Our best Cambodian barbecue recipes include everything from smoky marinated beef skewers and succulent grilled chicken to mouth-watering ribs galore, from grilled pork ribs to aromatic pork spare ribs with star anise. Forget the toilet paper, stock the fridge with cold beer and let’s get the barbie going.
This post is to introduce a new series on our best Cambodian barbecue recipes which Terence will be sharing as he recipe tests them for a Cambodian street food cookbook we’re working on – not to be confused with the epic Cambodian culinary history and Cambodian cookbook we’ve been working on for six years, which we’re seeking patrons for on Patreon (even the smallest monthly contribution counts to our research).
The Cambodian street food book is a title we hope to turn around quickly that we’re currently pitching to publishers. It will be an expression of our passionate for Cambodian street food developed over six years here and it’s to make up for lost income due to the coronavirus crisis, cancelled client contracts and postponed projects. We have a proposal sitting with an Australian publisher now and if he doesn’t take it, we’ll keep sending it out, so please let us know if you make any of our Cambodian barbecue recipes. We’d love your feedback. But back to Cambodian barbecue…
It’s perhaps no coincidence that our favourite cuisines and culinary cultures around the world all have one thing in common, and no it’s not noodles, spring rolls, dumplings, or curries, as much as we adore all of those. It’s barbecue. From Australia to Argentina, Japan to Jordan, okay, all of the Middle Eastern countries and Arabian Peninsula emirates, from Dubai to Doha, and in Southeast Asia, in Thailand (especially in the northeast Isaan region), in Vietnam, in Myanmar and Laos, and of course in Cambodia, barbecue rules.
Cambodian barbecue is one of the things we love most about this country and I’m using barbecue as a noun – an alfresco meal of food that’s cooked over fire or charcoal – because I’m conscious that barbecue as a verb has different meanings to our readers in different places, particularly Asia, Australia and the USA. We’ll cover that in another post. First, an introduction to our series on our best Cambodian barbecue recipes.
Best Cambodian Barbecue Recipes from Smoky Skewers to Sizzling Grilled Meats
Our best Cambodian barbecue recipes come from our adopted home of Siem Reap in northern Cambodia, a city where early every morning you can walk out your door and find yourself salivating from the aromas of grilled pork wafting down the street from a nearby stall. As you approach you’ll see smoke rising and hear the sound of fat sizzling as it drips onto the hot coals or smouldering wood below. Music to the ears! Few things delight our senses more.
This is a country where one of the most popular breakfasts offered at local markets alongside noodle soups such as kuy teav (Cambodia’s pho) and nom banh chok (fresh rice noodles doused in a fragrant kroeung-based broth) is bai sach chrouk, a plate of succulent barbecue pork and rice, served with a quick pickle of carrot and daikon on the side. There are few better ways to start the day. (A recipe will feature in our best Cambodian barbecue recipes, so look out for that).
Trundle down the street in a tuk tuk and you’ll pass cooks sitting on plastic stools rigorously fanning smoky beef skewers on clay braziers; vendors waving fly-swats over barbecue stalls laid out with cockles, shrimps, Mekong lobster, salted fish, stuffed frogs, and spatchcock chicken; and locals gathered around mobile carts from which strings of juicy sausage balls swing, carefully selecting their takeaway dinner from an assortment of grilled skewers.
Cambodian BBQ restaurants, which are famous for their barbecue buffets and cheap beers, are as popular with locals on a night out as they are with travellers, and every casual eatery in Cambodia features grilled favourites such as pork ribs done in myriad ways, and we’ll be including a couple of these in this series on the best Cambodian barbecue recipes.
The trend of cooking with fire has swept the world in recent years, from the best Sydney restaurants, such as Firedoor, where chef Lennox Hastie uses no gas or electricity to cook, to Burnt Ends in Singapore, where chef Dave Pynt runs a modern Australian barbecue restaurant that uses grills to cook seasonal ingredients. Hastie worked at legendary Asador Etxebarri, one of the pioneers of using different types of firewood and charcoal to cook premium ingredients from sea and land to create a sense of a primordial experience.
Cambodia may not have yet had its ‘cooking with fire’ restaurant renaissance, but the hearth has always been at the centre of cooking here since pre-historic times. Evidence from archaeological digs at various sites around the country suggests that advanced civilisations dating from the first millennium BC to third century AD all cooked over fire.
In Richard Wrangham’s book Catching Fire he suggests that the rise of the genus Homo was thanks to an ability to make and control fire and the introduction of cooked foods. But that by the time of Homo erectus, with small teeth and jaws, an increase in hunting and evolution of carnivores resulted in something else — cooking. Wrangham cites French gastronomist, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who in 1825 said “It is by fire that man has tamed Nature itself”.
While cooking with fire has obviously become much more sophisticated since Brillat-Savarin’s time, as the recent restaurant renaissance attests, the popularity of smoky grilled street food and the backyard barbecue proves that it doesn’t have to be complicated.
While a little more is required than throwing some shrimps on the barbie, our best Cambodian barbecue recipes are all relatively easy and worth firing up the grill, whether you’re rolling the Weber out of the garage or getting some charcoal for the clay brazier.
Please do let us know if you try any of our best Cambodian barbecue recipes in this series. We’d love to get your feedback. We’ll be posting our first recipe tomorrow.