beach to sit and relax with a plate of succulent fresh meat or seafood and your favorite cocktail or a cold beer. As a note, the busier a place is, the fresher the meat will be; many places with low turnover will thaw and refreeze their meat and fish over and over which sacrifices texture, flavor and food safety.

Lok Lak

Amok
Beef Lok Lak
Lok Lak (sometimes spelled Loc Lac) is another popular Khmer dish that is identical to the Vietnamese dish Bò lúc lắc. Lok Lak is beef (or alternatively chicken or pork) that's been marinated with spicy green Cambodian peppercorns and lime juice and gently stir-fried with garlic, onions, oyster sauce, and whatever other spice the chef deems necessary. The end result is a deliciously tender and savoury plate of beef that melts in your mouth, leaving behind the flavours. Lok Lak is usually served on a bed of freshly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes. A dipping sauce will at times accompany the dish.

Locally Caught "Lobsters"

Amok
Cambodian "Lobsters"... they're quite tasty
A local catch that you're sure to encounter on Sihanoukville beaches is what the locals refer to as 'lobsters'. These are not really lobsters, but miniature lobster-like creatures that are closer to being langoustine than actual lobster. If you enjoy shrimp, lobster and other crustacea, you'll surely enjoy these - the elongated abdomen contains lots of tender and supple meat. Vendors along the beach will be selling these all day, and they are always freshly caught. They will be served with squeezed lime, and go down quite well with some ice-cold local beer. If you're unaccustomed to shelling shellfish, the vendor will be happy to do it for you - just ask.

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