A Culinary Insight Into Cambodia’s History
Khmer cuisine is one of the world’s oldest. With an emphasis on simplicity, freshness, seasonality and regionalism (and less emphasis on spice, compared to its neighbors), Khmer cuisine is both unique and delicious.
The staple food for Cambodians is rice. Rice is consumed by most Cambodians every day. Whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or in between times, rice is prepared using a great number of cooking styles. There are over 100 words and phrases for rice in the Khmer language, but bai is the universal term. Khmer people are particularly pound of their rice. It recently was hailed as the World’s Best Rice at the 5th Annual Rice Trader World Rice Conference in Hong Kong.
Rice is eaten all day long in the form of street snacks such as deep-fried rice cakes with chives and spinach. It is eaten for breakfast, and in many desserts.
The notorious prahok, or ‘Khmer cheese,’ is fermented fish paste. Let’s just say it is an acquired taste for foreigners. The smell can penetrate everything: “Working in an office with my local staff can be an interesting experience sometimes,” says our General Manager at the Khiri office in Phnom Penh.
Khmer cuisine, much like its people, has shown its resilience in the face of adversity and challenges. During the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s, Cambodian cuisine was almost wiped out and forgotten. However, things are changing fast. Today several Khmer cooking courses now run in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, and other popular tourist areas. Each course gives visitors the chance to share the culinary secrets of Khmer cuisine.
Another way to do so is try a few of the many restaurants now available in Cambodia. There are too many good ones to mention, but Romdeng, Friends and Marum are responsible restaurants with incredible food. Set up by the charity Friends International and a local NGO called Mith Samlanh (which means “friends” in Khmer), these are restaurants that really stand out in food quality whilst genuinely benefiting the community.
For more information on Khmer cuisine or to take a trip and sample it with Khiri Travel, simply contact [email protected].
Photo by ND Strupler