Eating & Drinking in Cambodia
Although Thai and Vietnamese cuisine is well known throughout the world, few know about Cambodian Cuisine. It derives its flavor from spices and herbs which are grown locally and sweet, sour, salty, and bitter are blended seamlessly. With the abundance of freshwater fish in the country, it comes as no surprise that fish is the most common meat used in Cambodian cooking with a wide array of vegetables accompanying the dishes.
A typical Cambodian meal consists of a light soup, a salad, a fish dish, and of course rice. ‘Must try' dishes include amok, a steamed fish dish accompanied by an array of herbs and spices bringing out the flavor of the fish without masking its taste. Another must try is samlor korko, a mixed vegetable and fish soup and char kdao, meat stir fried with basil, lemongrass and galangal.
Rice (or noodles) forms the centerpiece of most meals. Usually you’ll get the rice mixed with a bit of chopped, stir-fried meat and some leafy vegetables. A bit of mint, chili, or chopped fresh mystery herbs is usually the topper. Be careful of the chopped, fresh stuff or the lightly cooked leafy stuff; there is no guarantee any of it is safe to eat. Remember to stick with well-cooked or seriously pickled items, especially outside of Phnom Penh and perhaps Siem Reap (Angkor Wat).
Soft and juice drink
Iced coffee is ubiquitous in Cambodia. It is made Vietnamese style, freshly brewed and mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Walk past a local eatery any time of the day and you are bound to see at least a table of locals drinking them. One glass costs between 1500-2000riel. Iced tea made with lemon and sugar is also refreshing and ubiquitous.
Fresh coconut can be found everywhere, you could say it is ubiquitous, and is healthy and sanitary if drunk straight from the fruit.
During the hot Cambodian summer there is no more refreshing treat than a fresh fruit shake. Combining local fruits with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk, these blended beverages are a traveler's delight! Another sweet treat is sugar cane juice which is extracted by mashing the stalks of sugar cane. The resulting juice is then combined with a splash of lime, and is the perfect pick me up on a hot day!
In general, Khmers are not what could be described as casual drinkers: the main objective is to get hammered as quickly as possible. Know your limits if invited to join in!
The two most popular domestic Cambodian beers are Anchor — best ordered "an-CHOR" with a ch sound! — and Angkor. Kingfisher Beer, Beer Lao and Tiger are popular beers with foreigners. A plethora of other beers include ABC Stout, which is dark and not so bad, in addition to the standard Heineken and Carlsberg. Many of the cheaper beers are not especially nice, such as Crown or Leo, and only drunk by the locals.
Palm wine and rice wine are available in villages and can be OK at 500-1000 riel for 1 litre bottle. However, some safety concerns have been raised with regard to sanitation, so the local wines may be best avoided. Bottled water is readily available at 500 riel for a cheap 1L bottle, or double that for a screw-cap. In Phnom Penh tap water is theoretically clean, though most travellers still buy bottles.
For a truly Khmer experience, hunt down a bottle of Golden Muscle Wine. Advertised on tuk-tuks everywhere, this pitch-black concoction made from deer antlers and assorted herbs packs a 35% punch and tastes vile when drunk straight, but can be made reasonably palatable (if not exactly tasty) by the addition of tonic water or cola. At US$2 for a 350 ml flask of the original and a budget-busting US$3 for the "X.O." version, it's also the cheapest legitimate tipple around.