5 Faves: Must-Try Cambodian Street Foods

5 Faves: Must-Try Cambodian Street Foods
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Porthole’s 5 Faves

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Five Must-Try Cambodian Street Foods

I profess to being a moderate foodie, backed up by my appreciation of food and the discovery of new tastes. And despite an inclination to be rather picky, I openly admit that I prefer street food fare over Michelin-rated cuisine.

Give me back-alley grub marinated with a hint of scooter exhaust enjoyed in a plastic table and chair on the sidewalk and I’m front and center. And call me fussy, but I do draw the line on ingesting cranial cavity concoctions, eyeballs as a delicacy, unidentified organ meats, genital extractions, or, surprisingly, raw onions. Andrew Zimmern I am not!

After a pre-cruise trip into Cambodia, I will disclose that I have uncovered the mother lode. Allow me to offer a disclaimer in depicting some of these dubious dishes as comfort food. Actually knowing what they are (or were), lends nothing to thoughts of comforting culinary bliss, but to experience something different, really different, is all part of travel. Here are my five favorite not-to-be-missed Cambodian street foods (reduced down from dozens).


Fish Amok

Fish AmokThis tasty blend of seafood and mixed ingredients tops the list and was the first dish I tried upon arrival. Possibly the most authentic of all and referred to as the national dish of Cambodia, it poses as a street food on the sidewalks, but also stars as a staple in fine restaurants. Combine fish, simmered in lemongrass, coconut curry, lime, and turmeric, and how can you go wrong with anything wrapped in a banana leaf?


Nom Banh Chok/Khmer Noodles

Typically consumed as breakfast, it’s usually offered on the street by women balancing baskets on a pole across their shoulders. Hand-pounded rice noodles with a fishy green curry gravy are topped with mint leaves, cucumbers, bean sprouts, and other assorted greens. Probably not on my reorder list, but interesting enough that it might just be your morning cup of tea.


BBQ Frogs

BBQ Skewers

 
The streets teem with the smoke, but it’s the inviting aroma that draws you in.

Pork, beef, chicken, fish, frogs, and sparrows on sticks, grilled over hot coals make these ubiquitous on-the-go, carbonized treats irresistible.

One dollar or less will buy you a great skewered snack.


Happy Pizza

In respect to political correctness — and fear of what my mother might think — I will be vague on the main ingredient. Let’s just say that the green leafy “not so secret” ingredient is now available over the counter in select licensed U.S. dispensaries, but more traditionally purchased off the street also. True to its name, it will make you happy and will also induce the munchies, treat glaucoma, and make colors incredibly vivid. For hardcore stoners, there’s even a Happy Happy version!

Cheech and Chong, eat your hearts out!


Deep fried grubs

Fried Crickets/Cockroaches/Scorpions/Grubs

Crispy, crunchy, critters fresh out of the fryer. You might recall that I prefaced this list with a must try header. Nowhere did I say you must like them.

But in all honesty, these “bug buffet” items — aside from the intimidating texture — are not that bad. You could even term them as organic. (Is there any other type?)

It’s similar to eating potato chips, but with the advantage of highly touted nutritional claims. Ordering a basket of wings at home will never carry the same meaning.


 

Street food, especially in Southeast Asia, is a great way to jolt your dormant taste buds to life. Any evening stroll through the streets will expose hundreds of variations of farm-to-table meats, organs, and produce. Some sound delightful, like banana flower salad or fried water lily with shrimp, but there are others that fail the Five Faves distinction, instead qualifying for induction into a (dis)honorable mention list:

Durian

If the strange spiky look of this reviled fruit doesn’t put you off, the assault on your olfactory senses will. As they say: smells like hell, tastes like heaven.
 

Balut

A fertilized duck embryo eaten direct from the eggshell — raw! Don’t lecture me about the nutritional value and libido enhancement properties; it’s not going to happen!
 
  Red tree ants with beef strips
 

Red Tree Ants with Beef Strips

Imagine a quinoa type of texture. Do you really need more description?
 

Tarantula Tongue, Leg of Lizard, Iguana Toes

Ok, I made these up. But if I had the time, I’m sure I’d find them offered somewhere as a holistic cure for what ails you.
 

 
If you are traveling to Cambodia or Vietnam, leave your timid tendencies at home, pack some bravado, and try something off the wall (sometimes literally). Frankly, it might not hurt to pack some Imodium too, just in case.
 

— Steve Leland


Photos: Steve Leland


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