This Cambodian fried rice recipe makes the best Cambodian bai cha (fried rice), a lighter version of the popular Chinese stir-fry rice dish. Thanks to many centuries of Chinese trade and migration, Chinese fried rice is found across Southeast Asia. In Cambodia, there are many variations, bai char being the most ubiquitous.
This Cambodian fried rice recipe makes bai cha (also written as bai tcha, bai char, bai chaa, bay cha) or fried rice – ‘bai’ is rice and ‘cha’ is to stir-fry – and it’s the most popular Chinese-style fried rice in Cambodia. It’s distinguished by two quintessential breakfast ingredients, sausage and eggs, and Siem Reap sausage in particular, the local take on lap cheong, the Cantonese name for a smoked, sweetened, red Chinese sausage.
There seems to be as many Cambodian fried rice recipes as there are versions of Chinese-style fried rice across Southeast Asia. Bai cha is the most common fried rice cooked in local homes and sold at street food stalls and simple local eateries. Cooks of Cambodian-Chinese heritage in the capital might use lap cheong in their bai cha, while Khmer Cambodians tend to use Siem Reap sausage. Sometimes you’ll see a fried egg plopped on top in addition to the egg combined through the rice.
You’ll also see fried rice made with pork and shrimps on menus, particularly in Phnom Penh; fried rice with mixed seafood, mainly found on the Cambodian coast (look for bai char Kampot and bai char Kep, named after the coastal towns where these renditions originate); and the luxuriant bai char kdam (fried rice with crab, which you’ll mainly see on menus at fancy restaurants, as crab is expensive).
This Cambodian fried rice recipe is a fantastic addition to your rice repertoire if you’re still staying at home and quarantine cooking, as you can make a big batch of steamed rice, which you can use to accompany curries one night, then the next day make fried rice that can fill in for a couple of meals.
If you haven’t guessed yet, one of our latest cooking projects is exploring rice dishes, which we are partly recipe testing for our epic Cambodian cookbook and culinary history. We are always looking for patrons for that project and you can support this important, original, first-of-its-kind work on Patreon for as little as US$2 or US$5 a month. If you can’t, please do browse our recipes, particularly our Cambodian recipes.
Cambodian Fried Rice Recipe – How to Make the Best Bai Cha
One of the reasons fried rice is so popular in Cambodia is that in most local homes – apart from those of the middle class and upwards – rice is still made outside in a pot over an open fire. There are always leftovers and there’s a choice between making fried rice or a local type of rice porridge, drying the rice out to make rice cakes (such as these served with this Cambodian natang pork and coconut milk dip, and the Thai take khao tang na tang), or feeding the rice to the animals. Even the dogs eat leftover rice here in Cambodia.
Cambodian fried rice is not as heavy as traditional Chinese style fried rice which is typically finished with light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil. Most fried rice we’ve eaten in Cambodia has been served with just a splash of light soy sauce.
Chef Kethana from The Sugar Palm, one of Siem Reap’s best Cambodian restaurants, says that her customers prefer the lighter style of fried rice as much for the paler look of the dish as the flavour. When you add dark soy and oyster sauce, it creates a very dark-looking rice dish, which we love (see our special fried rice recipe), particularly when topped with succulent prawns and glistening five-spice pork pieces.
There are no prawns or pork in this Cambodian fried rice recipe. Siem Reap sausage is one of the key ingredients here. It’s thought to have evolved from lap cheong, perhaps by Chinese immigrants who adapted the sausage based on the local ingredients available as much as local tastes. Siem Reap sausage is less sweet, less funkier, and more balanced than lap cheong.
The popularity of Siem Reap sausage has grown so much in recent years that it has become a must-buy edible souvenir for Phnom Penh locals to take home to the Cambodian capital after a weekend in Siem Reap. When you’re in Cambodia you’ll see Siem Reap sausage hanging up in Siem Reap markets, at the stalls selling preserved ingredients such as dried, smoked and salted fish, beef and buffalo jerky, fermented fish pastes and shrimp pastes, pickles, preserves and dips.
If you’re in Siem Reap, buy the sausage from one of two well-regarded stalls at the entrance to Phsar Chas or Old Market that are particularly popular with Cambodian tourists from Phnom Penh. Note that the light red sausage is made with pork and the darker sausage from beef. If you’re not in Cambodia, head to an Asian market in your nearest Cambodian community or use lap cheong, which you’ll find in any Chinatown or Asian supermarket.
Tips for Making this Cambodian Fried Rice Recipe
My first tip for making this Cambodian fried rice recipe is to have some oyster sauce and sesame oil on standby in case you think the resulting fried rice is a little too light for you. We personally prefer our fried rice a little heavier in flavour and both are brilliant with this dish. Lara also loves to splash some fish sauce into her Cambodian fried rice and while she uses Cambodian brands here in Siem Reap, we recommend the Thai fish sauce brand Megachef.
Regardless of what condiments you might add, it’s important to keep the light texture of this Cambodian fried rice recipe if you’re going to call it Cambodian fried rice.
We like to chop both the carrots and the beans to lengths not exceeding 1cm so that they cook quickly and because of the quick cooking time, it’s best to have everything ready before you start making this dish. For example, get the boiled rice out, separate and bring to room temperature before starting to cook.
Another tip for our Cambodian fried rice recipe – when making your omelette, do not let it overcook or brown. Take it out of the wok just as the centre of the omelette sets.
Speaking of woks, this dish is best made in a seasoned carbon-steel wok to get a little bit of that smoky flavour through your stir-fried rice. The trick is, as you’ll see in the recipe, that the final stage of bringing the dish together is done over high heat, which generates ‘wok hei’, as it’s written in Cantonese, which is the ‘breath of the wok’, the smoky aroma that comes from cooking over very high heat.
Cambodian Fried Rice Recipe
- Carbon Steel Wok
- 150 g Siem Reap sausages quartered lengthways and sliced
- 4 eggs beaten
- 80 g carrot diced finely
- 80 g french beans diced finely
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 cups cooked rice separated
- 1/4 cup spring onions sliced
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce optional
- 1 tsp sesame oil optional
- Heat a little vegetable oil in a wok on medium high and add the Siem Reap sausages. Stir the sausage pieces until they get a little colour. Remove the sausage pieces and set aside, leaving the oil.
- Add the eggs to the wok and swirl around to make an omelette. When the omelette is just cooked through, remove from the wok, allow to cool a little and slice into bite-sized pieces.
- Add a little oil and cook off the carrots and beans until they’ve softened a little and then add the garlic and fry for one minute.
- Over high heat, add the sausage pieces back into the wok. Add the rice, sugar, salt and soy sauce and stir-fry until all the rice has been incorporated into the mix and has taken on a little colour.
Do let us know if you make our Cambodian fried rice recipe for the best bai cha in the comments below or tag us on Instagram using #grantourismotravels as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.