Some guide books say Cambodia’s cuisine is nothing to write home about and a poorer cousin to Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. Now, that is completely untrue.
A thousand years ago the Khmer Kingdom, which centred on Angkor, ruled an empire that included most of south-east Asia.
Hence, many of the Thai and other regional dishes have their roots in Khmer cooking from that time!
While there are similarities, Cambodian cuisine should be taken in its own right.
What is Khmer Food?
Time consuming but straight- forward, all in nuances and yet simple to prepare. That is how most chefs describe Cambodian cuisine.
The art of Cambodian cooking is not so much in the ingredients as in the way of combining herbs and seasonings.
Quite often Cambodian cooking is compared to Thai cooking. Indeed, there are many similarities between the two countries, but there are significant differences as well.
Khmer recipes go back to the days before the introduction of the chilli, so are consequently much milder than most Asian food. The chilli was unknown in Asia until the 16th century when it arrived with the Portuguese.
Thai cooks use red chiles a lot, where Cambodians prefer to spice up their dishes by hot side servings, so everyone can adjust the taste to their personal liking.
Take Cambodian curry. The red color suspects a spicy dish. Well, it’s not, it’s actually quite sweet. The redness comes from mkak seeds, not chiles.
Furthermore, Cambodians use sweet potatoes in curries, whereas other Asian countries use potatoes merely as a starch.
Often foreigners ask where to buy a Cambodian cookbook and what exactly is the best one? To get started we have some recipes for you. We also have a list of cookbooks.
What is Prahok?
Prahok is a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste that is used in Cambodian cuisine as a seasoning or a condiment. It originated as a way of preserving fish during the longer months when fresh fish was not available in abundant supply.
There is prahok and there is prahok. At the street corner restaurants you’ll find the strong flavoured and aromated prahok. Many Cambodians like to dip vegetables or fruit in uncooked prahok. Indeed, that has a very strong taste many foreigners do not like.
Should you avoid prahok?
No, definitely not! Let’s give you a little explanation about prahok, or fermented fish paste. It is used in many Cambodian dishes.
In Cambodian fine cuisine a different mild prahok of high quality is used. A world of difference! And it gives the food that distinguished Cambodian flavor and taste.
By the way, contrary to popular belief, prahok is not required in every Cambodian dish.
Just try the real Cambodian food. And if it’s not spicy enough for you, add some chopped chiles or spicy sauce.
Want to learn the art of Khmer cuisine? Try one of the cooking classes in Cabodia and surprise your friends back home with delicious meals.