Khmer food is widely renowned for being similar to Thai or Vietnamese but not so spicy. Either this is not true or I have a ridiculously low tolerance for spice because most of the dishes I ate required copious gulps of Angkor beer after each mouthful (not that this was any hardship!) There are also clear influences present on menus from India and China which I guess, considering Cambodia’s geographical location, is no massive surprise. In general I found that the food was sweeter than Thai, often involving large chunks of palm sugar or lashings of palm syrup so if you’re a mainly savoury creature visiting Cambodia, be warned!
Some of the best known dishes and ingredients include the following:
- Amok: usually with fish but can be with chicken, pork or prawn. The name “amok” comes from the cooking process whereby the curry is steamed in a banana leaf parcel. The sauce involves a mix of spices, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, turmeric, lemongrass and lots of coconut milk. The resulting dish is quite dry as compared to it’s closest relative the thai green curry and less spicy.
- Loc Lac: sugar and garlic marinated beef, stir fried with greens and served with a tangy lime dipping sauce. Often served with cucumber in Cambodia (which unfortunately put me off trying it due to my pathological hatred of cucumber)
- Prahok: a fish paste made by drying crushed fish in the sun then storing in a jar to ferment. Fermentation periods vary between anything from 20 days to over 3 years and generally the bigger the fish and the longer the fermentation period the better the Prahok is considered to be. Prahok can be used as an ingredient in soups or curries but can also be eaten as a stand alone dish with rice for the very brave.
- Samlar Machu: a hot and sour soup, spiced and flavoured with tamarind and lime
OK, so for a few days the sybarite bit goes out of the window. Whilst Cambodia is certainly changing fast, the definition of luxury here is still a little different to my usual one but here goes…..