Stunning Siem Reap Is A Food Lover’s Dream Destination
Cambodia’s ancient capital lures hordes of tourists who flock to its grandiose temples and shrines. but for adventurous food lovers, the country’s rich, bold, aromatic cuisine proves just as memorable. Here are a few of our must-tries:
Superb Cambodian fare at Chanrey Tree
This stylish spot is one of Siem Reap’s most popular restaurants—and with good reason. The traditional Khmer food here happens to be excellent. Try the signature Char Khroeung, a curry paste of lemongrass, turmeric, lime leaf, galangal, that is quickly stir-fried with a choice of river fish, beef or frog legs. Another bestseller is Roasted Khmer Chicken marinated with honey and rice brandy, served with young jackfruit and a sweet chili sauce.
Eat for a cause at Spoons
Siem Reap boasts several “NGO restaurants” like the well-known Haven and Marum. The newest one to try is Spoons, operated by EGBOK (Everything’s Gonna Be OK) Mission, which provides hospitality training and employment to young adults. Constructed with sustainable bamboo, this relaxed café serves popular street food classics like Num Crok or spring onion and coconut cream dumplings, as well as homestyle Cambodian dishes like a delicious whole grilled mackerel served with coconut turmeric rice, tamarind relish and prohok dipping sauce. Enjoy the simple, satisfying fare and gracious service, and know that you’re helping provide for young Cambodians’ future.
High tea at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor
The grandest hotel in Siem Reap is the historic Raffles, first opened in 1932, since then refurbished and modernized, but still retaining much of its colonial architecture and tropical charm. If you’re not a hotel guest, the best way to experience this landmark is to sit in The Conservatory, the cozy lobby area overlooking the pool and gardens, listen to the Filipino pianist playing your favorite nostalgic tunes, and indulge in the hotel’s famous afternoon high tea. You can choose a Western tea composed of a three-tier tray of tea sandwiches, pastries, and scones with clotted cream and jam. Or you can opt for the more popular Khmer tea involving fresh tropical fruit, savory snacks like fried wontons and satay, and delicate Khmer pastries, similar to our kakanin. Enjoy, of course, your choice of English tea, served impeccably by the waitstaff.
Fish amok near Angkor Wat
For a much-needed lunch break after your morning temple tour, there are a host of restaurants to choose from inside the vast Angkor Archaeological Park. Eateries range from simple shacks to air-conditioned venues to escape the heat, dust and crowds during your temple visit. While the menus are geared towards tourists, they’ll all offer Cambodia’s national dish, fish amok. It’s essentially a fish curry made with kaffir, coconut milk, kroeung paste and nhor leaves, that’s steamed like a custard, and usually served in a banana leaf cup. However, most restaurants, including the ones in the temple area, serve it as a simple curry stew or soup. No matter how it is served, fish amok is a delightful dish, reminiscent of Thai curry, just as aromatic but gentler in flavor, with more distinct coconut cream notes.
A market visit to Psar Chas (Old Market)
A food tour of most any Asian city isn’t complete without a visit to the market. At Siem Reap, you can’t go wrong with Psar Chas, adjacent to the touristy Pub Street. As the most tourist-friendly of the city’s markets, Psar Chas offers the usual silk and T-shirt souvenirs, but it’s also a thriving wet market for locals who flock in the early morning hours to shop for fresh produce, and have a typical Cambodian breakfast of num banh chok or Khmer noodle soup at any of the nearby food stalls. For pasalubong, you can take home inexpensive sachets of dried herbs and teas, or look for the elusive Kampot black peppercorns.
The buzz about Wat Damnak
Photo from cuisinewatdamnak.com
Considered Cambodia’s finest restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak ranked No. 43 in the 2016 Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Run by French chef Joannès Rivière, the restaurant offers a refined, sophisticated take on traditional Khmer cuisine, via a choice of two five or six-course tasting menus that change often based on the availability of ingredients. Make sure to reserve early as the restaurant gets fully booked quickly.
This article first appeared in FOOD Magazine, Issue 2, 2017