main Cambodian ingredients
A gray, pasty preserved fish, is probably the most distinctive
flavor in all Cambodian cooking and certainly the most unusual
for Westerners. Its smell has earned it the nickname "Cambodian
cheese" in The Elephant Walk kitchen, and its odor is reminiscent
of ripe Camembert. You may ask why anyone would want to eat
it ( and a lot of Westerners have asked ); the answer lies
in something beyond flavor, which can be described as a kind
of volume and body that a dish takes on as a result of the
prahok. A very small amount goes a long way, and there is
really no substitute for prahok, although some people suggest
using shrimp paste or anchovies in its place.
One of the signature flavors of Khmer cuisine, this plant
provides a distinctively balmy lemon flavor that is reminiscent
of its even more aromatic relative, citronella. In Cambodia,
where it is used so often and thrives so well you see lemongrass
growing in every garden. Lemongrass resembles slightly dry,
woody scallions, and like scallions, it is at its best when
the tops of the leaves are still green. There is no real substitute
for lemongrass, although some people have tried the herb lemon
balm and even lemon juice or lemon rind.
Kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves are ground into spice pastes, used like
bay leaves to flavor a broth or sliced into thin threads as
a garnish. Fresh leaves are available and they freeze well,
much more preferable to dried kaffir lime leaves where there
is a substantial loss of flavor. Before they are blended into
pastes, fresh kaffir lime leaves should be deveined. A shortcut
is to fold the leaves in half, dark sides together, and pull
the vein up and away.
Also known as "greater galangal" , this root is cream colored
and resembling ginger, it has more delicate, less biting flavor.
Galangal, which is found in Asian markets fresh or dried,
is commonly used in Cambodian cooking, peeled and pounded
into pastes. A single slice of galangal can also be used to
give a nice roasted flavor to dish. Some people think ginger
is an acceptable substitute, but the flavors are different.
Tamarind paste is the dark pulp from the inside of the flat,
beanlike pods that grow on giant tamarind trees. From an Arabic
word for "Indian date", tamarind was introduced to the region
by Indian traders. Cambodians use tamarind to darken soups
and curry sauces and to give them a sour, slightly sweet taste.
You can find soft, pliable blocks of tamarind, with or without
seeds, in Asian and Indian markets.
of Cambodian Cuisine
of its heritage, Cambodian cuisine is uniquely different
from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, to which it has been
most often compared. It derives its flavor from spice and
aromatic herbs with little use of fat and meats. Fresh vegetables,
ripe and unripe fruits and fish are used in abundance .
This cuisine is a combination of complex, vibrant flavors,
and a very delicate balance between saltiness, sweetness,
sourness and bitterness with a keen appreciation for textures.
by way of Java, Cambodians have inherited the art of blending
spice paste using cardamom, star anis, cloves, cinnamon,
nutmeg , ginger and turmeric. To these spices, other indigenous
aromatic herbs such as lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots,
cilantro, rhizome and kaffir lime are added to derive a
most unique and complex spice blend called "kroeung". This
is the foundation of most Cambodian cooking. Chinese techniques
such as stir-fry, steaming, and smoking meats have also
been adopted as well as the use of soy sauce, salted and
fermented soy beans, beansprouts, noodles, and Chinese five
is an abundance of both fresh and seawater fish in Cambodia
which is salted, dried, smoked, and fermented. Like the
Vietnamese, fish sauce is served in and with just about
everything. But the most unique Cambodian ingredient is
prahok. This is fermented fish paste and is used with much
greater reserve than fish sauce, so that when it does appear,
it signals the food as distinctly Cambodian.
, crisp vegetables such as banana blossom, long beans, cabbage
and cucumber often accompany many dishes for texture, the
same way that garnishes of different varieties of mints
and basil add another layer of flavor. Cambodians are fond
of saltiness and like bitterness in their food. Acidity
is used to balance sweetness but is also appreciated on
its own in the form of tamarind, unripe fruits, lime juice
and pickles. Coconut milk enriches stews, braises and curries.
Meat is usually sliced or minced to flavor dishes in small
quantity . Rice is a staple and is eaten in generous helpings
with the many dishes to accompany and add savoriness.
cuisine possesses the brightness of flavor of Vietnamese
cuisine, the depth and richness of Indian cuisine and the
versatility of Chinese cuisine. However, it stands on its
own in uniqueness and complexity. While it is bursting with
flavor, this cuisine offers a diet with very little fat
using generous amounts of fresh vegetables, fruits and seafood
with rice as a staple, making it one of the world's healthiest,
most balanced and most interesting cuisines.