A Vibrant Land
Cambodian food is as colourful as its people and its history goes back to the country’s origins when the Khmer empire ruled supreme over most of south-east Asia.
Over many centuries the country’s dishes and sauces have taken on the flavours of its neighbours such as Thailand and Vietnam, with a mixture of noodles from China and curry dishes from India. But by blending all these subtle flavours and spices together, Cambodia’s cuisine still sets itself apart from many other foods in south-east Asia.
The Khmer culture has mastered the use of herbs and spices to create flavours without the use of fats and meats. A typical Cambodian meal is full of nutrition and would normally consist of a soup, a salad, a main fish dish, vegetables and rice. The meal would also include a fusion of sauces and flavours to satisfy each taste bud including a sweet, sour, salty, and bitter taste. Rice is the stable diet for the country’s population and is eaten at most meals.
The family is of prime importance to Cambodian society, so meal time is when all the family come together to eat, talk & socialise. Meal time is the reason to come together, whether you are young or old, it’s the time to enjoy your family’s food & talk about food! Cambodians are passionate about their traditions of which food is just one.
The great Mekong River is the life blood of the country as it meanders through its provinces and bringing with it a wealth of food in its vast fish stocks. The river along with the Tonle Sap Lake is fundamental to the people’s way of life as they provide fish high in protein and irrigation waters to grow crops.
Cambodians use local ingredient such as lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots and galangal to blend together to make vibrant pastes (known as kroeung) which are used widely in Cambodian cooking. Coconut is also a popular ingredient in Cambodian food especially curries.
Another of Cambodia’s distinctive dishes is a salty, pungent paste made from fermented fish called prahok. This can be served in banana leaves and eaten on its own, but more commonly this tangy, fishy substance is used to add a kick to other dishes such as meat or fish.
One of the spices that Cambodia is famous for is its pepper which has a unique taste of both sweetness and fiery hot spice. Red, black and white pepper is grown throughout the country but it is the pepper from Kampot which enjoys international, as well as local notoriety. Nestled between mountains and the sea the province of Kampot is the ideal place to grow pepper due to its micro-climate which offers mineral rich soil, frequent rainfall and hot sun.
Kampot pepper is now exported to parts of Europe, North America & south-east Asia & is used by the top Michelin star chefs in restaurants in cities as diverse as Bangkok, London, New York and Paris. If you haven’t already tried some – you must!