Cambodia is a fascinating country.
From the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, to the grisly graves of the Killing Fields, it is a place full of new experiences. And this includes the adventurous eaters out there! The street food in the major cities ranges from fresh exotic foods, to creepy crawlies, while the fantastic drink prices means you can try a new cocktail each night!
Cambodian street food – The Sweet
It is easy to find fresh fruit for sale, and it is a whole different experience from the imported fruit you may be used to back home. Fruit is such an important part of Cambodian cuisine that they have a royal court of fruits! Durian is the King of fruits, and has a mixed reputation. While it is obviously popular in South-East Asia, it has been described by western tourist as have a particular strong odor…of garbage!
If you’re not game to try durian, you should defiantly sample another Cambodia fruit combo, Pineapple and chili salt! The fresh pineapple in Cambodia is amazing, and made even more interesting by the addition of chili salt, which is normally sold in little bags along with your fruit. Either pour a bit of the chili salt into your hand, and dip the pineapple into it, or just shake the whole bag over your pineapple and give it a good toss. The sweetness of the pineapple, combined with the saltiness, is a really interesting combination and actually really delicious. Apparently chili salt also goes well with other exotic fruits, like sour mangoes and papaya. And if you want to try it at home, apparently 2 Tbsp salt, 2 Tbsp sugar, and 2 tsp chili flakes is a good mix.
Cambodian street food – The Weird
Another large part of Cambodian cuisine is bugs! During the civil war in Cambodia, refugees turned to insects as a food source when crop failure and rationing lead to famine. Now that Cambodia is recovering from those years of war, insects have become a snack food and a delicacy. Bug hunters can get a good price for the insects they find, and there are even Cambodian/French fusion restaurants opening in the Capitol of Phnom Penh, where you can fine dining with insects.
If you are up for a little “fear factor” on your trip, I would try a deep fried tarantula. They are normally covered in sweet chili sauce, and have a definite crunchy texture. Skuon (aka Spiderville) is a market town on the highway between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and it is famous for its friend spiders. Young children run around with live tarantulas beneath their shirts, which they will let you hold if you’re keen. They also have a sneaky habit of tickling the back of your arm to make you jump, as they find it hilarious that western tourists are so scared of spiders! Deep fried tarantulas were US 50c a piece, and there were a range of crickets, scorpions, and fruit if you want something tamer (just make sure it comes with chili salt!).
Also on my list of the weird, are fried snakes. To be honest, I don’t even really consider these a fear factor food, they were amazing! They normally come zig-zagged on a stick, and taste like a cross between chicken skin and bacon. They are babies so you can eat them whole; skin bones, and all!
Fine Dinning – The Funky
One of the must try dishes in Cambodia is Fish Amok. It is a steamed fish curry, cooked in banana leaves and mixed with thick coconut cream. While it is a beautiful dish on its own, it is ten times more amazing when it is served in a coconut! I don’t know, maybe it’s me, but I loved they curries served in hollowed out fruit. Along with the fish amok served in the coconut, we also tried a lovely meat dish served in a pineapple. Not all restaurants will serve amok this way, but keep an eye out for it! If you can’t find menus with pictures, I would have a sneaky look at what other people in the restaurant are eating. That way you can just point excitedly.
Overall Cambodian food is pretty good. Stick to well-known dishes recommended by your travel guide or favorite blog (Fish Amok will defiantly be on there), and I am sure you will enjoy your meal. And if you are up for Cambodian/French/Insect fusion meals, keep an eye out for them in Phnom Penh.
Fine Dinning – The Fiery
Want something to wash it all down with? Cocktails in Cambodia are amazingly cheap, and most places will do a full range. In the interests of safety, I would only drink alcohol from a proper bar or restaurant. Stay away from the street vendors, as a few tourists have come away with methanol poisoning from bad batches of home brew. With that safety disclaimer aside, the restaurants are pretty cheap. Keep an eye out for happy hours, and you can probably get two drinks for around the $5USD mark.
The ultimate cocktail experience is the Flaming Lamborghini. If you’re traveling with a large group you can probably convince the bar tender to put one of these together. Especially if it’s someone’s birthday! It’s fascinating enough watching the bar staff pile a tall, intricate collection of glassware. It’s even more impressive to watch them light a glass of liqueur on fire, and pour it slowly over the tower until the whole thing is covered in blueish flames! Then it’s time to grab your straws, and drink the sweet and slightly warm mix at the bottom (make sure you put your straw under the flames!).
I find food is a big part of any new culture you are trying to experience. Don’t be shy, dive in and try anything that catches your eye, or nose! Even if it looks a bit creepy, you can always wash it down with a beer or two (50c in most bars), and you will have a fascinating story to tell when you get home!