Before I visited Cambodia, I was clueless as to what dish is a must-try during my trip. Most countries have a popular ‘national’ dish, e.g. phad thai in Thailand. But what is Cambodia known for when it comes to food? Here are my 6 recommendations, so you can make an informed decision regarding what to eat in Cambodia. 🙂
#1: Fish Amok
Fish Amok is the dish that my Cambodian friends said we should definitely try. When it was served, I thought it LOOKED like it was otah but a steamed version instead. It’s actually a really thick curry that is steamed in banana leaves and served with some coconut cream on top. You can order this dish with a variety of ingredients. I found vegetables under the curry. It’s quite tasty; just watch out for the tiny fish bones in the fish amok.
And you can also order some other dishes to go along with your meal. Many dishes might seem similar to those found in Thailand. Even Fish Amok can be found in Laos and Thailand. 🙂
#2: Master Suki Soup
I love having steamboat for dinner, and Master Suki Soup did not disappoint. Just like Surabaya food, the secret is in the sauce – go ahead and add more garlic and cut chillis for an added kick. 😀 And you MUST order the roast duck – it tastes REALLY good!
And oh, one thing you should note about Cambodian restaurants is that in the middle of your meal, they might bring drinks (that you did not order) to your table. At the boat noodles restaurant I’ll tell you about in a bit, the wait staff brought a selection of YEO’s canned drinks (Go, Singapore!) and at Master Suki Soup, they brought Coca-Cola. And they’ll even bring drink glasses filled with ice just to tempt you further. 😉 *Should you leave the drinks untouched, they will be removed at the end of the meal, and will not be reflected in your bill. 🙂
Another tip: should you need to call for the waiter, just shout out “Bong” (which is a term to refer to an older brother or sister) – doesn’t matter if the wait staff look younger than you do. *wink*
#3: Boat Noodles Restaurant
The boat noodles restaurant that we visited was highly recommended by my Cambodian Bong. 🙂 It is located near the Paññāsāstra University of Cambodia, or PUC in short. Service is rather slow. And the juices that we ordered never arrived. But the food was pretty good. I’d prefer if the broth arrived steaming hot (I love hot soup) but taste-wise, it was slightly above average. My friend from Thailand found the broth too sweet for her liking though, and decided to add table salt into the broth. <- I wouldn’t recommend doing this, not when the broth has cooled down. 😀
We got ourselves seated at level 2 of the restaurant. You’ll have to remove your footwear along the staircase before you reach L2. And be prepared to get a cramp as you’ll have to sit cross-legged on the ground. The same thing happened at the restaurant where we ate the fish amok. LOL! *You can sit with your legs stretched out to the side if you get a corner seat though.
#4: Balut (Quail Egg Version, and Duck Egg Version)
When you are in Cambodia, do visit the Phnom Penh Night Market. By the way, while we like to pronounce the words “Phnom Penh” as ‘Nom Pen’, the actual pronunciation is something more like “Per Nom Peng” – ask a local! 😀
When you arrive, take a seat on one of the straw picnic mats, where you’ll find bottles of sauces at the ready. Order your balut, which comes in a tray like what you see above. You can squeeze some lime juice into the pink-colored sauce receptacles. 🙂
Sit the egg in one of the ceramic egg cups and crack the egg shell with the spoons provided. The sight that greets you is something right out of ‘Fear Factor’:
Avoid looking into the egg, but bring it up to your mouth, and drink all the liquid from the egg. 🙂 Then, continue hacking away at more of the egg shell, and add the mixture of sauce that you’ve prepared. Dig in like you would when eating a pudding out of a cup. 😀 *You can eat the entire egg (sans shell) but do avoid the tough white-colored portion, which is the size of a pebble. I don’t know what it is, but it is hard, and not tasty at all.
Actually, if you can, go for the quail egg balut instead. It’s smaller and therefore less intimidating, and a lot more tasty! 😀
Mine came with what looks like a fully-formed head, with eye and beak:
Yes yes, I know it’s cruel. And rather disgusting. To the first accusation, I say “Hey, once-in-a-lifetime. Why not?” and to the second, “Wait till you taste one!” There’s a reason why people view balut as a tasty (and very desirable) snack.
At Phnom Penh Night Market, you’ll find these picnic mats spread out, with baskets containing sauces. You can order food from any of the surrounding stalls and eat them while sitting on those mats. Do order the sugarcane + lime juice. It’s really good – I drank two whole cups of them. *I was really thirsty after the visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Didn’t buy water while I was there because it was pricey. Hehe!
*You’ll have to remove your shoes before getting onto the mats, so do keep an eye on them. Or you might just find your shoes missing when you are ready to go. Also, some very young children might stop by to beg for money. I took the cues from my Cambodian friends, and either shook my head or tried to ignore the kids. They’ll leave pretty quickly. Children who beg for money can be found at the markets, and at road junctions approaching motorists.
#5: Spicy Hotpot, Green Salad and (hopefully cooked) Fish
We attended a by-invite-only event at the residence of my Cambodian Bong’s mentor (I think he might be the President of PUC). There was a celebration of sorts as a Buddha statue had been acquired. And monks from selected temples and pagodas were also invited. Here, you see them seated in neat rows, as visitors dropped gifts and cash into the bags placed in front of each monk:
For lunch, we had the spicy hotpot you see above. The soup looked like tom yam soup, but the taste and ingredients are different. There were prawns, pineapple, tomatoes, etc. The green salad was a delightful toss-up of veggies whose names I know not of. The fish looked really yummy but it was, unfortunately, under-cooked.
If You Are Feeling Adventurous:
At the markets, you can find a selection of fried insects as well. Some look really big (even longer than my palm). I do not have the stomach for these things, so I most certainly gave them a miss. But you should give it a go if you’re game for it. 🙂
And, for some reason, the bananas sold in Cambodia are mostly green. Here’s one seller who popped by the guest house that I stayed in, with his improvised cart attached to his motorbike.
For a sweet end to any meal, though, do pop by any of Brown‘s 11 coffee & bakery outlets, and get yourself some brownies. I’m a huge fan of theirs.
And if you’re into volunteering, do check out the reputable Cambodian orphanages that you can spend some time at helping to educate or entertain the children. 😀 As a rule of thumb, I avoid those cruises or places which force the children to perform in exchange for donations. The time spent rehearsing and performing would be more well-spent on revision and doing their schoolwork. I definitely do not wish to encourage those ‘businesses’ which might force children to become performing artists so as to line the pockets of the adults.
Stay tuned for more as I share about my visit to the Royal Palace, and other snapshots taken around the city. 🙂