Since the culture of Cambodia and her neighbor countries including Thailand, Lao and Vietnam are similar, many things are extracted from one another. Cambodian food is also confused with the appearance of food from neighbouring countries.
“Seen from the outside of Cambodian food without observation, Cambodian dishes are confused as Laos, Vietnam and Thailand’s ones,” most Cambodian people recall, dissatisfied with this misunderstanding.
However, Cambodian cooking existed with her original types of ingredients for a long ancient period. To prove it, in July 2009, a Cambodia book on food was recognized by in France at the Gourmand World Cookbook Award 2009 (participated by 22 countries) as the “Best Asia Cuisine Book”.
That book, named as “From Spiders to Water Lilies”, contains around 40 special Cambodian foods.
Khmer food is a special dish created by Khmer’s hands and lasted for the long period before Angkor era, so it can be said that it has occurred since the first century in the original time of Khmer. The fact that the capture of Cambodian temple [Angkor Wat] had shown about Cambodia cooking including the cooking material: pots and dishes.
Because of several years of civil war, Khmer foods are not preserved and broadly studied, and there are no recorded documents that can identify the specific numbers of Khmer cooks. But through the observation of regional food, there are many sorts of cuisines, said the chief of Khmer food restaurant.
Khmer food is still appears in daily cooking of residents. Cambodians normally absorb skills of cooking by the observation from one generation to another. Parents and grandparents play the role of guides and teachers in each household.
A girl, 22, who usually cooks for her family said that, “I learnt how to cook from my mother and grandmother who normally make it for daily life. It is not complicated, it is easy to cook.” She added that “through my understanding, Khmer foods’ taste is good and strange with deep emotion variously from the other foods.”
Most traditional dishes, originally, are made with plenty of tastes consisting of vegetables and fruits, which are better for health. Those ingredients are found in the region and outsides, and are easy to copy and cook.
Styles of cooking depended on people’s flavors in different regions, which gives Khmer food various appearances; sometimes it is hard to be recognized, but the taste still remains the same due to the basic spices.
People in the city and the province have cooked in various ways due to ingredients which they can find in their area. In some areas, there is only one kind of food, but it is called in different names.
Basically, the value of Khmer food depends on the “freshness” of ingredients such as vegetables and meats. They retain the tastes and beauties of food in a healthy way, as the vegetables have to be cooked fresh, not putting in the refrigerator or any others, said the chief of Khmer food restaurant.
A special Cambodian dish, known as Prahok, has attracted many local and international people. Prahok, substituted shrimp paste or fish sauce, is Cambodia’s national dish which is recognized as Khmer ownership. It is a sort of food, and also a popular spice in many Cambodian foods.
Prahok is famously known as a “bad smell spice” but tastes good. It is made by combining the fish and salt together over a period of time to have a very strong and pungent taste, enjoyed by some people.
Beside Prahok, lemongrass which is chopped and cut is also another special Cambodian ingredient. It is seen in many Khmer dishes being used to reduce awful smells. Cambodia has many spices according to each region which fill more flavors in food.
Presently, the confusion in the international community over some Cambodian foods is slowly being eliminated.