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An Introduction to the Cambodian Cuisine

Cambodia is one of the tourist hotspots these days amongst the South East Asia destination. It is one of those places that offer plenty of varieties in terms of landscapes, heritage, culture, and food. Every travel plan has a dedicated orientation of local food, and when it comes to the South East Asia destinations, the platters have much to offer. The local spices, grown in the tropical regions and the freshwater fishes make Cambodian cuisine a mouth-water one.

This variety of cuisine is also known as Khmer cuisine. Here is a brief about the specialties associated with Khmer cuisine that lends the cuisine its signature identity.

The Influences on Cambodian Cuisine

The combination of Indian taste, Chinese flavours, Thai spices, Vietnamese herbs, and French savour lend the Cambodian cuisine its signature taste. The land of Cambodia has been accessed for ages by different people from different lands. There have been European colonialists, Portuguese colonialists, Indian visitors, French colonialists, Thai visitors, and many more.

People from surrounding areas and faraway places have visited Cambodia and have settled in the land as well. With time, the cooking techniques and dishes of Cambodia had gone under the spell varying cooking techniques of these regions, which have influenced Cambodian cuisine to a great extent.  

When you plan a trip to Cambodia, you may think that the dishes there would taste like Thai dishes or Chinese recipes, but, in reality, despite having so many influences, Cambodian cuisine has managed to retain its individual identity and taste different.

Quick Facts:

• Regional influences: Chinese, Portuguese, French, Indian, Thai, etc.

The Cambodian Staple

Rice and fish are considered the staple for cuisine in Cambodia. Cambodia is primarily a tropical region and hence supports rice production at its best. In Cambodia, a meal without rice is considered a snack and not a meal. It is owing to the handsome yield of rice grains in this area that the people of Cambodia use rice for almost every variety of food they make. Also, the tropical hot and humid climate makes rice one of the best food items for health in this area, which accounts for another reason for the rice to be so popular.

Through Cambodia flows the famous river Mekong. One of the largest rivers in the world, Mekong, is the breeding ground for thousands for species of freshwater fishes. Hence, a major part of the daily diet of the Cambodian people depends on freshwater fishes. After rice, fish is the next staple that makes for an integral part of Cambodian cuisine.

Quick Facts:

• Mostly used ingredients: Rice, fish, meat, coconut, etc.

The Fermentation Technique

Lots of dishes are prepared in Cambodia following the fermentation process. These fermented dishes are one of the unique ones amongst the Cambodian cuisine. Fishes are fermented with the help of different ingredients to make fermented varieties which are later consumed with other dishes or made into some other food item.

Long before refrigeration was introduced, the Cambodians used to prepare the fish in a way that underwent fermentation over time, lending the dish a twisted taste every time. Hence, Cambodian cuisine can be claimed to be a descendent of European cuisine, which adapted similar fermentation methods for processing several food items earlier.

Quick Facts:

• Commonly used fermented food items: Mam, prahok, Kapi, mam trey tok, mam bongkia, etc.

Varieties of Spices Used

Spices are used in Cambodian cuisine in abundance except for the chilli. Though the Portuguese introduced the use of chilli quite a long time back to the Cambodians, the hot and spicy taste was never accepted much in this region. This is the reason why most of the Cambodian cuisine is neither hot nor has the taste of red chillies.

However, there is no reason to consider Cambodian cuisine to be void of spices. There are lots of spices this regional cuisine uses, and most of the spices are of this region as well. The authentic taste and flavour of the Cambodian cuisine come from the perfect blend and use of these spices.

Quick Facts:

• The popular spices: Black pepper, turmeric, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, etc.

Use of Insects

Although it seems a little bizarre, insects are indeed used for Cambodian cuisine. It has been a land of water and insects for long, and the native used to make food items out of these insects available in abundance in the region. It is a common practice to turn the abundantly available edible items into a regular food habit in every region. Hence, insects make for an unusual yet regular choice for Cambodian cuisine.

Quick Facts:

• Insects used: Crickets, silkworm, grasshoppers, red ants, water snake, cockroaches, etc.

Fruits in Cambodian Cuisine
Fruits play a critical role in Cambodian cuisine. Being a tropical country, Cambodia has a wide variety of juicy fruits that grow in this region. From making desserts to salads, fruits are used in Cambodian cuisine regularly.

Quick Facts:

• Commonly used fruits: Pineapple, apple, sugar cane, durian, guava, papaya, jackfruit, plum, coconut, etc.

Although Cambodian cuisine has been influenced by other cooking methods from time to time, it has maintained its originality in terms of taste and flavour. If you are paying a visit to Cambodia shortly, try the dishes that characterise the Cambodian cuisine like Amok, Lap Khmer, Green Mango Salad, Khmer Red Curry, etc. Travellers can explore several Cambodian dishes that would be a delight for their taste buds undoubtedly.

See More about Cambodian Food:

10 Unique Cambodian Food

Best Cambodian Desserts

Top 5 Cambodian Noodles

Top 5 Cambodian Street Foods