When you think of Cambodia, Cambodian cuisine may not be the first thing you think of. Most people might assume it to be a poorer relation to Thai or Vietnamese cuisines, but they would be wrong!
In the last millennium, the Khmer Kingdom, with its capital in Angkor, ruled an empire that included most of southeast Asia. For this reason, it is no surprise that modern Thai and Vietnamese cuisine have their roots in Khmer cooking from those ancient times.
Similarities can be drawn between Cambodian cuisine and its neighbours, however, the delicious food the Kingdom of Wonder has to offer should be taken in its own right.
Khmer food may take time to prepare but is simple to cook with a huge variety of unique flavours and cooking styles.
The skill in creating fantastic Cambodian food is not so much in the cooking techniques but in the way the individual ingredients, herbs and seasonings are combined. Due to Cambodia’s tropical climate, Cambodian cuisine has a huge variety of fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs.
The chilli was introduced to Asia in the 16th Century from the Portuguese. For this reason, some of the older Khmer recipes predating that era are much milder than other, more modern, Asian dishes.
As you will know, if you have tried it, most Thai food contains a lot of red chillies. In contrast, the majority of Cambodian dishes are served without chilli and instead come with a selection of accompaniments so spice can be adjusted to personal taste.
Cambodian curry, for example, looks like a very spicy dish, however, its deep red colour and strong aroma comes from mkak seeds rather than chillies!
One of the key ingredients in Cambodian cooking, as any Cambodian cook will tell you is called Prahok. Prahok is a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste that is used in Cambodian cuisine as a seasoning, stock base and condiment. The origins go back to the ancient Angkor kingdom when it was used as an essential way of preserving fish for the times in the year when fish were not in abundance.
There are many different types of Prahok and different ways of eating it! If you have Cambodian friends or dine out on street corners you may have tried fresh fruit dipped in Prahok! Most Cambodians love eating Prahok this way although most foreigners who have tried it will tell you it is an acquired taste!
So should you avoid eating prahok? Absolutely not! Don’t let the thought of it being fermented fish put you off. It is used as a seasoning and base when cooking many Cambodian dishes that simply would not taste the same otherwise.
Most Cambodian restaurants that cater for foreigners will use a milder, high-quality prahok that will make your food taste simply mouth watering.
So come to Cambodia and come and try the real food. Not only will you have an amazing holiday exploring temples and discovering fascinating people and culture but you can try one of the world’s most ancient and delicious cuisines. Why not use your holiday as a chance to take some Cambodian cuisine home with you and take a cooking course.
There are now many well-known chefs in Cambodia with cooking schools where you will be taught to pick, prepare and cook with the amazing variety of ingredients Cambodia has to offer.