Cambodian Cuisine | Distinctively, Indochina
Having been known all over the world as the universe of spices and herbs, fresh seafood and vegetables, it comes to a default that great food is what one thing any traveler to Southeast Asia expects on his plate. These countries share a common love for contrasting flavors of sweet and sour, salty and bitter. Notably, alongside its strong culinary traditions are food or preparations that are influenced, somehow, by its foreign colonizers.
|Amok Trey, the star of Cambodian cuisine is filleted fish in pounded herbs, spices, coconut milk, peanuts & steamed in banana leaf. It is fragrant & zesty. Amok is a classic Khmer dish best eaten w/ salted dried fish & watermelon.|
Cambodia is no exception to these gastronomic surprises. In fact, the Khmer cuisine is one of the most distinctive flavors in this part of the region. Most diners believe that Khmer food only shadows the curry of India, the chili of Thailand and the pho of Vietnam. But be it remembered that Thailand and Vietnam were once part of the larger ancient and advanced Khmer empire. Could it be that both its closest neighbors developed its own cuisine from the Khmers? Could it also be the effects of trade, technology and media that just brought the Thais & Vietnamese food more popular? Could it be Cambodia’s war-torn history and long-time resentment to strangers that drowned its cuisine into anonymity?
|Samlor Machu Kreoung, a popular sour vegetable stew with meat. Tamarind is usually used to make sour soups.|
|Cambodians usually use fresh herbs & spices in home cooking. Tourists may also buy them in premixed packs.|
The Khmer cuisine is ceremonious. It is a culinary production from the kitchen to the table. Food is served all at once and its careful attention to contrasting tastes and textures in the entire meal is what makes it a happy dining experience. The extravagance in exotic herbs and spices create a heightened flavor in each dish. When all of these dishes come together in one setting, the contrast of aggressive and comforting flavors becomes a showoff.
|Steamed rice coconut milk usually sprinkled with a little salt & spring onions. Best with salted dried fish.|
|Khmer version of Fresh Spring Rolls, less the Vietnamese rice vermicelli. Served with zesty dipping sauce.|
The Cambodians love coconut milk on its fish, vegetables and sometimes even in rice. Like in most parts of Indochina, all of its meals are served with accompanying dips and sauces. While the taste mostly borders on the salty side, neutralizers like watermelon and pickles are commonly eaten with the main course.
|Khmer Krom Soup is made of bamboo shoots in coconut milk. Usually added with any kind of meat.|
|Sngor Mareas is bitter melon stuffed w/ ground pork in clear sour soup.|
The usual Cambodian meal consists 2 to 3 dishes with separate portions of dry (grilled or fried fish), saucy stew in either plain coconut milk or curry (fish or chicken with vegetable), a samlor or clear soup. Choices of condiments with pounded spices, herbs and edible leaves are also served on the side.
The popularity of its medieval temples that attract millions of tourists each year has helped in pulling a higher recognition for its culinary tradition. It is a thoughtful cuisine that surely excites the palate, feeds the hungry temple-runners and it is distinctively Khmer.
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