Cambodia, and Asia in general, is home of some great and delicious street food, for which some people travel far and wide. Cambodian food, however, and particularly street food, doesn’t really have quite the following as that of Thailand, Vietnam or Hong Kong. Nevertheless, Dan, and to a lesser extent me, love street food and were definitely going to eat a lot of it when we visited Cambodia in February!
Now, for those of you who haven’t been to Cambodia, the street food scene is, well, really the food scene. Street food is a way of life for Cambodians and also a social function, with lots of people setting up tables and eating with friends and family just off the street. Popular foods include anything with fermented fish, pork, frog, beef, and duck, among other things, and much of the street food is cooked or stored differently that it is in other places (that you know of anyway). As such, I would proceed with caution when eating street food in Cambodia, but certainly not shy totally away from it.
Before visiting Cambodia, a friend recommend the Siem Reap Food Tour. As you may know, Dan and I love food tours. We’ve done them all over the world, including Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, Quebec City, Lima, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur (to name a few…). As such, we immediately booked the tour, hoping for some authentic Cambodian dishes. However, what we were served was extremely local, almost all street food, and we were the only non-locals at any of our stops! This is a great, safe way to try Cambodian street food, and a really fun evening!
Our Siem Reap Food Tour started with a tuk tuk pick-up from our hotel at 5:00. Us, along with four other guests and a guide, set out for dinner in two tuk tuks. Our first stop was just around the corner from our hotel. At this restaurant (no idea of its name!), we all ordered the local Angkor beer (yes, that’s the name) and enjoyed nom ban chok. Nom ban chok is a rice noodle dish made with fermented fish, turmeric, galangal, and coconut broth. Apparently the dish is also known as Khmer Noodles and is quite old school. The restaurant brought out a variety of greens, including the most amazing pickled spicy peppers, to touch up our noodles to our person taste.
Our second stop was a wild walk through the local market of Siem Reap called Psar Kralanh. The market was really hopping this evening, as it was the last evening before Chinese New Year, so everyone was out to get their fancy foods! We walked by a lot of stalls, eventually stopping for the soup described below, but on our way, we saw a lot of real local foods and the cutest puppy in a bicycle basket!!
Halfway through the market, we stopped for nom krouk, a rice cake fritter fried on the spot! We ended up eating them later, and they reminded me a lot of of Korean pizza. Very tasty!
During our walk through the market, we also stopped at a street side stand selling what our guide described as “home cooking.” What this entailed were a couple of women who made a few batches of food for sale… Of the four dishes, we enjoyed chicken cooked in palm sugar, pickled cabbage soup with fish, ground pork made with fermented fish and coconut milk, and fermented and marinated fish cooked with ground pork. So yeah, that description, especially given the scenery, was a bit terrifying, but all in all, the food was really great and I enjoyed all of it. Everything was presented as soup, and it tasted much better than it looked!
After lots of soup, on to our next stop, with my beer!
Our fourth stop was really a grill on the side of a crazy busy intersection. Once again, we were the only foreigners around. Dan was in heaven. At this stand, we tried beef tongue, beef heart, and duck accompanied with fresh vegetables and a very tasty dipping sauce made from fermented fish.
We have had tongue and heart before (and actually like it) so this was not too, too out of the ordinary. What was surprising, however, was that tasty green sauce made from fermented fish. It tasted so much like guacamole! We definitely left this stand really full.
Our fifth and final savory stop was at the Road 60 Night Market. Night markets are quite popular in Cambodia and some are more tourist friendly than others. This one is definitely not geared to tourists – we were by far the only Westerners here. We visited a stand, and our guide picked out several foods for us to try. Everything smelled delicious. First up was tripe, by Dan’s request. I hate tripe, so I abstained from trying it. Dan said it was ok, but could have used a bit more flavor.
Our next food was frog legs stuffed with sausage and the most delicious barbecued pork ribs. I don’t even like barbecued pork ribs that much and this was amazing. By far my favorite thing on the tour! If you take this tour, be sure to ask for the barbecued pork ribs.
To cap off our meal, we also enjoyed a variety of local fruits – rambutan, langkang and mangosteen. I do not really remember the difference between the three, but they were all delicious.
Our final stop was for dessert at a road side stand. We enjoyed Pa’hem, a sweet ice dish served with coconut milk and condensed milk over sticky rice and coconut milk custard. The pa’hem was light and refreshing, but enough sweetness to cap off the night. It reminded me of a lot of the shaved ice dishes that are popular in Hawaii. The Cambodia beer is a hold out from earlier.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Siem Reap Food Tours: The Siem Reap tour cost $75 USD/person. It includes all food, beer, and transportation to and from your hotel. The tour operators, a husband and wife team, are very responsive to emails and truly run a great tour. Be sure to book in advance, as the tours are limited in people and tend to book up in advance.
ON A BUDGET
This tour is not particularly budget friendly in inexpensive Siem Reap. Street food is cheap, as are most restaurants. That being said, you will not be able to replicate this tour on your own, so I think it is a worthy splurge if you are a real foodie!
If you are eating street food on your own in Cambodia, know that a lot of it is not stored as it would be in the West (for example, meat may be left out overnight), and flies may have landed all over your food. Definitely hit stands where the lines of locals are long and cooked things are always better than raw (as it kills any germs). Finally, while in parts of Cambodia where food is less scarce, it is somewhat common to eat cat or dog, but it would be extremely rare for that to be served to a tourist. Its out of necessity, not out of luxury, so do not worry about that.