Category Archives: Recipes

Cook yourself silly.

Cambodian Waffles (Num Poum)

Cambodian waffles

I’ve been teaching a friend’s grandmother, Channa, to make pizza. I literally have no idea how she got the desire to learn to cook Italian but she’s a relentlessly inquisitive student and masterful Cambodian cook. The exchange is a little one-sided – I tend to pick up about ten recipes for every one that I teach her.

“Can I put morning glory on pizza? Cucumber? Prahok? Do you need a special knife to cut pizza? Is yeast made from rice or wheat? Is cheese and butter the same? Can you make cheese?” She asked.

I tried to explain that you can put anything on pizza (I’m not a purist). I explained yeast as “the powder that makes bread grow” only to find that there is a Khmer word for it. Cheese and butter are not the same. I can only make simple cheese and not mozzarella. Then she described to me her first disastrous attempt to make pizza.

Knowing how to make waffles, she assumed that Cambodian waffle batter and pizza dough, were at heart, the same thing and so she made waffle batter with more rice flour to thicken and no palm sugar.

Her thoughts: “It was not delicious”

In the process, I managed to glean her waffle recipe. The above photo is from a waffle vendor at Psar Tuol Tom Poung (Russian Market) in Phnom Penh

Cambodian Waffles (Num Poum)

1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup of coconut milk
3/4 cup of palm sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp salt

In a bowl, mix the flour, coconut milk, palm sugar and eggs and salt. Brush a waffle iron with oil pour in the batter and cook over an open fire until light brown and crispy.

See also: Sisters All Day Breakfast

The plan: picking a perfect plate of pepper crab

Pepper Crab in Kampot

It is a rare day in Cambodia where everything goes to plan, more so when that plan involves cooked food. Austin and my plan was relatively simple: drive to Kampot then Kep on Cambodia’s south coast and eat pepper crab until we received a plate worthy of a food magazine money shot. Getting to Kampot these days is easy: a five-hour busride on Highway 3 that skirts Phnom Voar and the limestone karsts near Kampong Trach where the Khmer Rouge bookended their decades of terror by kidnapping three foreigners and a group of Cambodians in one of their final acts of banditry in 1994. Things can still go wrong but not nearly that wrong.

Getting perfect crab should have been more difficult. We hit Ta Eauv Restaurant in Kampot straight from the bus, just as the local Lexus-driving CPP apparatchiks were finishing their midweek crab meals and bottles of lunchtime Johnny Walker. It is never a good time to hit a Cambodian restaurant late at lunchtime, mostly because they tend to run out of food rather than the risk of running into a boozy, politically-connected four-wheel drive enthusiast.

We ordered the crab, stripped the table of its cheap lace tablecloth to reveal the sort of perfectly-scratched patina that food stylists probably carry about with them and were presented with the best looking plate of crustacea that I’ve ever seen. By all rights, my job should be much harder and Ta Eauv should be charging more than $4 a plate.

My Pepper Crab Recipe

This recipe is one that I made up based on many a crab meal: it skirts more closely to Cantonese territory than Cambodian. I go heavy on the pepper and don’t add any other green distraction. A more Cambodian version of pepper crab would also include more palm sugar.

Ingredients:

4 mud crabs
100 grams of fresh green peppercorns on the vine (brined peppercorns can be substituted, but wash to remove excess salt)
3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons of light soy sauce
4 tablespoons of oyster sauce
2 tablespoons of oil
2 teaspoons of palm sugar

Method:

Boil the crab. Drain. Clean the crab and cut into quarters.

Heat the oil in a large wok and fry the peppercorns and garlic until the pepper is fragrant and slightly soft. Add the oyster sauce, soy sauce, palm sugar, and mix until the sugar is dissolved. Toss through the crab pieces and serve.

Amokalypse Now: Fit for a 50s princess

I’ve been having an argument with a few other Khmer cuisine aficionados that “Royal Khmer Cuisine” never existed before the 1950s and was an elaborate confection of the post-colonisation royalty both as a response to Royal Thai cuisine and France’s desire for Cambodia’s cultural history to mirror its own.

I’ll happily admit that I’m wrong and I am being too much of a smartarse about food and culture.

In part because I recently received a copy of The Cambodian Cookbook of HRH Princess Rasmi Sobhana from reader Jo, originally sold in the 1950s “for the benefit of the Cambodian Red Cross by the American Women’s Club of Cambodia”. It is packed full of recipes for Royal Cuisine, which as far as I can analyse, means that everything contains either three different meats at the same time or veal.

The amok recipe for a “pork amok” is particularly intriguing involving chicken, pork and a pound of crab. The spices are inconsistent with my scant knowledge of amok because I suspect that the ingredients were both Westernised in the translation and by HRH Sobhana’s royal upbringing. Lining the cups with basil is certainly a response to the difficulty of finding slok ngor leaf outside Cambodia, and I suspect that by “citronella” they mean “lemongrass” and “citron” to be substituted by kaffir lime. I have not cooked this amok and will leave to your discretion as to whether it is a futile waste of crab or not.

HRH Princess Rasmi Sobhana’s Amok Chrouk

10 ½ oz pork
10 ½ oz chicken
5 large pimentos
2 T. shelled garlic
2 T. shallots
1 t. romdeng
2 T. chopped citronella
2 t. fennel roots
½ t. zest of citron

Pound the condiments to a paste. Chop fine the pork and chicken. Boil 1 lb of crab and add to the chopped pork and chicken. Add a beaten egg, several T. of coconut milk, salt, pepper, sugar, nguoc-mam. Put into molds or cups, the bottom of which are covered in basil leaves. Cook in a double boiler. Garnish the top with fennel or parsley leaves, and chopped red pimentos.

Loc Lac


Two loc lac recipes and a mercifully short digression on authenticity.

Loc Lac (occasionally, lok lak) is a superb expression of Cambodia’s recent colonial history and the imagined authenticity that is generally transferred by foreigners onto Asian food; an authenticity that is mirrored by the way that Khmer national culture itself is constructed. Loc Lac comes to Cambodia via Vietnam where it is named bo luc lac (literally, “shaking beef” in Vietnamese) and was most likely brought to Cambodia with the French colonisers rather than with the Vietnamese. At some point within the last 50 years, Cambodia has wholly claimed it as part of Khmer cuisine – so much so that it would be literally unimaginable for most Cambodians that the dish was originally Vietnamese. Somewhere along the line, an enterprising Cambodian added French fries (dumlon barang chien) as a typical accompaniment.

Like fish amok, loc lac tends to be a favourite with foreigners who also tend to confuse it for something much older, more Khmer and therefore somehow more authentic. What could be more authentically Asian than beef stir-fried with commercial ketchup and soy sauce, then served with a side of fries? I suspect that much of its popularity also comes from loc lac hitting directly within the Western palate and being packed full of umami-ness thanks to the folks at Ajinomoto.

“Authentic” loc lac recipe

This recipe is the result of me chatting to the chef from the cafeteria in the building where I work, watching him cook loc lac, then running a brief straw poll of workmates and friends. There is no canonical version. While beef is the most common meat used, pork, chicken or occasionally venison (see second recipe) do come into play. Often the marinating step is removed entirely, and the beef is immediately stirfried with garlic and oil instead, or the sauce/oil is cooked together with the beef. The sauce elements seem to be interchangeable depending on availability – but there was some consensus that the sauce should appear brown in colour and contain the key components of oil, sugar and MSG.

Ingredients:

150g beef, in 2cm cubes

For marinade:
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt

For sauce:
1 tbsp tomato sauce (ketchup) and 1 tbsp oyster sauce – There is some contention whether to use rice wine; oyster, soy or fish sauce; or combinations thereof. Neither oyster sauce nor ketchup are used widely in Khmer cooking, so I suspect that most times these two tablespoons are a mix of soy and fish sauce, or just fish sauce, thickened with corn flour.
1/2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp cheapest cooking oil available
1 tsp MSG

1 onion
1 greenish tomato

Tuk meric (pepper sauce) for dipping
1 tsp crushed/ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp lime juice

Marinate beef in garlic, soy and salt for between 10 minutes and an hour depending on the toughness of your cut. Thinly slice the onion and spread in a single layer on your serving plate, and slice tomato for garnish.

Add cooking oil to wok, and heat until the oil shimmers and just begins to smoke. Add beef and marinade, stir fry until browned. Add sugar, oyster sauce, oil, tomato sauce, MSG. Once warmed through, pour onto your serving plate.

Serve with a side of fries (“Loc Lac American”), steamed rice and a dipping bowl of tuk meric. If you’re in a decadent mood, top with a fried egg.

“Inauthentic” forbidden loc lac recipe

Despite being illegal, local deer (sach chlouk) does get served occasionally in Cambodia’s Northern provinces as delicious loc lac. While the Cambodian judicial system may be corrupt to the core (with one shining exception), I still do my best to adhere to the rule of law and so will not be eating nor promoting any Cambodian venison for the moment. However, most of my readership live in deer-legal regions, so cooking a deer loin outside Cambodia in the manner of Cambodians raises no moral or legal quandaries. Restaurant Le Royale’s beef loc lac inspired this recipe which throws all pretence of authenticity out the window. It’s more Franco-Chinese than Sino-Vina-Franco-Khmer.

Ingredients:
250gms trimmed venison loin, cubed

For marinade:
2 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tbsp mushroom soy sauce

1 onion
2 tbsp peanut oil

For reduction sauce:
1/4 cup of red wine
2 cups of venison stock
1 tbsp Kampot pepper, removed from stalk

Tuk meric (Pepper Sauce) for dipping
1 tsp crushed/ground Kampot black pepper
1 tsp sea salt
2 tsp lime juice

Marinate the venison in chopped garlic and mushroom soy sauce for 10 minutes. Thinly slice the onion and spread in a single layer on your serving plate.

Add cooking oil to wok, and heat until the oil shimmers and just begins to smoke. Add venison and marinade. Stir fry quickly until the venison is browned. Remove the venison from the wok, and set aside.

Turn the heat down and let the wok cool a little. Add the 1/4 of a cup of wine and stir to lift the coagulated meat juices from the wok. Bring to the boil and add the stock and fresh Kampot pepper. Reduce to about half, salt to taste, then pour over the venison.

Serve with steamed rice and dipping bowl of tuk meric. If you’re in a decadent mood, top with a fried egg.

Instant karko’s gonna get you

Samla Karko

It is sometimes amusing to uphold the myth that I’m leading a fantastically unattainable food lifestyle: up at the crack of dawn to scour Cambodia’s markets for the rarest ingredients, plotting my meals in advance. But it is a myth. I hate the morning and when I’m feeling lazy, Cambodia’s improving supermarkets fill the gap. Lucky for me, Lucky Supermarket has recently introduced packaged fresh ingredient kits for Cambodia’s favourite foods: a few offal and sour soups, tom yam, stuffed bitter melon, and something that I rarely cook myself, samlor karko.

Samlor karko (literally, “stirring soup”) is made in infinite variations depending on the availability of ingredients. It ranges from watery broth to a chunky stew, but the core components are prahok (fermented fish paste); a mix of Cambodia’s more common vegetables: pumpkin, green papaya, green jackfruit, green banana, snake beans, eggplant; a lemongrass heavy spice paste (kroueng); and some random, esoteric leaves that I can’t regularly identify. These things need some serious stirring. I’ve seen versions with every meat imaginable, but tend to prefer pork or chicken.

Samla Karko

On disengaging the vegies from the cling wrap and polystyrene tray, the Lucky kit seemed a little short on pumpkin and green jackfruit for my liking. No green banana, for which I don’t care; no eggplant. The leafy greenery is mrum leaf (Moringa oleifera) , and the baggies contain kroueng and ground roasted rice.

To make from scratch, if you’re slightly less lazy:

250 grams of pork ribs
1 tbsp prahok
500 grams of vegetables – any mix of green papaya, green banana, green jackfruit sliced thinly; small eggplant or pea eggplant, pumpkin in chunks; snake beans cut into short lengths.
2 small chillies, chopped
6 cups of water

30 grams of lemongrass leaf, 10 grams of lemongrass stem
1 tbsp of krachai
a small piece of fresh turmeric
4 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 tbsp of oil
2 tbsp of ground roasted rice
2 tbsp of palm sugar
2 tbsp of fish sauce
salt to taste

1 cup mrum leaf (Moringa oleifera)

Make the kroueng:

Slice the lemongrass leaf very finely, roughly cut the rhizome, turmeric and garlic, then pound with a mortar and pestle to a paste.

Get your soup on:

Cut the pork ribs into bite-size chunks with a cleaver (or get your butcher to do it for you).

Fry the kroueng and prahok in oil until the oil turns yellowish-green. Add the ribs and brown quietly, taking care not to burn the kroueng.

Add a cup of water, palm sugar, vegetables, and chillies, stirring intermittently for about 15 minutes. Stir in the ground roasted rice powder.

Add the other 5 cups of water, bring to a solid boil. Give the vegies a poke to see if they’re done. Add fish sauce, salt to taste. Add more sugar if necessary.

Add mrum leaf and remove from heat. Serve immediately.

For a vegie version (samla karko sap): Omit anything flavoursome, replace with vegetable-based substitute. Sorry, I meant to say “replace meats with firm tofu or textured vegetable protein, and fish sauce with vege-substitute fish sauce”.

Lucky Supermarket Samla Karko kit (labelled “karkou”): 1000 riel ($US0.25) with about a dollar worth of pre-cut pork ribs.

Cheers to Austin for pointing out the Souper Challenge Blog Event

Cambodian Ministry of Tourism welcomes food tourists

Tourist season seems to be hotting up in Phnom Penh, or at least, more people seem to be wearing daypacks and standing on street corners, ineffectively using their Lonely Planet to swat at the emergent swarm of informal motorcycle-taxi drivers. The Cambodian Ministry of Tourism, realising that Cambodian food may attract tourists rather than repel them has added a few recipes to their website. From their fish amok instructions:

  • Break the coconut fruit, squeeze the nut to get its milk by making the phase-one milk and phase-two milk
  • Cut the ripe bell pepper into two
  • Pour half of the phase-one coconut milk into a frying pan to cook until it turns a litter brown
  • Then, put into the pan the spices and the mash mixture, and stir it up
  • Add the phase-two milk and turn off the cooking gas after the solution becomes cooked and dry enough

In this instance, a Cambodian ministry’s heart is in the right place, but their translator’s mind isn’t.

See: Ministry of Tourism’s Cambodian Recipes

Sach Chrouk Trey Ngiet Porng Tea (Pork and dried fish omelette)

Psar Toul Tom Poung

When you first step foot into a Cambodian market, the first thing you’ll notice is the smell. Within that complex and fertile aroma, there is always the warm earthy scent of dried salted fish. In the markets, the dried fish is completely inescapable, and in Cambodian food, even more so. While most dishes use it sparingly, this simple omelette recipe is a great way to show that you have bought salted sun-dried fish (trey ngiet) and you’re not afraid to use it brazenly. You can even omit the pork and increase the fish content for a halal/kosher variant.

Sach Chrouk Trei Prama Porng Tea

What you’ll need

3 chicken eggs (porng moan)
60gms of trey ngiet (or trey prama, a slightly better grade of semi-fermented, semi-dried fish)
100gms of boneless pork meat (sach chrouk sot)

Method:
Mince the pork and finely chop the dried fish. Beat the eggs. Fry the pork with the dried fish. Once the pork is cooked, pour the egg mix over the top. Fry to your heart’s content and flip into omelette-shape. Serve with a few slices of cucumber and green tomato.

カンボジアの食糧

For the five people in Japan reading this, Shin at Eline Saglik has been translating a few of the Cambodian recipes from Khmer Krom Recipes into Japanese. Judging from the photos, samlor machu sach moan can be easily replicated in your average Japanese kitchen. The recipe does however make the slightly bizarre suggestion that vinegar is a suitable substitute for tamarind water, so I’m not sure how far the recipes can be trusted.

Samla Machou Yuon: The Y-word

Samlor Machu Yuon

It’s amazing what a few hundred years of invasion and counter-invasion will do to a relationship with your immediate regional neighbours. At best, Cambodia’s relationship with Vietnam is rocky. Indeed, there is a huge amount of debate as to whether the Khmer language word for the Vietnamese – yuon – actually constitutes a racial slur. How it came to be appended to this simple sour soup, I literally have no idea.

Generally, this soup is a lunchtime meal component to provide a refreshing, sour complement to a few other dishes. Flavour-wise, the main event is the balance between fish, sour tamarind, sweet/sour pineapple, and the floral rice paddy herb and sawtooth leaf freshness. Occasionally, the soup contains chilli, but this one doesn’t.

What you’ll need:

400 grams of firm-fleshed white fish, in steaks.
100 grams of fresh pineapple
100 grams of lotus stem (prolit). If they’re not already clean, rub a wooden chopstick along them to remove the crazy stringy skin from the outside.
Half a clove of garlic
A ripe tomato
One tablespoon of fish sauce (tik trei)
One tablespoon of oil

1/2 cup of tamarind water – to make tamarind water, soak about 100gms of tamarind pulp in 1/2 a cup of warm water for 5 minutes, then rub the pulp off the seeds with your fingers. Strain to get rid of the seeds and stringier bits of pulp. You can make it in bulk and keep it in the refrigerator for a few days, but it will begin to ferment.

Four cups of water
Two teaspoons of sugar
Two teaspoons of salt

1/4 cup of saw mint (chee parang)
1/4 cup of rice paddy herb (ma-om)

Method:
Clean your fish and chop into steaks. Finely chop the garlic and pan fry in oil. Add the fish to the pan.

While the fish fries, cut the lotus stem into 5cm lengths, skin then chop the pineapple into bite-size chunks, cut the tomato into wedges. In another pot, bring water, half of the tamarind water, sugar and salt to a gentle boil.

When the fish is a pleasing golden brown, add the fish sauce to the pan of fish and garlic to deglaze. Transfer the fish, and about half the garlic/oil/sauce to the boiling water. Immediately add the lotus stems and return to a simmer.

Wait exactly five minutes. No more.

Add the pineapple and tomato. Cook until the skin just starts to peel from the tomato. Taste and add more salt/sugar/tamarind water if necessary.

Divide the saw mint and rice paddy herb evenly amongst 4 bowls (or stir into the soup if you’re serving immediately/lazy) and transfer the soup to a tureen that you only use on “special” occasions.

Makes 4 smallish bowls.

Also known as: samlor machu yuon, samla mahjew/maju yuon, rarely, samla machu trei to avoid the y-word.
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Interview: Mylinh Nakry Danh from Khmer Krom Recipes

At the second and penultimate New Year, I made a bold resolution to do a spot of interviewing about Cambodian food as an adjunct to simply rocking up to somebody’s stall and asking the vendor what they’re deep-frying today. I’ve also been enthused by Andy Brouwer’s new blog that profiles Cambodians from all walks of life.

The shining light in online Cambodian recipes is Khmer Krom Recipes. At the moment, there is no other English-language Khmer food resource as comprehensive: currently the site lists 561 recipes according to the site’s Khmer Krom expat owner, Mylinh Nakry Danh, not to mention spotter’s guides to Cambodian ingredients, fruit and vegetables.

Now living in the USA, Mylinh started the site as a way to “do something to keep our Khmer Krom culture alive and visible to the public. So much of our culture is take over or disappearing over time as our country was taken and given away to Vietnamese”. I’m all for mixing food and politics, and Kampuchea Krom/Cambodian border politics are some of the murkiest, emotive, and more dangerous of the identity politics locally available. Thanks to my extreme lack of knowledge of these affairs and this website being about Cambodian food, I stuck to asking occasionally torturous questions about Mylinh’s recipes by email.

Who taught you to cook? Who was the best cook in your family?

I learned how to cook from my parents, family and friends. My mom is very good cook but my dad is the best cook in my family. Sorry, mom.

Are there any ingredients that are impossible to find in America?

America is a big country, every state is different, and one state may carry more Asian food than other. I can only tell you that where I live it is hard to find Cambodian ingredients. For example, Cambodian sausage (made with beef), dried salty fish “ngiet trey tok”, pahok trey naing (pickle Asian catfish), and vegetables like fresh bamboo shoots, fresh Neem leaf, “Sadao”, just to name a few. Possibly living in a very large Cambodian community such as Long Beach, California or Lowell, Massachusetts, there would be more of these ingredients available.

Are there foods that you especially miss from Cambodia?

You’re torture me with this question because I miss so many foods from home.

I miss “num pong”, it is white fluffy coconut rice cake that steamed in bamboo stalk. It’s not too sweet and absolutely delicious. I miss “tirk tholk” the most, it is fresh palm juice, not only I miss “tirk tholk” I also miss seeing the elderly man carry heavy bamboo stalks that filled with delicious palm juice on his shoulder. I miss Kampuchea Krom.

Since being in America, do you think that your ideas about food have changed?

My answer: Yes, of course. Now that I am explored more on foods and flavors from all over the world and they are all very good. But I am always drawn back to the traditional foods of my childhood.

Are there any regional differences between recipes from Kampuchea Krom and those from elsewhere in Cambodia? Are there any regional specialties?

Yes, I think that happens everywhere in the world not just only Khmer in Kampuchea Krom and Khmer in Cambodia. “Salor machu” is sweet, sour soup in English. Some Khmer like their “salor machu” spicy hot, other like sweeter or sourer, some Khmer can’t cook with out MSG and some Khmer can’t live without ” pahok” (pickle fish). How do you cook rice? Some people like rice stick together so they add more water. Some people like their rice fluffy so they use less water, but no matter how you cook, its all cooked rice.

There are 21 provinces in Kampuchea Krom and each province has their specialties. For example: Mee Sar (My Tho) province has excellent noodle that made with mung bean. Kamourn Sor (Rach Gia) province is world renowned for seafood and Koh Tral (Phu Quoc) is land for fish sauce. Mott Chrouk (Chau Doc) province is known for Mam (fermented fish) and Pahok (pickle fish).

Do you have a favourite recipe from your website that I could share with my readers?

It’s difficult for me to pick just one out of 561 recipes that on my website because they are my favorite. However, I think your readers will enjoy Khmer Krom vegetarian spring roll.