A foodie’s guide to eating in Phnom Penh

If amok is the only Cambodian dish you know, it’s time to get a proper orientation to this seriously underrated cuisine by hitting the bustling streets of Phnom Penh.

Russian Market, Phnom Penh
  • Jetstar Asia
  • March 2019

Phnom Penh opens in new window is a big, busy city where people are constantly on the go. As a result, it has a far more vibrant street food scene compared to Siem Reap, where a lot of the best food is found in family-run restaurants,” Steven Halcrow, co-founder of Phnom Penh Food Tours opens in new window, a boutique tour agency specialising in small-group food tours, explains.

Back alley in Phnom Penh
A guided food tour is recommended in Phnom Penh — you get to eat at hole-in-the-wall spots most tourists miss and learn more about local life from an English-speaking guide.

Phnom Penh’s street food scene, however, can be overwhelming to navigate. “It can be hard when you don’t know the language, aren’t familiar with the culture, and aren’t sure how the food is prepared,” Lina Goldberg, the other founder of Phnom Penh Food Tours, shares.

Whatever your concerns, Goldberg insists you shouldn’t let them stop you from exploring Khmer cuisine. “Just go for it! It definitely takes a sense of adventure to just show up somewhere and point at stuff while people sit about pointing at you and laughing.”

Bobor seller in Phnom Penh
One of the best things about travelling is interacting with locals — Cambodians are warm and friendly, and always thrilled when travellers wants to try their food. Image: Lina Goldberg.

To give you a taster of the amazing food the city has to offer, Vanarith Nop, the local guide on Phnom Penh Food Tours, tells you the hidden corners where you can get the best versions of Cambodian staples.

1. Bai Sach Chrouk

Bai sach chrouk stall in Phnom Penh
This bai sach chrouk stall has been in the family for three generations.

When it comes to this quintessential Cambodian breakfast food, Nop swears by the stall in an alley opposite the entrance of Cambodia Post. Pork slices are slow-grilled over charcoal fire till smoky and caramelised, then served with a side of pickled cucumbers and carrots, and a fried egg on rice.

Bai Sach Chrouk, Phnom Penh
Don’t miss the deceivingly plain-looking bowl of soup made with radish, carrots, pork bones, pig’s blood and the stall’s secret ingredient, fermented lime, which draws the crowds daily.

2. Num Banh Chok

Num Banh Chok in Phnom Penh
Cambodia has amazing produce and no dish exemplifies that better than num banh chok, where every component in this hearty dish tells a story of its place.

There’s the toothsome noodles laboriously made from locally fermented rice, and a gravy spiked with prahok — a fermented paste made from fish harvested from Tonle Sap, the freshwater lake located north of Phnom Penh. Served on the side is a colourful array of locally foraged herbs and crisp vegetables to add to your dish. At the stall at the corner of Street 110 and Street 15, the elderly lady vendor starts each day at 3am to pick up the freshest ingredients from a local market.

Num Banh Chok in Phnom Penh
The fish gravy is mild and refreshing but if you prefer punchier flavours, opt for the red curry chicken version instead.

3. Bobor

This local version of rice porridge is deeply rooted in Cambodian history — a recipe for it appears as far back as the 10th century. During the Khmer Rouge, bobor was eaten out of necessity — people were given small rations of rice so watering it down was a way to making food supplies last longer. Today, bobor remains a watery congee but it is anything but bland. At a stall near Orussey Market, rice is cooked in a broth made from pork belly and bones, and finished with fermented soy beans, thinly sliced pork belly, a healthy pinch of pepper and a heap of coriander.

Bobor in Phnom Penh
A squeeze of fresh lime and a spoonful of the homemade chilli sauce, and you’re in for a taste of how Cambodian cuisine is delicate and complex at the same time.

4. Lort Cha

Lort Cha in Phnom Penh
The noodles are good on their own but do as the locals do and douse the noodles with spoonfuls of dtuk trey (a sweet-tangy condiment that’s placed on every table).

You’ll find this plate of stir-fried fat rice noodles easily in Phnom Penh but the stall locals queue for can be found on Street 170. The secret lies in the blisteringly hot flat pan and the way in which the hawker keeps all the ingredients constantly moving in the pan — the noodles and fried egg pick up an addictively smoky char while the bean sprouts and choy sum stay crunchy.

5. Grilled eggs

Grilled eggs in Phnom Penh
Grilled eggs in Phnom Penh are the best version of Cambodian fast food.

The food stalls at the National Olympic Stadium are a frenzy of activity in the evening but if there’s one fast food you shouldn’t miss, Vanarith says it’s the grilled eggs. The raw egg is carefully punctured then emptied. The eggs are beaten and seasoned with kampot pepper, lime juice, salt and then poured back the egg shell and grilled over charcoal.

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