It’s unfair to compare Cambodian food unfavorably to that of its neighbors. Arriving after a month in Thailand, I thought it less exciting, definitely missing the spicy pepper punch, but that’s not a good way to approach it. The resources are different. Cambodia draws from a much smaller geography and population, but the flavors are still exciting and methods diverse. As always and everywhere, freshness of ingredients and how each ingredient is allowed to express itself makes the cuisine. We have found food that is excellent in every way in Thailand and Cambodia, and expect to in Vietnam as our travels continue.
Delicious, authentic, inexpensive street food was conveniently found everywhere in Thailand, from stinky, cramped alleys to broad sidewalks in front of luxury hotels. In Cambodia this was more challenging. We got lucky with some street food but the great finds were places that working Cambodians – and we – would consider a luxury. The best examples were places discussed before, the handmade noodle and dumpling dishes at Chilly Noodles and Ecran, both obviously Chinese influenced, and the great meals at Mie Cafe in Siem Reap. It’s the middle ground between everyday peoples eats and the luxury tourist restaurants that’s largely missing in Cambodia.
I feel it’s also unfair to describe Cambodian food, as so often seems to be done, as lower quality rip offs of Thai or Vietnamese foods. Let’s face it, the political boundaries that we use to describe the peoples and countries of SE Asia today are hopelessly inadequate to explain the culinary results of centuries of cultural interactions. An easy but accurate thing to say would be that, at this point in time, almost everybody has borrowed from everybody else. Economics more than anything explain why it’s harder to get exciting food in Cambodia than other places. So no bitching guys, and I say this to myself, do your homework and you will love the well made food everywhere you go. Ok, full disclosure, I haven’t been to Siberia or Antarctica, where all the well made food may be illegally smuggled for all I know.
post by Brent