The Unique Taste of Cambodia
Most of you may think that because Cambodia is close to Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, the cuisine will be close to either of these. Or having been part of the old French IndoChina, most probably, it is closer to French cooking. All these are true but only slightly so. Cambodian cuisine is unique unto itself.
Cambodian cuisine has so much variety. This is not so obvious to the ordinary tourist who sample fish amok but when you frequent local Khmer restaurants, you will soon discover the different Khmer dishes. As you walk through local markets, there are always stalls where local Khmers enjoy many of these. They have various salads made from fruits or pounded vegetables like string beans and papaya, dried fish or shrimp and aromatic herbs. Add to these some pounded coconut or sesame seeds and your taste buds will truly dance in the variety of flavours.
In addition, Cambodians add generous portions of vegetables to their cooking from banana flowers, chive flowers, morning glory, bamboo shoots, lotus flowers, indigenous green leaf vegetables, making it a more healthy option.
Aromatic herbs are an every meal fare for local Cambodians. They blend their spice paste by adding locally grown aromatic herbs such as galangal, tamarind, tumeric, kaffir lime and lemon grass. The ingredients they use are usually cultivated around their homes or foraged in the fields or the wild which include rice paddy herbs, wild roots or sour leaves. They usually garnish generously with coriander, chives, heartleaf, basil or mint which they grow or purchase fresh from the market.
Kampot pepper has graced fine Parisian restaurants since the early 1900s. A southern coastal province of Cambodia, Kampot, seems to have iron and manganese rich soil making the pepper grown here acquire a strong but delicate pungent taste. Green pepper, the young fruit still in its vine, is often consumed fresh but placed after the dish has been cooked, it gives it a delicate peppery flavour.
Give Khmer cooking a try. Here's a video of how to cook fish amok, a Cambodian favourite.
There seems to be a delicate balance in sweetness, sourness, bitterness, spiciness and saltiness and the taste of aromatic herbs put it all together into a delight for the palate. Their use of chili is more sparing but watch out as Cambodians also go for the exotic like ants, locusts, field roaches and frog legs. You often find vendors in the local market selling these local delicacies.
Cambodian food is also easy to prepare and cook. So try some now in your local Cambodian restaurant or come to Cambodia and take some cooking lessons. You can enjoy the fresh ingredients and the variety that are offered only locally. For the best durian (the smelly but delicious fruit), get those grown in Kampot. You'll truly become a fan.
And here is the clincher. Cambodians have long ago eaten what is now becoming a new discovery in other parts of the world: insects. Yes, go to any Cambodian local market and you'll find a variety of insects sold as snacks. Take a look at this picture.
Tips in Eating in a Restaurant in Cambodia:
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