Traditional Food from Cambodia

Cambodian or Khmer food emphasizes fresh ingredients and a wide range of flavors that are delightful for the palate. While the cuisine may be influenced by neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodian food tends to have a milder taste for those who may not be accustomed to strong spices.

Mam Trey Tok

Mam Trey Tok refers to salted fermented fillets of snakehead fish. “Mam” is a very popular type of fish that is easily found in the Mekong River.  It is because of this abundance of supply that Mam Trey Tok is such a popular dish.

To prepare Mam Trey Tok, roasted red sticky rice and palm sugar are added during the fermenting process. These ingredients infused more flavors into the fish and create the reddish tinge. It can take as long as a year before the fermentation process is done.  Once the process is ready, Mam Trey Tok can be eaten by itself.

Prahok Ktis

Prahok Ktis is a Cambodia dip or fish paste that is commonly used as part of local recipes. It is made from fish meat this is crushed into a mash and left to dry and ferment with salt for a few weeks.

The resulting fish paste with a strong pungent aroma is often served with fresh crispy vegetables, soups and curry dishes to create iconic Cambodian dishes. In Cambodia, Prahok Ktis is a preferred dipping sauce for grilled beef. 

Samlar Kakou

Samlar Kakou is a traditional soup that is regarded as one of Cambodian’s national dishes. Samlar Kakou consists of fish paste, fish meat, pork or chicken, vegetables, and local spices and sauces.

Other ingredients such as unripe papaya, banana, pumpkin, long beans, eggplant, turmeric, moringa, and kaffir lime leaves are also commonly seen in the soup. Samlar Kakou is a one-pot dish that is good enough as a well-balanced meal. For a vegetarian option, meat is removed from the recipe and replaced with coconut cream and vegetable stock.

Amok Trey

Amok trey is a traditional steamed fish curry dish that is often seen during the Water Festival. The fish is coated with coconut milk, local red curry paste, and steamed in banana leaves to ensure that the fragrant and moisture are preserved during the steaming process.

Once the cooking process is done, the fish is garnished with sliced chilies or noni leaves before serving.  In Cambodia, the same method of cooking Amok Trey is also replicated with chicken, beef, or vegetables.

Photo: sakadaphoto/Shutterstock

Khmer Red Curry

Khmer Red Curry, also known as Somlar Kari Saek Mouan is a rich and flavourful curry made with coconut milk, chicken, eggplant, green beans, lemongrass, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a local red curry paste called kroeung.

Often compared to the Thai red curry, Khmer Red Curry is not as spicy. This curry dish is commonly seen during special occasions, festivities, and parties. It can be served with steamed rice, noodles, and even French bread.

Khmer Red Curry
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Num Banh Chok

Num Banh Chok is a rice noodle breakfast that is considered Cambodian comfort food. The rice noodles are topped with cool fish gravy and crunchy raw vegetables such as cucumbers, banana blossom, and water lily stems, and fresh herbs like basil and mint.

Traditionally, the rice noodles are made by hand in heavy stone mills from fermented rice, which is why the texture is also made to perfection. 

Num Banh Chok
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Lap Khmer

Lap Khmer is a beef salad tossed together with herbs and raw vegetables that is typical of Cambodian cuisine. The beef is usually thinly sliced then seared or grilled before tossing with the rest of the ingredients.

The unique Cambodia salad dressing is also concocted to local taste with a combination of local ingredients and sauces such as lemongrass, shallots, garlic, fish sauce, Asian basil, mint, green beans, green pepper, and fresh red chilies.

Pleah Sach Ko

Pleah Sach Ko is a Cambodian-style beef salad consisting of lime and prahok-cured beef salad, purple Asian shallots, finely shaved radish, ground roasted peanuts, mint, and basil.

To prepare this salad, the raw beef is cut into thin, bite-sized pieces and marinated in lime juice, and then covered with a clear broth of lime juice, chicken soup base mix, fish sauce, and sugar for a few minutes over a flame before the rest of the ingredients are added. The heat is turned off shortly after to ensure that all the vegetables remain crisp and crunchy. This dish can be served warm or chilled.

Ansom Chek

Ansom Chek is a sticky rice cake dessert with sliced bananas in the middle. The cake is made of a mixture of sticky rice, coconut milk, and coconut shavings topped with a slice of salted, ripe baby banana.

The cake is then wrapped within the banana leaves and set to steam until it is fragrant and tender. Ansom Chek is often served during special occasions such as Cambodian New Year and the religious festivals. Another version of this similar cake called Ansom Chrook is also surfacing in Cambodia. It is made of pork and mung bean paste instead of bananas.

Samlar Machu

Samlar Machu is a sour soup made with meat, fish, or seafood and ingredients such as Cambodian water spinach, shallots, scallions, tomatoes, kaffir lime leaves, basil, cilantro, and lemongrass cooked in a sour broth base.

To achieve the sourish flavor, the broth is left to simmer with lime, tamarind, tomato, pineapple, and Tiliacora triandra leaves before even cooking with the other main ingredients. Samlar machu is usually served with jasmine rice for lunch.

Samlar Machu
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Kuy Teav

Kuy Teav is a Cambodian noodle soup that is commonly enjoyed at breakfast. The noodle dish is very similar to Chinese noodle dishes in the Southeast Asia region.

It comprises rice noodles with pork stock, meat, and beansprouts topped with aromatic herbs and condiments.  In Cambodia, Kuy Teav is available in every marketplace, clearly, this is a staple for the locals. 

Kuy Teav

Bai Sach Chrouk

Bai Sach Chrouk is the most popular breakfast dish of pork with rice that is served with a side of pickled cucumber, carrot, ginger, and daikon and a small bowl of clear chicken broth with scallions and sometimes, fried onions.

Traditionally, the pork (Sach Chrouk) is marinated in advance before being grilled on charcoal and sliced ​​finely before serving. While this rice meal may seem appropriate for lunch or even dinner, it is commonly served only for breakfast. Interestingly, even though Bai Sach Chrouk is available in most marketplaces, it is difficult to find it past a certain time in the morning.

Kwah Ko

Kwah Ko is a Cambodian sausage that is made from beef blended with of Khmer spices and herbs. Traditionally, Kwah Ko is cured using the natural sun and they have a unique sour taste.

The ingredients for making these Cambodia sausages are cooked Jasmine Rice, palm sugar, kaffir lime leaf, garlic and rice Wine. After the sausages are freshly stuffed, they are usually left to ferment for a day or two before drying them over a wooden rack. After the Kwah Ko is dehydrated, it can be served with rice or other dishes. 

Num Chak Chan

Num Chak Chan is a traditional steamed cake that is made from pandan and coconut milk. Making this Cambodian cake requires a fair bit of patience because the cake has four distinct layers in different colors.

To achieve the pretty layers, the mixtures are colored with food colorings and each layer has to be steamed and cooked before the next layer can be added. Num Chak Chan is a common Southeast dessert and Cambodians usually buy them for Buddhist holy day.


Kroeung is one of the most important condiments that is used in Cambodia cuisine. It is an aromatic condiment that is made of a variety of ingredients such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and coriander.

The ingredients are finely chopped and ground using a heavy mortar and pestle or food processors achieve a paste-like texture. This spicy Kroeung paste can be cooked with curries, soup, and stir-fried dishes to achieve the traditional Khmer flavor.

There are also Kroeung of different colors, typically yellow Kroeung gets its color from turmeric, red Kroeung, which gets its color from red chilis, and green Kroeung gets its color from lemongrass.

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