Of course before coming here, I did some research about the local flavours. But most my readings turned out to be rather factual and dry, and did not quite give the full spirit of Khmer cuisine which I quickly found so interesting. Well it's now with great confidence and pleasure that I can say myself extremely enthused by Cambodian food.
Saying that Cambodian, or Khmer cuisine dramatically differs from other Indochinese cuisines would be inaccurate. Anyone familiar with Thai and Vietnamese specialties will notice some obvious similarities when tasting Cambodian curries, sweet and sour salads or spring rolls. However in the Khmer tradition, each of these dishes is prepared in a slightly different way, resulting in specific tastes and textures which are unusual enough to be highlighted.
|Spicy seafood salad|
Take Cambodian curry for instance. Although the ingredients in the paste are pretty much the same as for Thai curry, the proportions differ, making the Khmer version creamier and less spicy. I absolutely loved this smooth and easygoing version from the very first mouthful..
Similarly, fresh spring rolls in Cambodia don't include rice vermicelli like in Vietnam, and are just packed with lots of fresh and crunchy herbs and veggies. Some crushed peanuts provide the sweet dipping sauce with a special twist too.
|Red curry with fish|
Of course Cambodia has also got some unique specialties which you won't find anywhere else. Amok (a popular dish traditionnally made of fish steamed with banana leaves and coconut milk), Cambodian barbecue and Cambodian soups are a few examples.
|Fried spring rolls, fish amok & chicken curry|
After a few days and delicious meals in Siem Reap, I decided to join a cooking class so I would be able to reproduce my favorite Khmer dishes once back home. While visiting Psar Chaa old market, I was particularly impressed by the diversity and quantities of fresh produce from both the land and sea - while I thought the historic flooding situation would have somewhat hampered the supply.
Back at the kitchen, I learned how to prepare fresh spring rolls with pork, seafood red curry and sticky rice with mango, all according to the Khmer tradition. The experience was fun, and gave me a deeper understanding of what Khmer cooking is about. I will gladly share the recipes on this blog in the coming days - hoping that you enjoy Cambodian cooking just as much as I did!
|Siem Reap's Psar Chaa old market|