When I travel, I love to immerse myself in as much of the local culture as possible. One way I do that is through my stomach. I love local food and always look forward to trying regional dishes throughout the countries I visit. Everyone knows a handful of Thai and Vietnamese dishes, but I was less familiar with what Cambodian food was all about before my flight to Phnom Penh. I certainly ate my way through the country at various night markets, little hole-in-the-wall shops, and street stalls, and really came to appreciate the local food scene here. Though not necessarily my top choice for Southeast Asian food, I really loved all the local food I ate in Cambodia while I was there. If you’re wondering what to eat in Cambodia, here is a list of my 10 favorite dishes.
1. Beef Lok Lak
Beef Lok Lak is one of the most popular local dishes you’ll find in Cambodia. This dish can be found pretty much everywhere; from local shops to more Western-focused restaurants. This dish is comprised of tender stir-fried beef in a slightly sweet brown sauce with rice, a fried egg, a bit of veg, and a peppery sauce on the side. At any local restaurant, this dish will cost around US$3.
2. Fish Amok
Aside from beef lok lak, the next most popular Khmer dish is fish amok. The smooth texture and rich taste of the coconut curry will likely leave you wanting this for at least one meal a day while in the country (especially since it’s near impossible to find an authentic version outside of Cambodia). The fish curry is steamed and served in a banana leaf. This was one of my favorite dishes I had in Cambodia and is a definite must-try.
*Sorry, no photo – I was too busy stuffing my face!
3. Grilled Bananas
If you love bananas, you should give Cambodia’s tiny grilled bananas a try. Admittedly, the idea of grilling bananas doesn’t exactly sound like it would taste great, but the bananas are warm, surprisingly firm with a softer inside, and have that grilled taste to them that I really love. Plus, this stick of four bananas costs US$0.50, making for a healthy and inexpensive snack.
4. Iced Coffee (from a street stall)
If you like sweet coffee, you’re going to love the iced coffee in Cambodia (which is actually quite similar in most other parts of Southeast Asia). Found along random street corners throughout the city, these cafe’s on wheels serve up a ridiculously refreshing (and massive!) iced coffee made with condensed milk for only US$0.50 – US$1.
5. Beef Noodle Soup
A breakfast staple for locals in Cambodia, the beef noodle soup here is fantastic and quite different from other noodle soups I’ve had throughout Southeast Asia. The egg noodles are made fresh, the beef is surprisingly tender, and the broth is rich in flavor. This specific bowl was purchased at “Chan Reash 10 Makara” (my go-to family-run restaurant while I was in Siem Reap) for US$2 and was the best I had in Cambodia.
6. Coconut Cake
Found on a busy street across from Central Market in Phnom Penh, these little cakes stuffed with a variety of sweet ingredients (including peanut butter and red bean paste) were sold at a food stall. I opted for the coconut-filled cake, which had a nice fluffy yet moist interior surrounding the subtly sweet coconut filling.
7. Fresh Fruit Smoothies
Easily found everywhere around Pub Street in Siem Reap, these smoothie stalls serve up some incredibly fresh, huge, and inexpensive smoothies. With practically every fruit imaginable listed on the menu, you’ll be sure to find something that tickles your fancy. Most stalls charge US$1.50 for one flavor. You can add multiple fruits to your smoothie and make it sweeter or less sweet with the addition or exclusion of liquid sugar.
8. Anything at a Night Market
Heading into a local night market can be a bit of a daunting experience if you’re a tourist, but I promise it’ll be an incredibly authentic and tasty one as well. The Night Market in Phnom Penh is very local and serves up an array of skewered meat and seafood, and plenty of noodles (just be sure to have toughened up your stomach lining a bit before indulging).
9. Coconut Ice Cream
This amazing dessert was also found at the Phnom Penh Night Market. Get ready for three scoops of ice cream (choice of coconut, chocolate, or taro) into a coconut shell with shaved fresh coconut, jack fruit pieces, peanuts, and condensed milk. This was the best dessert I had while in Cambodia and only cost US$1.25.
10. Pineapple on a stick
Aside from the fact that eating fresh fruit off a stick in the blistering heat is pretty damn refreshing, I loved getting this pineapple for the experience. The lady will take a fresh pineapple and cut it in front of you using a massive knife to get the skin off and to create the swirling “design” in about a minute, which was pretty impressive. Afterwards, you’ve got yourself a deliciously sweet pineapple cut into four pieces with sticks in a bag, all for US$1.