Breakfast in Siem Reap – What, How and Where to Eat with the Locals
Breakfast in Siem Reap is worth setting the alarm clock for, as much to get an insight into everyday life and eat with the locals, as to sample Cambodia’s diverse range of delicious breakfast dishes, from noodle soups such as kuy teav and nom banh chok to borbor (rice porridge) and grilled pork and rice.
Breakfast in Siem Reap, Cambodia, the departure point for Angkor Wat and other Khmer Empire temple cities in Angkor Archaeological Park, starts soon after dawn. It’s worth rising early for, as it’s the liveliest time of the day. It’s certainly the best time to eat on the street, as locals stop off at their favourite roadside stall for a cheap, filling breakfast on their way to work.
While we’ve never been sick from eating on the streets or in markets here, many are. So if you’re only in town for a few days and don’t want to risk food poisoning, we’d advise having breakfast at your hotel on the first day, eating breakfast at Malis restaurant on the second day, and on the third day, trying a modest family owned eatery.
By staggering your meals in this way, you’re allowing your system time to adjust to the local bacteria. If you’re here for longer, then venture to a street food stall next, followed by the markets, starting with Psar Chas (Old Market), as we advise below.
Click through to see our tips for eating street food in Cambodia and how to avoid getting sick.
Here’s our guide to eating breakfast in Siem Reap.
Breakfast in Siem Reap – Our Comprehensive Guide to Breakfast with the Locals
When to Eat Breakfast in Siem Reap
Breakfast in Siem Reap starts at sunrise, so if you’re venturing out to eat street food, head out soon after 6am and no later that 9am. The earlier the better as it’s when Siem Reap’s streets are busiest as locals going to work will stop to eat something along the way – or fill a tiffin box to eat when they get to their workplace.
What to Eat for Breakfast in Siem Reap
Nom banh chok
If Cambodia has a national breakfast it’s nom banh chok. While it’s mainly eaten for brekkie, you can find market stalls that serve it all day. Always made with the fresh fermented white rice noodles there are nevertheless countless regional variations of the dish
In Siem Reap province the light curry-like soup is a coconut milk-based fish curry made from kroeung, distinguished by its yellow-green colour from the turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime. The noodles are also eaten with a spicier, red coconut-based curry sauce, which is often referred to as Cambodian laksa, and is similar in flavour to the Singaporean and Malay curry mee/laksa. A warning: nom banh chok is often served cold to luke warm, never piping hot. The Cambodian dish influenced Thailand’s kanom jeen and is a relation to Myanmar’s mohinga.
Vendors will place a mound of fresh fragrant herbs and greens either on top or beneath the gravy and noodles. If they don’t, there will be a basket or tray of herbs and vegetables provided for you to heap on top of the noodles and combine. This might include finely sliced banana flower, saw-tooth coriander, Vietnamese mint, Thai basil, fish leaf, rice paddy herb, bean sprouts, long beans or wing beans, and edible flowers.
Casual Chong Phov Khmer restaurant serves up a truly wonderful nom banh chok that is one of my favourites. Some of Siem Reap’s best boutique hotels also do delicious versions, including Maison Polanka and Templation. Not in Siem Reap, but if you’re heading out to Banteay Srei temple, ask your driver to stop at one of the restaurants that specialise in nom banh chok at Preah Dak (AKA Pradak/Padak) on your way back to town.
You will most definitely see locals slurping on this popular Cambodian rice-noodle and pork-based broth soup called kuy teav. Often liked to Vietnamese pho and Thailand’s kway teow or kuai tiao, kuy teav is a clearish broth served with vermicelli rice noodles and topped with either thin slivers of pork, pieces of rare beef (they’ll cook in the broth, don’t worry) or chicken pieces. Offal is optional with all. Kuy teav is typically served with Chinese donuts (see below) and locals will probably add condiments such as chilli sauce or soy sauce. (Young people like to add sugar!)
The best place to try kuy teav is Chep Por’s, the Por family’s modest eatery, which was the first noodle soup spot opened after the Khmer Rouge era. It’s on 7 Makara Road, opposite the Kings Road Angkor tourist complex. There’s no sign in English but you’ll see it – it’s big round wooden tables are always crammed with locals.
Cambodia’s congee or rice porridge, called borbor – also written as bor bor, bobor, babor, borbo – is another popular breakfast dish. The boiled rice porridge is generally made with pork or chicken broth and might include some small pieces of the meat or fish. It’s usually topped with a combination of any of the following: garlic oil, dried fish, soft boiled or salted eggs, finely sliced spring onions, bean sprouts, pickles, and sometimes slices of omelette.
A good place to sample this is Baktouk Food House, a stall that’s little more than two tables and a couple of umbrellas outside the Baktouk IT shop on Central Market street, parallel to Hap Guan Street, Kandal Village. There it’s served with salted eggs, savoury beans and ginger relish.
Pork and Rice
When you hit the streets of Siem Reap early in the morning, the most common street food dish you’ll see being cooked on the roadside – in fact you’ll probably smell the smoky aromas before you spot the stall – is grilled pork and steamed rice or bai sach chrouk ang.
Our favourite stall at Psar Chas (Old Market) specialises in bai sach chrouk, and here the tasty pork is slowly grilled over charcoal, sliced up, and spread over a generous mound of white rice, with a pickled cucumber, carrot and chilli sauce on the side. You’ll find it right in the middle of the market, where the two fresh food and wet market areas meet the clothes and souvenir sections.
Cambodians make a few different types of thin omelettes, however, they tend to be what we’d call over-cooked, fried until they’re brown and crisp on the edges. Mainly made with loads of fresh herbs, my favourite is done with a garlicky fern called sa’om (this is Terence’s version with a French-style omelette). Another omelette that’s popular with locals is made with fermented fish, although you’re unlikely to see this unless you venture into the back streets.
Baktouk Food House also does a good Khmer omelette with sa’om, which is listed as ‘Pong Chien Sa’am’. There’s also a stall opposite Old Market’s famous sausage and dried fish shops, just a block from Pub Street, that makes a foreigner-friendly herb omelette.
This filling dish of stir-fried pepper beef, served with fresh green tomatoes, steamed rice, with a soft fried egg plopped on top (the egg is usually optional) is another typical dish for breakfast in Siem Reap that’s eaten throughout the day.
It’s a hard dish to get wrong – you’ll probably see it on your hotel menu – but we like the versions at Chan Reash 10 Makara Restaurant and adjoining Chan Reas II Restaurant, two of three very humble family-owned eateries (with very similar names; once owned by the same family) just down from the Park Hyatt.
Where to Eat Breakfast in Siem Reap
Breakfast in Siem Reap is best experienced on the streets, at Siem Reap’s best local markets and at modest local family-owned eateries, however, if you have just arrived fresh off a flight from Australia, the USA or Europe, the sensible thing to do would be to wait a few days until your system adjusts to the local bacteria. If you’re planning to play it safe, here’s the breakfast strategy we recommend:
Hotel Breakfast in Siem Reap
If you’re in Siem Reap for a week or longer, you probably don’t mind taking a few risks for a great breakfast, but if you’re only in town for a few days, then have your first breakfast at your hotel, where, if it’s a good hotel you can be sure it’s safe. On the breakfast buffet, with the European pastries, Western cereals, fruits and yoghurts and the like, you should find a pot of breakfast soup (most likely kuy teav, above) and, if you’re lucky, borbor (rice porridge/congee; also see above). Ask staff how to eat it and they’ll happily show you which condiments to pop on top. Don’t see anything on the buffet? Ask staff for something local.
Restaurant Breakfast in Siem Reap
On your second morning in town, make a beeline for Malis on the riverside. One of Siem Reap’s best restaurants, Malis offers the finest and most expansive restaurant breakfast in Siem Reap. You’ll see more Cambodian breakfast dishes in the one place than you’ll ever see anywhere else, as most stalls or eateries specialise in just one or two dishes. So if you’re here for a short time and keen to learn about Cambodian food, this should be where you spend some serious breakfast time. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself returning and if you’re only in the city for a few days, that’s probably not a bad idea.
The Malis breakfast menu features the breadth of beloved Cambodian breakfasts, including (my favourite) nom banh chok, (fresh fermented rice noodles with a light kroeung-based fish curry and fragrant herbs) and eight types of kuy teav (rice noodle soup in a clear pork broth). There’s the basic kuy teav with slices of beef (kuy teav sach kor), pork on the bone (kuy teav ch’heung) and Mekong River fish balls (kuy teav prohet sach trei).
There are also a few Malis specials, including the signature soup with pork and prawns; a seafood-heavy lemongrass-based broth (kuy teav kroeung samut); and kuy teav prahok k’tis, with prawns, prahok, coconut milk, and spices in a pork broth. They also serve kuy teav khor kor (which you’ll see elsewhere as samlor khor kor), hearty, slow-cooked, ginger-infused beef stew with rice noodles.
Borbor, Cambodia’s congee or rice porridge also makes an appearance on the menu – three times. Choose from a plain congee, bor bor sor trei gneat, with a little salted fish, preserved bean curd and pickles; bor bor sach trei, a classic fish congee with spring onions; and an extremely filling bor bor samchok, a combination congee with slow cooked pork shanks, liver, shrimp and squid.
Malis also does a delicious bay sach chrouk ang (pork marinated in spices on rice), as well as bay sach moan (rice with a succulent roast chicken leg with pickles and chili), and bay sach kor (beef with Kampot pepper and rice).
There’s also lort char, short rice noodles that are typically fried on a massive flat pan and served with duck egg and chive leaves (at Malis, there are fancy versions with marinated beef or prawns). You’ll typically see these at roadside stalls and markets and not only eaten for breakfast, but also brunch, lunch, a snack, and dinner.
Market Breakfast in Siem Reap
Once you’re ready to brave the markets, for a typical Cambodian breakfast hit the food stalls at the centre of Psar Chas (Old Market), slap bang in the middle between the seafood and fruit and vegetable sections. At Psar Chas, the most popular stalls offer the quintessential Cambodian breakfast dishes, above.
If you coped well with Psar Chas, you can try Psar Leu, Siem Reap’s largest local market on National Road 6. The fresh food market or wet market is right at the back of the building and it’s liveliest in the morning. The colourful stalls outdoors around the perimeter are busy all day.
Like all good food stalls, most of the cooks sell just one or two local specialties and because the food is mainly made for the market vendors, like Psar Chas, it’s authentic and fresh. What I recommend here is the nom banh chok and there are numerous stalls selling what for me is the most quintessential Siem Reap breakfast and Cambodia’s most delicious.
Note that the stalls at Psar Chas are more hygienic than those at Psar Leu, which in turn are cleaner than those at Psar Sammaki, Psar Krom, and other neighbourhood markets. Having said that, we’ve eaten everywhere and have never been sick after eating at any Siem Reap markets. Still, it’s worth being cautious if you’re only in town for a few days.
How to Eat Breakfast in Siem Reap
Don’t immediately dig in when you’re bowl or plate is set down before you because you are probably meant to be adding condiments. First, look at what’s on your table and then look around and make sure you have the same condiments that everyone else has. If you don’t, ask a fellow diner to pass their condiment caddy or signal to staff.
Depending on what you’re eating, you might find bottles of soy sauce (perhaps light and dark), various chilli sauces, sweet fermented soy beans, jars of pickled garlic, onions, and chillies, preserved lemons, fresh chopped birds-eye-chillies, pepper, salt, and even sugar on the table. If there’s a stack of tiny dishes and quarters of limes, then you’re expected to squeeze those on some pepper and salt and stir to create a peppery sauce.
Watch how the locals are using their condiments but first try your dish to see how it tastes. I love a good clean breakfast soup broth that’s been simmering all night. Sometimes I add nothing or very little at all, while my fellow Cambodian diners will be dousing, pouring and sprinkling every condiment into their bowl.
If you have a basket or tray of fresh greens and fragrant herbs and edible flowers on your table, then you’re definitely going to want to select some of those. For nom banh chok (see above), these are essential components of the dish.
A herb basket might include a variety of basils, rice paddy herb, saw-tooth coriander, laksa leaves, fish cheek herb, fresh morning glory, water celery, flat leaf parsley, water lily stems, sorrel sprouts, garlic chives, long beans, wing beans, lettuce leaves, and a whole array of Cambodian herbs that don’t have English names.
If you see Chinese donuts or youtiao on the table, then you’re probably eating kuy teav (noodle soup; see above) or bobor (congee/rice porridge; see above). You need to dip the donuts into the soup or congee.
Cambodians mostly use forks and spoons. Chopsticks are only used for noodle soups. Some dishes, such as skewers and rice, can be eaten with your hands.
If there’s a pot of jasmine tea or water on the table, it’s complimentary and you can help yourself. I also recommend that you order a Cambodian iced coffee.
What Breakfast in Siem Reap Costs
If you’re eating at a food stall on the street or in a market, expect to pay anything from R2,000 (.50c) up to US$1-2 for the same dish in a modest family-owned eatery. The outstanding breakfast dishes at Malis range from $3.50-$4.20 (plus 10% tax) per dish and $1.50 (plus tax) for a Cambodian iced coffee, which is ridiculously cheap for such outstanding quality and elegant surroundings.
Yes, tourists will pay more at some street food stalls. A strategy I recommend is to go with a Cambodian friend or take your trusty tuk tuk driver out for breakfast in Siem Reap if you want to pay less, and give him the money and ask him to order. Find out what the price was that he paid and then next time you return, simply hand that over without asking.
Do you have a favourite spot for breakfast in Siem Reap? Do let us know in the comments below.