Emerging from Cambodia’s vibrant, welcoming environment is a rapidly growing street food culture which attracts locals and tourists alike. While Cambodia’s national cuisine has often been compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors, its street food culture is a rich, vibrant experience of unique foods and flavors all its own.
First and foremost, the tea! If you’re a first-time visitor to Southeast Asia, we dare you to try Cambodia’s tea and not fall instantly in love. Whether it’s a curbside food stand, local eatery, or a cart on the side of the road, you will not find a single sip of mediocre tea in Cambodia. Aside from being insanely delicious, tea is deeply ingrained into Cambodian culture, and many ceremonies include a tea drinking ritual. The most common variety is Jasmine tea, which will be better than just about any other team ever. Close competitors include lemongrass tea and green tea. Due to the characteristic Cambodian heat, many teas are brewed hot and then poured over ice to help cool you down.
A popular late-afternoon restorative of students and snackers alike, street barbecue is Cambodia’s most popular street food and comes in two distinctly delicious varieties. The first is a red, sticky sweet pork recipe. Generally, street cooks marinate the pork in a mixture of palm sugar, soy, garlic, salt, and pepper and grill the pieces over hot coals or braziers. They are often served in groups of four along with a slightly pickled salad. The other option is sach ko ang, marinated in lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, kaffir lime, garlic and sometimes a fish sauce before it is grilled and placed atop a crispy buttered baguette. Both types of skewers usually sell for about R1000 each ($0.25), and 4 for R4000 ($1.00). Definitely a steal, as far as we’re concerned!
Num Pang Paté
Similar to its Vietnamese cousin the banh mi, the num pang paté is a legacy of Cambodia’s history as a former French colony. However, the Cambodian version is a star in its own right with its signature fusion of crispy baguettes, mayonnaise, and paté with locally seasoned meats, chilies, and pickled vegetables. The tastiest of these yummy sandwiches are said to be found in the capital, Phnom Penh, but you can find these little beauties in any number of local iterations throughout the country. We haven’t found a bad one yet.
An evening favorite of tourists and locals alike in the historical Siem Reap, mi char is a signature fried noodle dish often sold from mobile food carts. The most popular version is made from a pack of chicken-flavored instant noodles fried with a variety of local vegetables, spices, and of course, the instant noodles’ own flavor packet. Often, the dish is topped with a fried egg and doused in chili sauce for a mere R4000, or just $1.00!
Num Kachay and Other Quick Snacks
If you’re not a fan of meat or simply want to grab something on the go, the delicious and surprisingly filling num kachay, or Cambodian chive cakes, should certainly whet your appetite. Made from glutinous rice and filled with chives and spinach, these little morsels are fried in a giant pan and served piping hot in the late afternoon. If you are really adventurous, try local favorite pong tae koun (baby duck eggs) boiled with a mixture of salt, pepper, limes, and maybe some finely sliced red chillies and fresh herbs that you to fold in through a hole at the top of the egg. Go for the darker ones if you’re on the go, and the white ones if you want to mix in the spices yourself.
Finally, before you go, treat yourself to some sweet and spicy deep-fried insects! In Cambodia, as in many Southeast Asian countries, there is a strong cultural tradition surrounding the consumption of insects, including cockroaches, locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, silkworms, and even tarantulas. Raised on special diets and then covered in a mixture of salt, sugar, spices, or chilis, you’ll be surprised at how tasty these little buggers can be!
Once you’ve satisfied your street food cravings and gone back for seconds, we hope that you’ll take some time to immerse yourself Cambodia’s beautiful culture and long, rich history. There are thousands of sites to see (the sunrise over Angkor Wat is an absolute must!), we hope you enjoy your time in this stunning country.