Local Khmer Food

Siem Reap is a fast growing town. It has something for everyone from budget backpackers to very high end luxury travelers. Although I always travel with fewer things than a backpacker, I am no longer in my 20’s looking for cheap booze and anything to put in my stomach to soak up the copious amount of alcohol consumed during a backpack journey.

In my 30’s, I look for culture and experiences and Siem Reap did not disappoint. It seems every place in Siem Reap serves something resembling pizza and when we first arrived with empty stomachs and no bearing of the city, it seemed like a safe option…it wasn’t, but that didn’t deter us. Because of the rapidly growing tourism, Siem Reap has all kinds of cuisine available from fast food chains to fine French dining. Only having 2 days in Cambodia, our goal was to try all of the local Khmer food we could find.

On the first day in Cambodia we made the mistake of looking for lunch around 3pm. Most places close between 3 and 5:30 to prepare for dinner service, so after trying 2 restaurants recommended by a guide book and being turned away, we were on our own. We love to eat where locals eat, but sometimes that is just not possible when there is a language barrier. Luckily, we found a café packed with locals and one table of foreigners, so we knew they would be willing to serve us.

The most famous Khmer dish is Fish Amok, so we ordered that with fresh spring rolls. When the food arrived, the Amok was served in a coconut and the spring rolls were colorful and fragrant. This was the best tasting meal of our stay in Cambodia with the best local atmosphere; nothing fancy just good, fresh food. We even had a good laugh with the locals when they saw me, a westerner, mastering the chopsticks, while my husband, Chinese, struggling with a fork since there was only one pair of chopsticks available.

A restaurant on the second floor balcony is typically more expensive, but not always better. The next day we had lunch on a beautiful wooden balcony in a lush garden setting. Although the facility was gorgeous the food, edible, but not good. It was quite disappointing. It enforced the life lesson of not judging a book by its cover.

After a subpar lunch we were determined to have an excellent last meal in Siem Reap. We agreed to go to a more expensive restaurant that actually accepted credit cards, which is not common in Cambodia. Café Indochine had a beautiful wooden balcony in a garden setting just like our lunch, but this time the food was excellent. We got 3 authentic Khmer dishes to share, one being the fish Amok again, shrimp with kampot pepper and chas kruang beef. Each dish had a distinct flavor yet all three dishes complimented each other nicely. When the bill came, it was even cheaper than our lunch and satisfied us even more.

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