Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe for a Gentle Comforting Southeast Asian Curry

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This Cambodian chicken curry recipe makes one of Southeast Asia’s most comforting chicken curries. While it has a depth of flavour that comes from dried spices and fresh aromatic ingredients, it has a richness thanks to a liberal use of coconut cream and milk, and a gentleness due to the mild red chillies.

When Terence texted me to ask what I wanted for dinner as I waited for my flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap recently, I replied “Cambodian chicken curry, please”. After three weeks hosting my cuisine and culture tour in Vietnam – and don’t get me wrong, I adore Vietnamese food – I was craving a Cambodian chicken curry. I craved spice but I wasn’t ready for the fire of a Thai curry yet.

After a few weeks in Vietnam slurping clear soups sprinkled with fragrant herbs, wrapping crispy lettuce around smoky grilled pork, and stuffing crunchy sprouts and aromatic herbs into fried turmeric pancakes, as wonderful as all those greens were, I wanted comfort food and a gentle Cambodian chicken curry was the first thing to come to mind.

It would be the best welcome back to our adopted home of Siem Reap as far as I was concerned, as it was a Cambodian chicken curry sampled on our first trip to ‘Temple Town’ many years ago that made me fall crazy in love with Cambodian food and led to my, perhaps also a little crazy, obsession with Cambodian cuisine and digging into its culinary history.

We were living in Bangkok at the time and had flown to Cambodia to do a story on the stylish side of Siem Reap, covering the city’s chic hotels, shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars for a Thai airline in-flight magazine. In Bangkok we’d been writing about restaurants and Thai food, which I’d been eating since my late teens – so for around thirty years at the time.

That meant thirty years eating Thai curries, with about ten of those eating the often mouth-numbing, sweat-inducing, fire-breathing curries that Terence cooked from David Thompson’s Thai Food. While I adore Thai food, too, and particularly the Thai food that Terence cooks from David Thompson’s recipes, sometimes I don’t always want to perspire over my meal.

I just want a gentle comforting curry and this Cambodian chicken recipe does the trick and here’s why…

Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe for a Comforting Southeast Asian Curry

This Cambodian chicken curry recipe, along with the recipe within the recipe for a red kroeung, the herb and spice paste that is the basis of so many Cambodian recipes, was originally adapted from Authentic Cambodian Recipes From Mother to Daughter by Sorey Long and Kanika Linden, although Terence has tweaked the recipe over the years, and I’ll tell you how in a moment.

I highly recommend the book if you’re new to Cambodian cooking. If you can get hold of the book (as it’s now out of print), this Cambodian chicken curry recipe is simply called Chicken Curry or Samlar Can Moan in Long and Linden’s cookbook. If you can’t find the book, perhaps check their more recent Ambarella – Cambodian Cuisine although I haven’t seen it to know if it contains this recipe.

A ‘samlar’ or ‘samlor’ can refer to a stew or soup, which often stumps foreign visitors unfamiliar with Cambodian food, who have been to question to the consistency of a dish served at a restaurant having sampled one or the other. ‘Cari’ is also used to describe a curry.

Authentic Cambodian Recipes was the first Cambodian cookbook we bought when we began researching and cooking Cambodian food. It’s a fantastic resource with a lovely introduction to Cambodian cuisine and culinary culture that also tells Sorey’s story, and good sections on terms and techniques, and a glossary of ingredients with photographs. It remains an invaluable guide to Cambodian cuisine, but with some qualifications.

Firstly, as with all cookbooks, it’s important to understand the background of the authors and for whom the book has been written, especially if you’ve travelled and eaten your way through Cambodia and you’re expecting this Cambodian chicken curry recipe will result in the chicken curry you ate at your hotel or a restaurant.

Unfortunately a lot of curries that travellers try in Cambodia are watery in consistency and lack the complexity that this Cambodian chicken curry recipe will result in. So unless you dined at one of Siem Reap’s best Cambodian restaurants, such as Malis or Sugar Palm (both currently closed due to covid), that serve well-balanced curries of this depth, whether it’s a Cambodian chicken curry or a Saraman curry, expect that this dish will probably taste better than what you had on your travels.

The main reason for this is because Sorey Long was born in 1941 in Kratie in Cambodia to a highly educated civil servant father who became the governor of Stung Treng province, and a mother who was the daughter of a well-to-do landowner from one of Cambodia’s fertile farming regions in Kandal province. As a governor’s wife, Sorey’s mother was required to entertain and meals were “elaborate and abundant”.

When Sorey’s husband, a university professor, became Minister for Culture, Sorey would find herself entertaining members of government and ambassadors. She became a member of the International Women’s Association cooking European food, as much as Cambodian cuisine. The Cambodian food she cooked would have been rich and refined, made with premium ingredients – and of a superior quality to the Cambodian dishes you might have tried at a local eatery or market stall.

After the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975, Sorey Long and her family fled the country, resettling first in the USA and then in France. The cookbook therefore reflects the style of Cambodian food that Sorey cooked before she left the country – the food of the upper middle classes and elites, which is vastly different to the Cambodian food you’ll eat outside restaurants in Cambodia, unless you get an invitation to an upper middle class home.

In the years that followed, Cambodia experienced a genocide under the Khmer Rouge, which blew up banks and burnt books, and were responsible for the deaths of millions of Cambodians. The royals, government members, business people, professionals, and intellectuals who were unable to leave the country in time were murdered at the hands of the brutal regime or forced into hard labour.

Cambodia lost most of its well-educated upper- and middle classes, and with it their recipes and culinary traditions. While many Khmers have since returned (Khmer is the ethnicity of the vast majority of Cambodians), I am certain there are still many Cambodian recipes and culinary secrets that remain with the diaspora.

Sorey Long’s cookbook has also been written with international readers in mind, so ingredients have been listed in recipes that wouldn’t be used in Cambodia simply because the Cambodian ingredients aren’t readily available or are challenging to find in Europe or North America. Local cooks in Cambodian whom we’ve shown the cookbook to have often been aghast at some of the recipes and ingredients used.

Tips to Making This Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe

There are a couple of things that Terence has adjusted over the years, and one is the amount of coconut cream, which he has halved, which better reflects the kind of curries you’re likely to have tasted in Cambodia.

We’re wondering if the heavy use of cream was influenced by Sorey’s experience with French cooking in the 1970s in Cambodia and during her decades in France.

The other ingredient is salt, which Terence has left out, as there’s enough salt from the shrimp paste and fish sauce. Obviously if you like even more salt content, you could add it.

Just as you could add an additional tin of coconut cream if you prefer your curries to be creamier, we prefer the separation and slick of oil that comes from using fresh pressed coconut milk – and perhaps also all our years of eating Thai curries.

Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe

Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe

This Cambodian chicken curry recipe makes one of Southeast Asia’s most comforting chicken curries. While it has a depth of flavour that comes from dried spices and fresh aromatic ingredients, it has a richness thanks to a liberal use of coconut cream and milk, and a gentleness due to the mild red chillies.
Adapted from Authentic Cambodian Recipes (now out of print).
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Cambodian / Khmer
Servings made with recipe4
Calories 518 kcal


Red Kroeung

  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp lemongrass stalks - finely chopped after discarding the tough outside layers
  • 1 tbsp galangal - peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 tsp kaffir lime zest
  • 4 pieces dried medium red chillies - soaked and chopped, deseeded for a milder paste
  • 1 tsp turmeric - peeled and chopped – wear gloves if you don't want to get stained hands
  • 10 cloves garlic - peeled and crushed
  • 5 pieces shallots - peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste


  • 3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 2 tbsp red kroeung - see above
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste
  • ½ tsp palm sugar
  • 200 ml coconut cream
  • 1 whole chicken cut into chunky pieces
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 400 ml coconut milk
  • 250 ml chicken stock
  • 1 handful long beans cut into 4cm lengths - cut into 4cm lengths
  • 2 pieces round eggplants - cut into chunks, soaked in cold water to reduce bitterness, then drained
  • 3 pieces sweet potatoes (or potatoes) - cut into chunks and cooked separately


  • First make the red kroeung, by pounding the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle.
  • Heat oil in a wok over low heat. Add red kroeung, shrimp paste and palm sugar. Stir-fry until fragrant. Add the chicken pieces and cook until well coated and takes on a little colour. Then add the coconut cream and half the amount of fish sauce (you can add more later).
  • Stir in coconut milk and stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer over medium heat until chicken is tender. Add the long beans and aubergines. Just before serving add the potatoes and continue cooking until curry is reduced and thick. Taste, taste, taste, and if it's a little too mild in flavour (not heat) add more fish sauce.
  • Serve with steamed rice or fresh rice vermicelli and crunchy vegetables such as cucumber or bean sprouts. Cambodians also like to eat their curries with French baguettes.
  • Note: The curry will be tastier if you prepare this recipe using homemade coconut cream and milk. Also, while the curry paste will be bright red, the addition of the coconut cream and milk will see the curry have a yellow hue. This is not important, the flavour of the curry is.


Calories: 518kcalCarbohydrates: 15gProtein: 9gFat: 51gSaturated Fat: 35gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 550mgPotassium: 548mgFiber: 2gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 106IUVitamin C: 6mgCalcium: 61mgIron: 6mg

Do let us know if you make this Cambodian chicken curry recipe. We’d love to know how it turns out for you.


Lara Dunston Patreon


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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

9 thoughts on “Cambodian Chicken Curry Recipe for a Gentle Comforting Southeast Asian Curry”

  1. This was awesome. I let it really reduce for a couple of hours and the chicken was still tender. Some of us at the table wanted a little more chilli (which we had on hand), but you can really tell the difference between this and a Thai red curry. Great leftovers too!5 stars

  2. Thanks, Patrice! So pleased you enjoyed it. Terence likes to let it reduce more than a lot of restaurants here do, too – as you can see from the pic. Cambodians will always have some chilli on the side as well – some people like it and some don’t. Sadly these days the tendency is to sweeten things up. My favourite leftovers! Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I never leave comments on recipes but I made this for the family and we all loved this so much!! Will definitely be cooking this again, thank you!!!5 stars

  4. Terence, this is the best! A lot richer than we remembered having it in Cambodia and we ate it quite a lot. I have to say that we liked your’s more even though we fell in love with this in Cambodia as you have. We will make this regularly. Thank you again for all your amazing recipes.5 stars

  5. Greetings Kerry, I get that compliment a lot. The ‘weaker’ versions of it come from how restaurants try to stretch the sauce to get more yield out of a batch of curry. If you went to the Sugar Palm restaurant, you would have enjoyed a version similar to mine…
    But I agree, most restaurant versions here in Siem Reap don’t do this delicious dish justice…

  6. Thank you for sharing the recipe! Have you read the article published July 2023 on titled “Earliest curry in Southeast Asia and the global spice trade 2000 years ago”? They excavated grinding tools in the area believed to be part of the Funan empire. Based on their analysis, they identified spices and coconut commonly used in SEA curry. From the article, “Today, curry is still popular in Southeast Asia, and the ingredients recovered from Oc Eo are matched more closely in modern Southeast Asia than in South Asia in being mixed with endemic spices and thickened by coconut milk. For example, galangal is a common component of curry pastes in Southeast Asia but is seldom used in Indian curry, likewise fingerroot and sand ginger in Thai curry.” Never imagined that the type of curry commonly prepared in SEA would be that old.

  7. Hi Soriya, yes, I did see that and all the related coverage. I welcome their discoveries, but their argument and conclusions are flawed, and the resulting media coverage more so. One story continually references ‘Vietnamese curry’ – the writer obviously had no idea that Oc Eo was the port of the Khmer state of Funan. Why look at Vietnamese curry, which is actually based on the spice blend popularly known as ‘curry powder’ and was only brought to Saigon in the early 20th century with Indian traders. In fact, the family of the gentleman widely considered to be the first to bring that spice blend to Vietnam still has a stall at Ben Thanh Market.

    In the paper itself they jump to conclusions or overlook other research/findings. They mention Funan in the abstract but weirdly don’t say Funan was a Khmer state. They also mention Dvaravati but don’t say it was a Mon state, but instead mention that it’s in Central Thailand. They should say ‘present day’ Central Thailand, as Thailand is actually a very young country. They mention Thai curry. Thais were still up in Southern Yunan during the Oc Eo period. Cambodia has its own curries that are different.

    They say they identified turmeric, ginger, fingerroot, sand ginger, galangal, clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and then immediately make the connection to South Asian curries. Why? Many of those ingredients are native to Cambodia. Cloves are native to the Moluccas, now part of Indonesia, and nutmeg to the Banda Islands, also now part of Indonesia, and we know that there had already been a long history of trade between Cambodia and Java and the islands we now know as Indonesian.

    We know there was Indian influence, but there were also other influences from China and Java (for starters), but why always look at influences, what about what Khmers were cooking and eating then, as there are direct continuities with what is cooked here in Cambodia now. Those ingredients are used in many dishes, why assume they’re all going to be used in the one dish, a South Asian/Indian ‘curry’.

    They say “before our investigation, the only evidence from Mainland Southeast Asia came from Angkorian and Post-Angkorian contexts dated between the 11th and 18th centuries CE that had yielded black pepper and long pepper.” They’re talking about “archaeobotanical evidence” but there are other types of evidence that they make no reference to that tell us a lot about what was prepared, cooked and eaten by Khmer people during those early times.

    During my last ten years researching Cambodia’s culinary history, I’ve developed a long list of cooking ingredients, utensils and techniques that I’ve compiled from original sources, and combined with my knowledge of Cambodian food, I’ve established that there is continuity from those early times with present-day Khmer and Cambodian cooking and Khmer and Cambodian cuisine. And this is what they should be talking about, not Thai curry or Vietnamese curry.

    There’s absolutely no relevancy to either. The Thais, Vietnamese, and also Laos, were settlers. In the long history of mainland Southeast Asian, they arrived fairly recently. The oldest peoples were the Khmer and Mon, so they should be looking at the Cambodian curries and samlors, which are different to the Indian/South Asian curries. Of course there is a Cambodian curry that contains similar ingredients, which is often translated as a ‘Muslim curry’, but I have a theory about that one, which will be in my book :)

    In their whole ‘discussion’, they seem obsessed with the Indian curry connections they’re trying to make and continue to overlook what we know about the continuity of Khmer food, then all of a sudden they conclude that South Asians brought an Indian style ‘curry’ to Funan/Cambodia. Why? What do they think the Khmers were eating before the Indians/South Asian supposedly gave them ‘curry’, an all-embracing term that Indians would seriously object to, but Southeast Asians are comfortable with. It’s a very weak ‘argument’, particularly when the vast majority of Cambodian curries and samlors are pounded from fresh ingredients, not dried spices. They should have actually done some travelling in Cambodia and eaten some Cambodian curries before concocting their argument.

    I’ve been considering doing a PhD on my Cambodia culinary history research for years, but I’m so busy. However, this kind of paper makes me think that I should so that these kinds of researchers have other sources to refer to. We really need to change the way that the world thinks about Cambodian food and its history — or doesn’t! That’s the biggest problem.

  8. Hi Lara,

    I’m not surprised that the findings are associated to Thai or Vietnamese curry. Since travelers started visiting Cambodia and writing about Cambodian food, it was often said that the Khmer cuisine is influenced by neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. And there are some historians who do not believe Funan to be a Khmer state due to a lack of evidence, especially since Khmer inscriptions discovered so far only goes back to the Chenla period.

    Even if in future Khmer inscriptions discovered dated to the Funan period, I doubt it would change a long standing narrative which is Khmer people were simple and primitive until they received influences from India. At least that’s my interpretation of the article, “Ancient DNA from Protohistoric Period Cambodia indicates that South Asians admixed with local populations as early as 1st–3rd centuries CE” published December 2022. That was published based on the remains of one subject, a child. From the article, “Our results suggest that some South Asians migrated to MSEA and intermarried with local people before or at the early stage of state formation. These South Asians may have influenced the expansion of Indian culture and the establishment of Indian-style states”.

    I guess without the influences of India, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, etc, Khmer culture wouldn’t exist. There’s no such thing as Khmer ingenuity. But sarcasm aside, I find these types of articles to be an attempt at erasure of Khmer people and culture, whether it’s intentional or not. This happens with Mon culture as well where Dvaravati has been referred to as an ancient Thai kingdom. It’s told often enough that even Khmer people start to believe in it, myself included. I kept reading that Cambodian curry is a Thai dish because of the use of coconut milk. That’s why it surprised me to read that the ingredients and the use of coconut milk found in SEA curry today has been around for nearly 2,000 years.

    It sounds like you have done extensive research already and probably half way to a PhD in the field. I’d say go for it. Either way, a book that covers the history of Khmer cuisine through extensive research, citing evidence, would be a gift to Cambodians and I mean that in all sincerity. I am looking forward to reading the book.

    If at all possible, it would be interesting to see more recipes from other ethnic communities in Cambodia such as the Cham, Kola, Bunong, etc. Thank you for the great work in preserving the food culture of the people of Cambodia!

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