November 23, 2020
This Thanksgiving is likely to be one of the least traditional for many U.S. families. Instead of gathering in large groups for a traditional turkey…Read This Post
Some of our clients considering our fabulous Cooking and Culture in Vietnam and Cambodia ask us:
The answer is that there are many amazing sites to see in Cambodia. The vast majority of today’s Cambodians are “Khmer,” or part of the ethnic group that refers back to the historical Khmer Empire that saw its heyday between the 11th and 13th centuries. This Hindu-Buddhist empire was responsible for building some of Cambodia’s most known temples and archeological sites, including the majestic Angkor Wat, Bavon, and Ta Prohm.
These are just a few of the incredible sites you can see on a culinary tour of Cambodia.
Khmer is a word you’ll hear a lot in reference to Cambodia, describing not only the people, but also the language. And, that brings us to another question we get asked:
Usually referred to as Khmer cuisine, you’ll find a delicious version of what you might expect of a Southeast Asian cuisine, with elements that reflect the country’s proximity to Vietnam, China, Thailand, and India. You’ll also find French influences due to Cambodia’s inclusion as part of the French colonial empire, and due to the French culinary influences in Vietnamese cuisine.
Rice is the main ingredient, and that should be no surprise. The landscape is watery – full of rivers and the Tonle Sap lake – which makes rice cultivation and fishing two of the primary forms of food production. The flavors of Khmer cuisine combine sweet, savory, sour, and bitter, and the dishes frequently mix different textures and temperatures – so fresh herbs or leaves and pickled vegetables or edible flowers might be paired with a hot savory dish or soup. You’ll also find fermented sauces and pastes to be a staple of the flavor profile. One thing you won’t generally find is a lot of chiles – Khmer cuisine tends to be less spicy than its neighboring counterparts.
Most meals in Cambodia are multi-course and will include a soup and some stir fry dishes. Rice is always present, although you will also find rice noodles in some dishes. You’ll even have rice and rice noodles for breakfast, whether as the savory rice porridge (bobor) or in any of the savory breakfast dishes such as the very common rice noodles with fish and green curry (nom banh chok) or rice and pork (bai sach chrouk).
For those of you who like Vietnamese cuisine, you’ll be happy to note the similarities – including the presence of the French baguette! If you’re craving a banh mi sandwich, you’ll find them in Cambodia with the name of num pang pâté.
Another question we get asked is: do they really eat insects in Cambodia? Yes, they do. Some say the severe poverty and famine of the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule in the 70’s made any source of food and nourishment up for grabs, including insects. Other sources say that entomophagy (humans using insects as food) is a cultural fact in Southeast Asia and not specific to Cambodia at all. But don’t worry, we won’t make you try any on our trips (unless of course you want to)!
What other questions do you have about traveling to Cambodia? Just let us know in the comments or on social media!
By Peg Kern
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