A few years back my family had the chance to visit Cambodia. We were enchanted by the beautiful temples and exotic people but the most by the aroma of Cambodian food. Cambodian food has its own special flavor which pulls us back to the country every once in a while. Cambodian food derives it influences from many countries with France and China being the most prominent ones. Many Chinese people immigrated to Cambodia towing along the food of their country. Similarly, Cambodia was once a French colony which explains the French element in Khmer cooking. To sum up the best of Cambodian food in one little article is a crime in itself for Cambodian delicacies are many. However, in this article I try to encapsulate my personal favorites of the Cambodian kitchen.
The Khmer empire has been obsessed with sour tasting soups. Samlor Machaou refers to the whole family of sour tasting soups of the Cambodian table. These are usually soured by the use of tamarind and may include ingredients like chicken, sea vegetables, fish, tomatoes, herbs, lotus roots and edible sea animals. When you put a spoonful of Samlor Machaou in your mouth, tamarind’s sourness touches the edges of your mouth at the same time accentuating the taste of vegetables and meat in the soup. If you are a salad person like I am, you will definitely love Bok L’hong which is green papaya hand crushed and made into a salad.
The Cambodian main course can be baffling. More often than not, I have been stuck at Cambodian restaurants with the menu in my hand for several minutes on end. The Cambodian cauldron has a tad bit too much to offer! Perhaps the best loved main course dish is the Amok which is flavored fish wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. An Amok is a tasteful as well as a pretty sight. I love the way you have to open up the banana leaves before eating the dish, it’s almost like opening a secret stash to discover a treasure!
For the side order of your main course, you have a lot more variety than the Italian and French standard of monotonous breads. Bai Cha is the Cambodian version of fried rice. I also love Ansom Chek which is rice wrapped in banana leaves and steamed with little pieces of banana in it.
When I began my tryst with the Cambodia pantry, I had thought it to be deficient in the dessert department. Time has proven me wrong and Sankya Lapov has gained ground as my favorite all-cuisine dessert. A far cry from the cakes and pastries that we are subjected to, Sankya Lapov consists of an actual slice of pumpkin hollowed and filled with coconut custard.
Cambodian food tastes better than it sounds. If you ever have the chance of visiting Cambodia, don’t let yourself to be distracted by the ancient temples and beautiful stretches of land for Cambodian food is one of the best in the world!