Food is the essence of life in Cambodia. There is not an occasion that does not end up at the dining table. And the importance of food in life is the same in France, which is the reason why Nathalie ended up being a food lover, a heritage from a gourmet Cambodian grandfather and a cordon-bleu French grandmother! And it started when she was young…
Cambodian cuisine is influenced by Chinese, Indian and Southern Vietnamese cuisine; Southern Vietnam or Kampuchea Krom used to be part of Cambodia until the 20th century and there are still strong ties in terms of food and commerce. The influences are blended to make Cambodian cuisine a very special of its own. The every-day meal is a simple Chinese-like dish such as stir-fry, fried meat, barbecue, clear soup or stew.
Cambodian cuisine uses a lot of spices pastes. They are made by pounding many different spices and roots together to make a paste, which becomes the basic ingredient of most dishes.
The food is not hot, chili is served on the side. It uses a lot of fresh vegetables, herbs and roots that have high nutritional value. Winter melon, bitter melon, pumpkin leaves, pumpkin flowers, ginger, eggplant, chives and black pepper are good for the body.
Different regions in Cambodia have different specialties and Siem Reap region is famous for its fresh rice noodles with green fish soup, its fermented fish paste (prahok) and red sausages. As it is close to Thaïland, coconut milk is more used than in Phnom Penh and the Southern Eastern Provinces.
A family and home cuisine:
Cambodian cuisine is cooked at home, for family and friends. There are not many restaurants serving authentic Cambodian food in Phnom Penh, and the ones in Siem Reap are mostly tourist oriented. When Cambodian people go to a restaurant it is to eat Chinese, European or food from other places.
Because of its boutique size, and thanks to the gourmet heritage of Nathalie’s Cambodian family, Maison Polanka serves traditional family food with recipes handed over from aunts and grand cousins.
Clear soups are the most popular component of a meal in the countryside – they allow the body to rehydrate with the liquid and salted fish sauce. They can be sour, using tamarind or other sour fruits or lime. Prahoc paste is added to some soups also to give them strength in the taste.
Along with the soup, stir fried dishes can be served. The most famous is the Lok Lak ( also found in Kampuchea Krom region). It is made of marinated beef slices or cubes in soy sauce and garlic and served on a bed of fresh lettuce, green tomatoes and onions with a black pepper and lime deep. During the French era, restaurants used to add French fries and a sunny side egg and called it “French Lok lak”, the local version of the entrecôte frite.
Breakfasts are salted, either stir fried rice or steamed rice with grilled meat, congee. Maison Polanka favorite choice is the rice noodle soup ( kuy tiew) , inherited from Cantonese migrants
Deserts are a snack in Cambodian tradition and never eaten after the meal; only fruits can be served after lunch or dinner. There is a variety of porridges using beans, sticky rice, tapioca with coconut milk, or fruits in coconut milk. The palm tree fruit is a very special seasonal delicacy.
Snack food in Cambodia can almost be the same as a meal. At Maison Polanka, there is a wide range of delicious snack food that can be ordered with a drink or as appetizer during a meal, or guests can also have a tapas style meal with a mix of snaks. The most popular are: