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Khmer Seafood: Traditional Cuisine Of Cambodia

January 19, 2024 - 1176 views

One highlight of Cambodian cuisine is its exquisite Khmer seafood dish, which showcases the flavors of the Khmer culture and the bountiful waters surrounding the country. In this article, we will dive into the world of Khmer seafood, exploring its unique characteristics and the top popular dishes in Cambodia.

Khmer Seafood

1. Overview Of Khmer Seafood In Cambodia

Cambodia's geographical location between the Mekong River and the Gulf of Thailand offers abundant seafood resources. As a result, seafood has played a significant role in Khmer cuisine for centuries. Here are some interesting facts about seafood in Cambodia.

  • Cambodia's coastal waters boast a diverse range of seafood, including various fish species like crabs, prawns, squid, and shellfish.
  • Rice is a staple in Khmer cuisine, and it is often served alongside seafood dishes. 
  • Prahok is a traditional Cambodian fish paste made from fermented fish. It is a staple ingredient in many Khmer dishes and adds a unique umami flavor.
  • The famous and high-quality Kampot pepper is often used in Khmer seafood dishes.
  • In coastal towns like Kep and Sihanoukville, visitors can explore vibrant seafood street markets.
  • During the Khmer New Year and Water Festival, seafood dishes are prepared and shared as a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and unity.
  • Various NGOs and organizations in Cambodia are working towards promoting sustainable fishing practices and raising awareness about the importance of preserving marine resources.

 

2. Popular Khmer Seafood Dishes

Chean Choun - Ginger fish with salted soybean

Chean Choun is a popular Cambodian grilled fish dish. Fresh whole fish, such as snapper or tilapia, is marinated with lemongrass, garlic, and turmeric before being grilled over charcoal. The smoky flavors from the grill infuse the fish, resulting in a succulent and aromatic dish that is often served with a side of tangy dipping sauce.

01 Chien Chuon

Chien Chuon

Its main ingredients:

  • Whole fish (such as tilapia, snapper, or sea bass), cleaned and scaled
  • Garlic cloves, minced
  • Fresh ginger, grated or thinly sliced
  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Fish sauce
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh cilantro or green onions for garnish (optional)

General steps to cook:

  1. The fish should be properly rinsed and dried with paper towels. To allow the taste to pierce the fish, make short diagonal slashes on both sides.
  2. For frying, warm up some vegetable oil in a large pan or wok. The fish need to be able to immerse in the oil.
  3. The fish should be salted and peppered before being delicately inserted into the hot oil  and fried until it is crispy and golden on all sides. Depending on the size of the fish, this typically takes 6 to 8 minutes on each side. 
  4. Once done, take the fish out of the pan and drain any extra oil on paper towels.
  5. One tablespoon of vegetable oil should be heated over medium heat in a different pan. Add minced garlic and grated or sliced ginger, and sauté until fragrant and lightly golden.
  6. Reduce the heat and add soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and sugar to the pan. Stir the sauce ingredients together until well combined and heated through.
  7. Place the fried fish on a serving platter and pour the ginger and garlic sauce over it. Garnish with fresh cilantro or green onions if desired.
  8. Serve the Chean Choun hot with steamed rice.

 

Amok Trey - Cambodian steamed fish curry

Amok Trey is a classic Khmer dish that features delicate fish fillets, usually catfish or snakehead fish, steamed in a flavorful coconut curry. 

The fish is marinated in a mixture of spices, including lemongrass, galangal, and turmeric, before being wrapped in banana leaves and steamed to perfection. The result is a creamy, fragrant, and mildly spicy dish that showcases the harmonious blend of Khmer flavors.

Amok Trey

Amok Trey

Its main ingredients:

  • Boneless fish fillets
  • Amok paste 
  • Coconut milk
  • Fish sauce
  • Palm sugar or brown sugar
  • Sliced shallots
  • Lemongrass 
  • 2-3 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • Banana leaves for wrapping (optional)
  • Fresh cilantro for garnish

Simple steps to cook:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the Amok paste, fish sauce, palm sugar, shallots, lemongrass, and half of the coconut milk. Mix well to form a smooth and fragrant curry paste.
  2. Heat the pan with medium heat. Add vegetable oil and the curry paste. Sauté for a few minutes until fragrant.
  3. Gradually pour in the remaining coconut milk while stirring continuously, then simmer it for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the fish pieces to the curry sauce and gently stir to coat the fish evenly. Cook for an additional 5-7 minutes until the fish is cooked through and tender.
  5. If using banana leaves, briefly heat them over an open flame to make them pliable. Cut the leaves into squares or rectangles, and place a portion of the fish and curry mixture into each leaf. Fold the leaves into a neat package, securing them with toothpicks or string.
  6. If not using banana leaves, you can simply serve the cooked fish and curry in bowls.
  7. Steam the wrapped or unwrapped fish in a steamer or steaming basket for about 15-20 minutes until fully cooked and the flavors have melded together.
  8. Carefully remove the cooked Amok Trey from the steamer. Garnish with a drizzle of coconut cream and a sprinkle of thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves.
  9. Serve the Amok Trey hot with steamed rice and garnish with fresh cilantro.
  • The Amok paste is the key ingredient for this dish.
  • It can be either purchased pre-made from an Asian grocery store or prepared at home using a combination of various spices and herbs.

 

Chaa Kdam Meric Kchai - Fried crab with green pepper

Chaa Kdam Meric Kchai has a characteristic pungent flavor of Kampot pepper that blends perfectly with the sweetness of crab meat. This is a prevalent dish in the harbor in Cambodia's Kampot. 

03 Chaa Kdam Meric Kchai

Chaa Kdam Meric Kchai

Its main ingredients:

  • Fresh crabs (preferably blue crabs or mud crabs)
  • Kampot pepper (green or black), coarsely ground
  • Garlic cloves, minced
  • Shallots, thinly sliced
  • Fish sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Oyster sauce
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • Fresh cilantro or green onions for garnish (optional)

Simple steps to cook:

  1. Clean the crabs thoroughly by removing the top shell, gills, and stomach sac. Cut the crabs into halves or quarters, depending on their size.
  2. Heat a wok or frying pan on medium heat. Add vegetable oil.
  3. Fry the minced garlic and sliced shallots until fragrant and lightly golden.
  4. Add the crab pieces to the pan and stir-fry them for a few minutes until they turn pink.
  5. Sprinkle the coarsely ground Kampot pepper over the crabs. Stir-fry the crabs with the pepper for a few more minutes, ensuring that the pepper is well distributed.
  6. In a small bowl, mix fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and a pinch of sugar. Pour the sauce mixture over the crabs and continue stir-frying for a couple of minutes until the crabs are fully cooked and coated in the sauce.
  7. Adjust the seasoning to taste, adding more fish sauce, pepper, or sugar if desired.
  8. Transfer the Chaa Kdam Meric Kchai to a serving platter. Garnish with fresh cilantro or green onions if desired.
  9. Serve the dish hot with steamed rice or as part of a seafood feast.
  • The cooking time for the crabs may vary depending on their size and the heat of your stove.
  • Ensure that the crabs are thoroughly cooked before serving.

Phlea Trei - Raw fish salad

Khmer Raw Fish Salad is a traditional Cambodian dish that features fresh fish prepared in a tartare-style salad. It is a popular dish in Cambodia, especially during hot weather, as it is refreshing and light.

The dish typically includes a combination of fresh fish, herbs, vegetables, and a tangy dressing made with lime juice, fish sauce, and other flavorful ingredients. Phlea Trei showcases the use of fresh and vibrant ingredients, highlighting the flavors of Cambodian cuisine.

04 Phlea Trei

Phlea Trei

Its main ingredients:

  • Fresh white fish fillets (such as sea bass or tilapia), deboned and finely diced
  • Lime juice
  • Fish sauce
  • Garlic cloves, minced
  • Bird's eye chili or other chili peppers, finely chopped (optional)
  • Fresh herbs (such as mint, cilantro, and Thai basil), finely chopped
  • Shallots, thinly sliced
  • Cucumbers, julienned
  • Tomatoes, deseeded and diced
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Roasted peanuts, crushed (optional)
  • Lettuce leaves or other greens for serving

Simple steps to cook:

  1. In a bowl, combine the finely diced fish, lime juice, fish sauce, minced garlic, and chopped chili peppers (if using). Mix well to ensure the fish is coated with the marinade. Allow it to marinate for about 10-15 minutes to "cook" the fish in the lime juice.
  2. Add the chopped fresh herbs, sliced shallots, julienned cucumbers, diced tomatoes, and thinly sliced red onion to the bowl. Toss gently to combine all the ingredients.
  3. Taste and adjust the flavors by adding more lime juice, fish sauce, or chili peppers according to your preference.
  4. Transfer the salad to a serving plate or individual bowls lined with lettuce leaves or other greens.
  5. Sprinkle crushed roasted peanuts on top for added texture and flavor (optional).
  6. Serve the Khmer Raw Fish Salad immediately as a refreshing appetizer or as part of a meal. It is often enjoyed with steamed rice or rice noodles.
  • It is important to use fresh, high-quality fish when preparing raw fish dishes. Alternatively, you can also use cooked fish if you prefer.
  • Ensure that the fish is sourced from a reliable and trusted source to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.

Samlor Machu Trey - Cambodian sour soup

Also known as Cambodian Sour Fish Soup, Samlor Machu Trey is a flavorful and tangy soup that showcases the distinct flavors of Cambodian cuisine. It is often enjoyed as a comforting and nourishing meal, especially during cooler weather.

The dish typically features fish as the main protein, along with various vegetables and aromatic herbs. The soup gets its sourness from ingredients such as tamarind, lime juice, or other sour fruits commonly used in Cambodian cuisine.

05 Samlor Machu

Samlor Machu

Its main ingredients:

  • Fish fillets (such as snakehead fish, catfish, or tilapia), cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Tamarind pulp or tamarind paste
  • Lemongrass stalks, bruised and chopped
  • Galangal or ginger, thinly sliced
  • Garlic cloves, minced
  • Shallots, thinly sliced
  • Fish sauce
  • Sugar or palm sugar
  • Fresh tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • Pineapple, cut into chunks (optional)
  • Fresh herbs (such as Thai basil or cilantro), roughly chopped
  • Bird's eye chili or other chili peppers, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Water or fish stock

Simple steps to cook:

  1. In a pot, bring water or fish stock to a boil. Add the lemongrass, galangal, or ginger, minced garlic, and sliced shallots. Let it simmer briefly to infuse the flavors into the broth.
  2. If using tamarind pulp, soak it in warm water for a few minutes to soften. Strain and extract the tamarind juice, discarding any solids. If using tamarind paste, dilute it in water to create tamarind juice.
  3. Add the tamarind juice to the pot, along with fish sauce and sugar or palm sugar. Stir well to combine and adjust the levels of sourness, sweetness, and saltiness to your taste.
  4. Add the fish fillets to the pot and gently simmer until the fish is cooked through and tender. It might take about 5-7 minutes due to the fish's thickness.
  5. Add the tomato wedges and pineapple chunks (if using) to the soup. Simmer for a few more minutes until the vegetables are slightly softened.
  6. Taste the soup and adjust the flavors by adding more fish sauce, sugar, or lime juice if desired.
  7. Remove the pot from heat. Sprinkle the fresh herbs and sliced chili peppers (if using) over the soup.
  8. Serve the Samlor Machu Trey hot in bowls, alongside steamed rice or rice noodles.
  • Samlor Machu Trey is a versatile dish, and you can customize the ingredients based on your preferences and availability.
  • Additional vegetables such as leafy greens, mushrooms, or okra can also be added to the soup.

Bai Cha Kapi - Fried rice with shrimp

Bai Cha Kapi is a famous shrimp fried rice dish in Cambodia. The dish gets its distinctive taste from using kapi, which is fermented shrimp paste that adds depth of flavor to the rice. You'll come across this fried rice anywhere you see shrimp paste being made and sold, whether it's made with river shrimp or sea shrimp.

06 Bai Cha Kapi

Bai Cha Kapi

Its main ingredients:

  • Cooked rice (preferably day-old rice)
  • Shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Kapi (fermented shrimp paste)
  • Garlic cloves, minced
  • Bird's eye chili or other chili peppers, finely chopped (optional)
  • Eggs, lightly beaten
  • Mixed vegetables (such as carrots, peas, bell peppers), diced
  • Fish sauce
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Spring onions or scallions, chopped for garnish

Simple steps to cook:

  1. Heat vegetable oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the minced garlic and chopped chili peppers (if using) to the pan. Stir-fry for a minute until fragrant.
  3. Add the shrimp to the pan until they turn pink and are cooked through. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set them aside.
  4. In the same pan, push the garlic and chili peppers to one side and pour the lightly beaten eggs into the other side. Allow the eggs to partially set, then scramble them with a spatula or spoon.
  5. Add the mixed vegetables to the pan and stir-fry until they are cooked but still slightly crisp.
  6. Add the kapi (fermented shrimp paste) to the pan and stir-fry it with the vegetables and eggs for a minute or two to release its flavor.
  7. Add the cooked rice to the pan and break up clumps with a spatula. Stir-fry the rice and mix it well with the other ingredients.
  8. Season the fried rice with fish sauce and sugar, adjusting the amounts to your preference. Continue stir-frying for a few more minutes to ensure the flavors are well combined.
  9. Return the cooked shrimp to the pan and stir-fry briefly to incorporate them into the fried rice.
  10. Remove the pan from heat. Garnish with chopped spring onions or scallions.
  11. Serve the Bai Cha Kapi hot as a main course or as part of a meal, accompanied by additional condiments such as sliced cucumbers, lime wedges, or chili sauce if desired.

 

3. Where To Taste The Best Khmer Seafood

To truly experience the delights of Khmer seafood, visiting coastal towns and fishing villages is a must. The coastal city of Sihanoukville and the town of Kep are known for their fresh seafood markets and restaurants that offer a wide array of dishes showcasing the sea's bounty.

07 Crab Market At Kep

Crab Market At Kep

In Phnom Penh, the capital city, there are numerous seafood restaurants where visitors can savor the flavors of Khmer seafood cuisine.

Daughters of Cambodia Restaurant – Sugar and Spice Café

  • Address: 65, Street 178, Phnom Penh (Upper Level of Visitor Centre)
  • Phone: +855 89 910 203
  • Service: Breakfast, lunch
  • Opening hours: 09:00 - 17:30
  • Average price: US $4 - $35

The Lost Room Restaurant & Bar

  • Address: 43, Street 21, Phnom Penh (near Wat SvayPropey/Abdul Carime Street)
  • Phone: +855 78 700 001
  • Served: Dinner
  • Opening hours: From 17:00 - 23:00
  • Average price: US $2 - $30

Taqueria Corona Restaurant

  • Address: #14E, Street 51 (Pasteur Street), Phnom Penh
  • Phone: +855 89 281 626
  • Catering: Lunch, Dinner, Delivery, Reservations
  • Opening hours: From 11:00 - 22:00
  • Average price: US $3 - $40

 

Khmer seafood is a culinary treasure that reflects the rich cultural heritage and natural abundance of Cambodia. From the fragrant Amok Trey to the flavorful Kampot Crab, each dish showcases the unique flavors of Khmer cuisine. 

Whether you are a seafood lover or a curious traveler, let’s explore the world of Khmer seafood with our exceptional Cambodia tours below.

(Image Source: Internet)

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