Cambodian Cuisine

Rice, Fish and Edible Flowers
An Ancient Civilization, a Noble Cuisine

Angkor Wat

“The Cambodians have some two hundred different ways of describing rice of various kinds.” — Christopher Pym [1]

Cambodian cuisine, descended from the ancient Khmer society, is one of the world’s oldest cuisines. [2]

It is now in a period of revival and rebirth, after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period, when many of the old cooking styles were almost lost [3].

Prajanparamitra, Cambodia
Angkor Period

The staple food is Rice, and most people eat it several times a day, for meals and in snacks. Snacks might be Deep-Fried Rice, Rice Noodles, or Rice Porridge.  Glutinous (Sticky) Rice is usually eaten as a dessert, often with slices of fruit like Durian,Mango or Coconut Milk.

The Great Lake, or Tonle Sap, is a vital part of Cambodian ecology.  The Mekong River flows through Cambodia.

The country is home to one of the largest wetlands in the world and a center of biodiversity. Fish and other seafood are abundant and an important part of the Cambodian diet.

Tonle Sap, the Great Lake of Cambodia

Tonle Sap

Cambodians are one of the world’s biggest consumers of Rice, and also of Bread.  They produce what is perhaps the finest Black Pepper in the world.  It’s not surprising that Black Pepper features in some of their important dishes.

Fish, Vegetables and Fruits play an important role in Cambodian food.  Edible Flowers are often served. The largest of these is Banana Blossoms, which are enjoyed in several forms, in salads and stir-fried dishes.

A typical meal is built around Rice, usually served with grilled fresh water Fish, Soup, Salads, and Herbs and Vegetables. Fresh Fruit, sometimes combined with Glutinous Rice, is a popular dessert.

Cambodian cuisine was almost destroyed and lost during the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.  It is only recently being revived, together with other elements of traditional Cambodian culture.

Cambodia - Angkor Thom - Gallery

Cambodia – Angkor Thom – Gallery

Cambodian cuisine has much in common with the food of Thailand, but does not use Red Chili Peppers, Sugar or Coconut Milk as much as the Thais; and with Vietnam, with which it shares some Fusion elements from being formerly part of the French colonial empire.

Other outside elements on Cambodian cuisine come from China and India, France, Portugal and Spain.

Chinese people, living in Cambodia since the 13th century, contributed Noodles and other Chinese-style dishes.

India contributed items such as Curry and Preserved Lemons, plus the use of various spices.

The French, during their colonial period, introduced the Baguette. Cambodians are siad to eat more bread than any other Asian people.



Baguette with paté, tinned Sardines or Eggs or hard-boiled Eggs and a cup of strong Coffee sweetened with condensed milk, is a common Cambodian breakfast.  French Baguettes also are made into sandwiches similar to the Vietnamese Banh Mi.

Ingredients: Fermented Fish Paste (Prahok) is essential to Cambodian cuisine, as are Shrimp Paste and Fish Sauce.

Important Spices and Aromatics include: Chili Peppers, introduced by the Spanish and Portuguese in the 16th century, also —

  • Black Pepper


  • Cardamom
  • Galangal
  • Lime Leaves
  • Lemongrass
  • Tamarind

A spice paste made by blending a variety of spices and aromatics into a seasoning paste called Kroeung is a vital flavoring used in Cambodian cooking.

Vegetables: Many of the vegetables used in Cambodian cuisine are common with Chinese cooking.  Some important ones —

Bitter Melon


  • Bitter Melon

    Bamboo Shoots

  • Cabbage
  • Corn
  • Bamboo Shoots
  • Chinese Broccoli
  • Snow Peas
  • Squashes
  • Watercress
  • Yard-Long Beans


  • Bananas




  • Coconut
  • Durian
  • Jackfruit
  • Mango
  • Mangosteen
  • Papaya
  • Pineapple
  • Sapodilla
  •  Watermelon

Edible Flowers are often served with dishes and one of them, the Banana Flower, is cooked by itself and also added to various stir-fry dishes.

Meat and Fish: Fish is more common in Cambodian diet than meat, and makes up about 60 percent of the protein intake.  Fresh water fish, both fresh and salted, comes from the Mekong and other rivers and the Great Lake. Lobster is fished and eaten in the area around the port of Sihanoukville. Other meats include Chicken and Pork, as well as Frog and Turtle.

Whole Jackfruit


Important Dishes: Amok Trey (Fish Steamed in Bamboo Leaves) is possibly the most famous among foreigners; Kuy Teav — Pork-based Rice Noodle soup is popular, also

  • Khmer Fried Rice (Bai Chha)
  • Green Papaya Salad
  • Coconut Chicken Curry with Paprika (Samlor Kari)
  • Pumpkin and Coconut Flan (Sankya Lapav)
  • Banana Flower Salad

Cambodian Cuisine and Fusion: At least one Cambodian chef has made it big in international haute cuisine, Sottha Khunn, who became one of te top chefs at Le Cirque in New York.  He created a number of Fusion dishes, like a Curried Duck, with strong Cambodian overtones and inputs from French cuisine.  Some of Sottha Khunn’s recipes have been published in various venues and some of them are available online.  After several years of brilliant success in New York, he returned to his family home in Cambodia.

Cross section of Jackfruit

Jackfruit, Cross Section

For Further Information:

[1] Christopher Pym, The Ancient Civilizaition of Angkor (New York: Mentor, 1968) —
[2] David J. Steinberg, Cambodia: Its People, Its Society, Its Culture (New Haven, Conn.: HRAF Press, 1959)  —
[3] “Cambodian cuisine,” article, Wikipedia -
[4] “Royaume du Cambodge, Carte Routiere & Administratif, Echelle 1:1,000,000” (Phnom Penh: Service Geographique, n.d.)
[5]Longteine de Monteire and Kathrin Neustadt, The Elephant Walk Cookbook: The Exciting World of Cambodian Cuisine from the Nationally Acclaimed Restaurant (Houghton Mifflin, 1998) —
Princess Rasmi Sobhana,
The Cambodian Cookbook (Phnom Penh: USIS, n.d.)  —
Joannès Rivière, Cambodian Cooking —
Demaz Tep Baker, A Taste of Cambodian Cooking —
Ghillie Basan, The Food & Cooking of Cambodia —
Some online recipe sources: – Cambodian Recipies

Cambodia - Angkor Thom - Bayon, Upper Terrace

Cambodia – Angkor Thom – Bayon, Upper Terrace

Head of Female Deity, Cambodia
Angkor Period





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