By: Abigail Gilbert
Breakfast porridge, deep fried insects and fertilized eggs – there’s plenty to discover in Cambodian street food. On a budget or like to eat adventurously? Snack your way around the country’s stalls with our Cambodian food guide.
Start the day the Cambodian way
Pork and rice (bye sait churru) is the staple Cambodian breakfast, served with fried egg and lightly pickled vegetables. Slap on as much soy sauce and chilli jam as you fancy and tuck in. The barbecued caramel pork can be chewy, but for 2500R upwards it’s a filling start to the day.
Another morning basic is rice porridge (borbo) with as many bits as you care or dare to eat. Specify if you don’t want liver, intestines or cooked blood, as these add to the price. A little bland as it is served, add chilli, soy sauce, pepper and lemon juice to taste. Fried noodles (mi char) with meat (sait) or vegetables (bon lai), are often served at the same stalls.
Snack Attack – beware of the insects!
From mid-morning, you can graze on a variety of snacks. Steamed corn is everywhere. Corn cakes are grilled over barbecues alongside salted grilled bananas. Cooked eggs can be found with yolks or fertilised – it’s your choice. White duck foetus eggs are served from a steamer pot with plenty of herbs. Boiled eggs without young are at markets and bus stands, with a paper twist of seasoning. Tiny speckled quails eggs are sold in bags suspended from a bamboo pole.
Buy sliced fresh fruit from portable glass stalls all around town – take your pick and try the salt and chilli dip provided. Be warned that Khmers like fruit sour, so you’re likely to find mango and papaya are not over-ripe. Bok lahong is green papaya salad, made with Asian basil, peanuts and chili peppers, and often containing tiny salted crabs. The mixture is combined with fish sauce and lime juice for a surprisingly tasty snack.
Pork kebabs usually come with a fiery cabbage salad and cost a few hundred riel per stick from roadside barbecues or push carts. In the evenings, the noodle soup vendor is preceded by a young man pounding a bamboo stick in an erratic rhythm. 6000R gets you a bowlful with pork balls, carrots and bean-sprouts.
No Khmer snack adventure is complete with deep fried insects. Crickets are your best bet for a first foray, and the salty crunch goes well with a beer.
There’s a variety of sweets with a strong representation of rice and coconut in the ingredients. The textures can be surprising, but 1000R – 2000R isn’t bad for a sweet tooth fix. Grab a carton of something that looks a bit like fairy cakes, or a little pink plastic tub topped with fresh grated coconut.
Banana fritters are served from roadside carts with a big wok teetering on the end. Be sure to stop the woman with a shallow basket of doughnuts and sticky dough-balls, balanced on her head or the back of her bicycle. At 500R a time, these are truly delicious. Nougat is sold from a blue wooden box on a bicycle blaring loud music. The unfeasibly stretchy peanut nougat is served in a twist of paper for 500R. Mind your fillings and prepare for a sugar rush.
With so many food adventures on every street, there’s no reason to go hungry in Cambodia.
And to wash it down …
The best and cheapest coffee (from 1500R) is served streetside, at low tables under a tree or umbrella. It comes over plenty of ice, packs a powerful caffeine punch, and is teeth-clenchingly sweet with milk. The free green tea elongates the pleasure of relaxing and watching the world go by.
Tuekrolok is an evening treat, although you can find it from mid-afternoon near markets. Look for a glass cabinet filled with fruit, take a blender, some ice and plenty of sweet milk for a fruit-shake to blow your socks off. If you prefer not to have raw egg included, keep an eye on the preparation.
Sugar cane juice (teuk om bpao) is a refreshing sweet drink, usually with a dash of lime and plenty of crushed ice. Find a stall with what looks like a washing mangle and stacks of sugarcane to one side. The cane is cranked through rollers for all the juicy goodness to come out, then ladled into plastic bags or beakers with a straw.
Eating and drinking streetside can be one of the most rewarding experiences in Cambodia. Throw off your inhibitions and dive in!
Feeling hungry now? Read about the best Cambodian crab in Kep.
Prices in this guide are quoted in Cambodian riel. 4000 riel is roughly equivalent to $1 US.