Taking a culinary tour of Cambodia is just a perfect idea. Although the purpose of my travels from the get-go wasn’t to indulge in the local food, the temptation of trying something new was just irresistible to me. As you might know, many people consider Asia the best place for exotic food. You can translate this ‘exotic food’ in your mind as you want. Some might have the view that it’s the locally common ingredients such as prawns, coconut milk, turmeric, cloves, and other spices that make it special, while others might describe its rarer local delicacies, for example fried spicy spiders and so forth. As for me, to be exotic, the food has to remind me of my hometown, so it must contain chili with a strong presence of coconut milk, and only a sprinkling of meat; not a handful, and certainly not a kilo of it. Traditional Cambodian dishes generally meet the requirements of my palate. I didn’t try Fish Amok; because undoubtedly it contains fish! That time, I just didn’t have the energy to transform myself into a Mystique or Nagini (that’s what usually happens any time I eat fish- my skin starts to shout at me to stop eating it while changing its color and texture!). Okay, let’s forget that. It doesn’t sound a suitable topic to go with food…
I tried Beef Lok Lak, which you can find in pretty much every restaurant or food stall in Cambodia. Beef Lok Lak is marinated beef that is fried quickly, but not deep fried, and served usually with lettuce, cucumbers, tomato, and raw onion- and don’t forget the super tasty, peppery lime dipping sauce! I have no idea in which sauce they marinate the beef, but my expert tongue can detect the mighty, dark, soya sauce! If Lok Lak is not enough for you, I suggest you consider rice as accompaniment. Just perfect!
The second dish I tried was the impossibly rich and tasty Khmer-Style Cambodian Yellow Curry. It was very difficult not to love this delicious curry, whose main ingredients were chicken, carrot, eggplant, and onion. The yellow broth itself was rich in turmeric root and fragrant lemongrass. We tried it in our hotel, but I’m sure you can find it easily in every restaurant in Cambodia.
Any suggestion for sampling Cambodian Dishes?
Undoubtedly you can sample all kinds of food you find, whether on food stalls, hawkers, or even luxury restaurants as long as you have enough budget to fund your rumbling stomach. I tried both, on the street and on the restaurant. But, my suggestion is you need to try Sandan, Romdeng, or Marum Restaurants that works under one roof — The Tree Alliance. They do not only serve fantastic local creative food, but also offer its partners in NGO world access to establish high quality standards of practice in the field of social enterprise and extensive support in implementing those, like they stated in their official sites. So, while you are gobbling your dish, at the same time you are contributing on a very good deed!
The food is just incredibly tasty. If only I had enough appetite, I would order all they have on the menu. One of my favorites was a spicy eggplant with broccoli and tomatoes. And when I say spicy, I really mean it. For beverage, we tried turmeric juice, but this tasted strange to me, like a herbal potion which I mom gave me to drink years ago when she found out I’d lost much of my appetite. It was healthy, even though I couldn’t extinguish the fire in my mouth!
The menu is different in every town, it seems to me. In Romdeng (Phnom Penh) I found a really exotic dish — fried spiders. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough courage to try that, but the spicy ice cream with chili and pineapple didn’t disappoint.