Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck
Oh, Glorious Cambodian Food!
If there was one thing that Pete and I were most excited about on this journey to Southeast Asia – it was the food.
Think: rice noodles, fish sauce, coconut milk, fried shallots, fresh vegetables, lime juice, steamed rice, roasted peanuts, fried garlic, sweet sauce, fried egg, soy sauce, green mango, stir fried beef, and fresh herbs–these are the foundations of traditional Cambodian food, and the base of almost every delicious dish in a Cambodian meal.
Pete fancies himself a chef-in-training (rightly so, he is a very excellent cook), and his default meals are always Asian inspired: stir fries, curries and the like.
Thus one of the first things we did upon arrival in Cambodia was uncover some of the prominent local dishes, and get to tastin’.
And when we were done tastin’, we wanted to get to cookin’, and so we quickly signed up for a Khmer cooking class.
Here are some other available tour options in Cambodian cuisine:
Food tours in Cambodia
Ultimate Siem Reap Food Tour (10 Locals Tasting with Drinks & Transport)
If you’re passionate about food, enjoy immersive experiences with locals, and have a curiosity for the local culinary heritage, then this is an ideal adventure for you.
Join a special evening food tour in the enchanting Siem Reap. You’ll embark on a culinary journey with 10 carefully selected local food tastings and a visit to the bustling evening night market, allowing you to immerse yourself in Cambodia’s vibrant local culture.
Learn how Banh Chok Khmer noodles are made, find the best rice noodles, source fresh lime juice, go on the hunt for freshwater fish, and find out what is the best traditional Khmer dish.
Ultimate PP Food Tour by Tuk Tuk (20 tastings & drinks included)
Embark on a delightful tuk-tuk foodie excursion in Phnom Penh, where you’ll explore a variety of Khmer cuisine at street food stalls, authentic local eateries, and even a charming cocktail bar.
Indulge in the flavours of Cambodia’s culinary treasures, uncovering hidden culinary gems along the way, all while enjoying unlimited beer or soft drinks throughout the evening.
Your knowledgeable guide will offer insights into the rich tapestry of Cambodian food, culture, and history in the capital city.
Cooking class in Kampot
Enter a charming colonial residence located in the heart of Kampot, close to the river, where you’ll have the opportunity to delve into the art of crafting authentic Cambodian dishes under the guidance of a skilled and professional chef instructor.
Explore the tantalizing and adventurous flavours that define the uniqueness of Cambodian cuisine, and gain insights into the use of local ingredients to prepare classic dishes such as larb, papaya salad, sour soup, and amok.
This comprehensive culinary experience covers all the training and ingredient costs, offering an ideal opportunity to immerse yourself in local culture and gastronomy.
Additionally, your instructor can provide recommendations for discovering hidden gem restaurants to enhance the rest of your culinary journey in the region.
Morning Market and Street Art Tour (Including Breakfast and all Transport)
Head out on an intriguing morning adventure through the lively and vibrant markets of Phnom Penh, with this unique morning markets and street art tour.
Mornings unveil the true essence of Phnom Penh’s markets, especially the authentic local ones, where you’ll find yourself amidst a community of locals, away from the typical tourist crowd.
Ingredients to look out for:
- Fresh herbs
- banana leaves
- green onions
- rice flour
- kaffir lime leaves
- green beans
- banana blossom
- bean sprouts
Begin your day by indulging in the city’s culinary specialties with breakfast and delectable snacks from local stalls, including a hidden gem for a back-alley breakfast.
Following your delicious start, dive into the underground street art scene, where you’ll embark on a mural-spotting journey in discreet urban corners.
Khmer Cuisine Cooking Class
On the menu, the local specialty of amok and the universal favourite of spring rolls!
It is best described as a smooth curry dish, with a dollop of coconut cream added on top. (While the specialty is to use a white fish, for those of us that find even the smell of it stomach-churning, any other protein can be used.)
For all the intensive ingredients in this dish, it actually was not all that difficult to make (or so says us class participants who had most of the ingredients just handed to them).
Fish Amok Recipe
- 5 dried red chilies: soaked, drained and chopped into a paste (or, use how many you want, depending on level of spiciness desired)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp galangal (Thai ginger)
- 1 tsp lemongrass (thinly sliced)
- Zest of 1/4 lime
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tbsp of peanuts (optional)
- 3 tbsp fish sauce
- 500g of protein
- 3/4 cup coconut cream
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 egg beaten
Combine the first seven ingredients in a food processor and blend to a thick paste. Alternatively (more traditionally and definitely more badass), use a mortar and pestle and work those biceps.
Stir the above (called the kroeung) into 1 cup of coconut milk. When it has dissolved, add the egg, fish sauce, and protein. Then add the remaining coconut milk and mix well.
Make banana leaf cups (if so inclined, or ceramic bowls can be used) and add the mixture. Steam for 15-20 minutes, then put the coconut leaves on top. Steam further until the mixture is solid, but still moist.
I’m not gonna lie, there have been an awful lot of spring rolls consumed by us in Cambodia. And we found their “stuffing” to be unusually simple compared to others we’ve eaten our lives.
While other items (and proteins) can be added, the basic filling has only shredded taro root and carrots.
Spring Roll Recipe
- 2 cups taro root (shredded)
- 2 cups carrot (shredded)
- 25 spring roll shells (rice paper)
- 1 tbsp peanuts
- 1 egg beat
- 3 cups cooking oil
- Salt, sugar, pepper (to taste)
The shredded taro root needs all juice removed, or else it can cause burning in your mouth! (Did not know that.) After shredding, place in a large mixing bowl and add salt to bring out the liquid. Squeeze it out and rinse in clean water, this may need to be done repeatedly until the water is clear (we did it three times). Then mix with carrots, and season with sugar and pepper to taste. Pre-form the mixture into separate rolls.
Lay a spring roll sheet flat on a cutting board and place the filling roll at one end. Roll it tight and seal the end with the beat up egg. Heat the oil on high temperature, then turn it to medium, and place the spring rolls inside. Turn them frequently until golden brown. Remove, let cool, and devour.
Sweet & Sour Dipping Sauce Recipe (SUPER delicious)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 fresh red pepper
- 1 fresh hot chili
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp peanuts (crushed)
- 1/2 cup of water
Crush the garlic. Add sugar, salt, hot chilis and red pepper. Stir well and add water, fish sauce, lemon juice. Mix well. Serve with peanuts sprinkled on top.
And while I was a full participant in the class, I was much happier during the eating part, and we both declared the results to be the best food we had eaten since our arrival.
There is no one happier than me that Pete has these new recipes and skills in his arsenal.