Cambodian (Khmer) Food

We know the country as Cambodia, but the history and region are Khmer. What's that? The empire that built Angkor Wat and many other temples through Southeast Asia was the Khmer empire. The empire ran through today's Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam and ran from about the 8th century to the 13th century. Today the term "Khmer" is still used throughout the country. 

When you walk through areas that cater to tourists the restaurants will often have signs saying what foods they serve: Western, Thai, Khmer. The difference between Thai and Khmer food is primarily spiciness. Thai food uses a lot more peppers to get really firey hot in spice level. Khmer food is spicy in terms of flavor versus heat. Thai curry will be hot spicy, Khmer curry would be considered mild and often doesn't have any peppers in it at all.

The two national dishes would be considered Amok and Lok Lak. Amok can be made with any meat or fish and can be described as close to a green curry, but again, without the spicy heat. Lok Lak, usually beef, is served on a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes and dipped in a sauce consisting of lime juice, salt and black Kampot pepper. 

Khmer BBQ pan

The other most common thing you will see is Khmer BBQ. Many are familiar with Korean BBQ where you grill your meats and veggies on a shared tabletop grill. Khmer BBQ differs in that the grill plate has a well rim for soup. The grill is round and on the top of it you grill the meats, but around the rim is a well that they fill with chicken broth. The juices of the meats run into the broth and you put your veggies to either grill or cook in the broth. In the end you get a nice, flavorful soup as well as your grilled items. 

Khmer BBQ buffets are probably the best deal you can get money-wise in Cambodia ($6-$8). There will be a huge selection of meats, seafood, and vegetables to choose to cook. Nearby will be sauces and spices to flavor your soup and grilled meats. You will also find prepared dishes such as salads, rice, fried rice, noodles, etc. Finally you'll find a selection for dessert consisting of some fruit and then a chè making station.

Chè station
Chè is a dessert that is made according to what you like. It consists of ice, a sweet tea syrup, and then whatever you want to add including jellies, tapioca pearls, fruit, beans, basil seeds, coconut cream, and more. 

instructor with a kaffir lime
While in Siem Reap we took a cooking class where we made a fish cake on sugar can sticks, Khmer curry, and coconut crispy pancakes.

the fish cakes
The minced fish is spiced and then formed into logs around sugar cane skewers. They are then fried in a little oil and served with sweet chili sauce.

Khmer curry in a banana leaf bowl
I made the curry paste below for the curry above. It had onion, sweet potato, eggplant, and chicken.

my freshly pounded curry paste

making the coconut crispy pancakes

For the coconut crispy pancakes you needed a special pan. Once the finished crepe is removed and cooled, it gets crispy like a tuile cookie.

Now look for my second post on Cambodia/Khmer food with photos of the local market and a roadside snack.