Of coconuts and curries…
Cambodian or Khmer cuisine is a perfect blend of flavours, textures, seasoning, sauces, herbs and edible flowers. Dine at the restaurants of Cambodia and you will know that rice is clearly their staple food. It is available at every meal, accompanied by tasty curries and sides. No wonder it houses nearly 2,000 varieties of rice cultivated over generations. The oldest living cuisine of the world causes flavour bursts to tantalize your senses. Expect to find a touch of Kampot (pepper), Prahok (fermented fish paste), Kroeung (spice blend), herbs, some palm sugar, hint of lemon grass, lots of coconut milk, chopped chillies, shallots and garlic in your food.
Lyf&Spice picks the top 10:
- Curry in coconut: Chicken, beef and lamb in thick, creamy gravies is often served in coconuts, also referred to as the famous Khmer Red Curry. The coconut is scraped and cleaned and filled with these curries to the brim. Best had with plain steamed rice, these curries tasted oh-so-good that we finished a portion each after our hiking stint at Kbal Spean.
- Coconut rice cakes: Try these tasty snacks that are made with a soft, fluffy coconut and milk batter and rice, of course. They are the perfect end to a delicious meal. As you walk along the street serving local food, you will find many of these stalls.
- Amok: This dish is so popular that it bags the trophy for national food. Available in other parts of South East Asia as well, the amok is a dish comprising of coconut curry with fish mixed with optional vegetables, other meats and eggs. The specialty of amok lies in the fact that the ingredients are steamed and served in banana leaves.
- Street noodles: Oh! This was the best – always to our rescue. After covering the expansive compounds of temples and endless flight of stairs, our tired bodies and aching feet were drawn to the noodle vendors lined up at the Old Market along the river. Noodles tossed with vegetables and egg were the best bet to soothe our growling tummies. Plain noodles cost 1 USD, while those with egg and chicken cost 1.5 USD. Toppings = salt, sugar, beans, sprouts, egg, other vegetables.
- Bai Sach Chrouk: This meal consists of grilled pork. It is served with fresh salad, pickled vegetables and clear chicken broth, and is best eaten with rice. Expect a whiff of garlic and coconut as you teeth in. Vegetarian variants include tofu instead of pork.
- Doner Kebab: We spotted at least 3 hawkers selling Turkish Doner Kebaps at Pub Street. The ones available at the by-lane (taking a detour from Pub Street) are better than the ones at the main street.
- Cha Houy Teuk: This yummy dessert has sticky rice or sago drowned in coconut milk with different flavours of jellies, fruits and red beans thrown in. Did we mention – lots of shaved ice? Enjoy this refreshing, colourful dessert by noon.
- Drinks: Buy frozen margaritas at any bar or restaurant for 1.5 – 3 USD. Beer is available for 0.5 or 1 USD. The concept of cocktail bars on wheels is quite popular. They park their bikes at the street, set up the boom box and disco lights and start selling their signature cocktails for a fixed rate of 1.5 USD.
- Rice porridge: Try the porridge or congee made with rice. Herbs, onions and chives are generally thrown into it, along with meat of your choice, to make it a wholesome meal in a bowl. Trust me, you are going to need something as light as this just before or after your hike or temple tour.
- Kuy Teav: This breakfast for champions is a soothing, fresh bowl of clear soups with oodles of herbs, ginger, spices, garlic, vegetables and meat, especially pork bones, sliced pork belly or blood jelly. You will find this at restaurants as well as road-side vendor stalls. Best accompaniment = bread sticks.
On our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, we figured that the food could be ordered without chillies, which means we could eat all of it. What more could we ask for? We had curry in coconut at the food sheds at Kbal Spean, after our hike; pizzas and frozen margaritas at The Sun, Pub Street; orange concoctions at the Cocktail Bar; slushy, flavoured margaritas and fries at Viva; coconut infused meal at BonCafe and coconut water at every possible stop during the day.
Revisiting Khmer food through this blog post makes my mouth water… Time to order lunch 🙂
You read, while I eat… Cheers
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