Everything you ever wanted to know about Cambodian fish amok

The colourful influences of Cambodia’s neighbours are reflected in its fragrant fare. Fish amok epitomises the perfect balance of flavours with a uniquely Khmer twist.

Fish amok is Cambodia's national dish.
  • Rachel Gray
  • February 2019

You might not have heard of it but fish amok has been around in Cambodia for generations and is a must-try dish if you’re visiting the country. So what is it exactly? A steamed, mousse-like custard made of curry paste, with river fish and coconut milk, usually served in a banana leaf cup or coconut shell. Sounds good, right? Here are a few other need-to-know facts about the dish… it's enough to make us want to start planning that trip to Cambodia just to try it!

Its origins are unknown

“It’s not clear where it started but because this dish is made using freshwater river fish, I’d say inland areas,” says Cambodian master chef, Luu Meng of Malis Restaurant. “In central Cambodia, there is a lake called Tonlé Sap… The people who live near the lake eat fish amok every other day,” he adds. When making the dish, the fish has to be fresh and from a healthy, freshwater river – that will give the dish the perfect texture and will stop it from being too dry.

Master chef Luu Meng is known for serving great fish amok
Master chef Luu Meng is known for serving great fish amok.

It’s all about the kroeung paste

This is the base of the dish’s curry sauce and must be a well-balanced recipe of shallots, red chillies, kaffir lime leaves, turmeric and lemongrass. According to chef Luu Meng, “The dominant taste is lemongrass with hints of flavour from the turmeric and the coconut cream and undertones of herbs.”

Banana leaves and coconuts are involved

“Amok” refers to the process of steaming food in a banana leaf. After allowing the fish to marinate in the kroeung paste and coconut cream, it is wrapped up in banana leaves and steamed. As for the coconut bit, the top layer of a coconut is grated and then added to the dish for a touch of sweetness.

The aromatic dish is as tasty as it looks.
The aromatic dish is as tasty as it looks.

Eat it with chopsticks

The best way to eat fish amok is with chopsticks (although, if it’s a particularly saucy one, you might need a spoon as well). Take a portion of the amok, put it on rice, and mix and turn it a little bit to let the flavour combine with the rice.

Where can you try it?

Chef Luu Meng serves his own iteration of the dish at his award-winning Malis Restaurant opens in new window in Phnom Penh opens in new window and Siem Reap.

“My mum had a way of cooking the amok that was a bit drier and she loved it that way. I have slightly adjusted her recipe to make the consistency smoother and juicier and to enhance the flavours for people in the restaurant… We pound the spices very finely so when we marinate the fish, the paste goes straight through the fillet. This allows the lemongrass, turmeric and the chilli to make the fish tastier.”

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