Best Siem Reap food experiences are not to be found on Pub Street but they aren’t too far away. From tucking into barbecued pork and slurping noodle soups for breakfast to delighting in traditional Cambodian desserts, here’s where and how to eat like the locals and expats in Siem Reap.
The best Siem Reap food experiences are to be found all over Cambodia’s northern city, best known as the departure point for excursions to majestic Angkor Wat than it is a culinary destination renowned for its street food or local cuisine. We’re working on that that.
Follow Trip Advisor and you’ll find yourself at some awful Pub Street eatery serving Cambodian-Thai food that’s only full because of the 50 cent beers. Use this guide and you’ll get enough of a taste of the best Siem Reap food experiences to switch you on to this delicious culinary capital that’s the centre of New Cambodian Cuisine and a rapidly emerging street food destination.
But note that to really sample the best Siem Reap food experiences you need to rise at the crack of dawn when the smoky aromas from corner street food stalls waft through the city; you need to venture beyond Pub Street and slip into the backstreets and stroll residential neighbourhoods in the late afternoon, where roving vendors cook and sell anything from the juicy, fatty barbecued sausages, above, to steamed eggs and pork buns from their mobile carts; and you need to book tables at the best Cambodian restaurants to savour the new style of Cambodian cuisine that is making Siem Reap such a delicious foodie destination.
Best Siem Reap Food Experiences – from Street Food Breakfasts to Cambodian Cooking Classes
Tucking into BBQ Pork and Slurping Noodle Soups for Breakfast
One of the best Siem Reap food experiences you can have is eating breakfast with the locals. But be warned: Cambodians are early risers and big eaters when it comes to breakfast. Get up soon after dawn and the first thing you’ll notice wafting from street food stalls all over Siem Reap are the smoky aromas from bai sach chrouk, marinated grilled pork, being barbecued over charcoal and served over rice with quick pickles. Next you’ll spot heads down over a pork broth soup with rice noodles called kuy teav. This soup can be served with pork, beef or chicken, but plenty of fragrant herbs sprinkled on top are essential to round out the flavours. Chinese doughnuts are usually provided at the centre of the table for some dunking. Another breakfast favourite, nom banh chok is arguably the most popular Cambodian noodle dish: fresh lightly-fermented rice noodles are doused with a coconut-based fish curry that’s been pounded from a paste of lemongrass, turmeric, kaffir lime, galangal, garlic, and shallots. Again, you need to pile some perfumed herbs, leaves and edible flowers on top, perhaps some chilli flakes, and combine it well. Another dish you’ll see is Cambodia’s version of congee, a rice porridge called borbor served with chicken or pork and the usual array of condiments.
Exploring Siem Reap’s Aromatic Local Markets
Siem Reap has dozens of local markets scattered all over the city, but as a visitor you really only need to see two, Psar Chas (Old Market) in the centre of town and Siem Reap’s biggest market, Psar Leu, on National Route No 6, about 15 minutes by tuk tuk from the Old Market quarter. If you visited Psar Chas in the late afternoon, you might think it’s just a market full of tourist trinkets. However, if you go in the early morning you’ll find a vibrant fresh food market full of locals selling and buying seasonal fruit, vegetables, herbs, and seafood from the lake and coast. The quality is the best in town, which is why some of Siem Reap’s best chefs shop here. Don’t miss the three outer stalls selling sausages, dried, smoked, and fermented fish, shrimp and octopus, various shrimp and fish pastes, beef and buffalo jerky, and more. Psar Leu has more of the same, plus plenty of fresh local meat and poultry, dried spices and condiments, and daily-made chilli and herb pastes (kroeungs), which means plenty of aromas to wake you up! Most of those smells are coming from prahok, the local fermented fish that’s used in many Cambodian recipes. There’s good street food at both markets, in the centre of Psar Chas and at the back of Psar Leu in the mornings and out the front in the late afternoon.
Taking Cambodian Cooking Classes with Siem Reap’s Chefs
For most culinary travellers to Cambodia one of the best Siem Reap food experiences is taking a Cambodian cooking class. It’s a fantastic way to gain insight into the local cuisine, learn what sets Cambodian food apart from the cuisines of its neighbours, Thailand and Vietnam, and get some recipes to cook back home, and what better souvenir can you take back? Over the last few years, more and more Cambodian cooking classes have started operating, but like many of the Siem Reap food tours, most are disappointing. You can do a Cambodian cooking course anywhere from a five-star hotel to a modest local eatery and a Pub Street restaurant. Most Cambodian cooking classes teach you how to make spring rolls or a Cambodian salad, the much-misunderstood amok trei (a steamed fish curry soufflé) or beef loc lac (a stir-fried pepper beef with its origins in Vietnam and China), and a Cambodian dessert. While they’re fine for beginners, if you’re a serious cook, sign up for the better quality cooking classes ran by the chefs helming Siem Reap’s best Cambodian restaurants that are redefining Cambodian cuisine. We recommend chef Sothea Seng of Mahob Khmer’s Cambodian cooking course on his organic farm at Isaan Lodge, Chef Mengly of Pou Restaurant and Bar’s very laidback cooking class which includes a market shop, and Chef Pola Siv of Mie Café’s private class in his restaurant kitchen.
Grazing on Cambodian Street Food
Whether you’re stall hopping around Psar Chas or Psar Leu markets or tucking into barbecue skewers on Wat Damnak Street, some of the best Siem Reap food experiences involve grazing on traditional Cambodian street food. In the late afternoon, street food stalls set up around Old Market and on the riverside, serving foreign and local tourists alike. You’ll find bowls of noodle soups, crunchy fried insects, num pang (Cambodian bánh mì), and the ubiquitous ‘roti’ pancakes, that are more French than Indian. Drinks include fresh coconut water, sugar cane juice, iced Cambodian coffee with condensed milk, and fresh sliced fruit and fruit shakes for $1. More adventurous foodies, however, would be wise to wander through the backstreets for the more authentic stuff. Make a beeline over the bridge to Wat Damnak Street (one block from the Wat Damnak pagoda) in the late afternoon and follow your nose to the wonderful aromas that fill the air. Those mouthwatering smells are from a couple of shop houses grilling Siem Reap’s favourite late afternoon snack, sach ko ang jakak, marinated beef skewers barbecued over coals on a clay brazier. You can eat them on their own or do as most locals do and slide the meat off the stick into a baguette and pop some pickled radish and cucumber and chilli sauce in your baguette.
SIEM REAP FOOD TOURS AND ACTIVITIES
Have you been to Siem Reap or do you live here? What are your favourite Siem Reap food experiences? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.