Cambodian saom omelette recipe, inspired by the typical herb omelette that Cambodians eat for breakfast, lunch or a filling snack. It’s a delicious herbaceous eggs dish made with a beloved Cambodian green that is foraged and farmed.
Cambodian Saom Omelette Recipe
Our Cambodian saom omelette recipe is made with a beloved Cambodian herb called saom. Known in English as climbing wattle or acacia leaf, in Thailand it’s called cha-om and in Myanmar it’s su pout ywet. Saom – sometimes written sa’om – are the feathery shoots of the senegalia pennata, which is also called acacia pennata.
Saom is farmed on a small scale, but it’s mostly foraged. Cambodians were foragers well before it was fashionable. The natural instinct is to pluck something from the yard, the neighbour’s yard, the side of the road, or anywhere in the village where things grow.
During a recent conversation with a chef friend, he said, “I really need to get out to the villages and get some herbs and things that we don’t have here in Siem Reap and grow them.” It’s not the first time a Cambodian chef has said that to us.
Because there are countless herbs, leaves, roots, flowers, and vegetables that naturally grow and are used in local cooking in some parts of Cambodia that aren’t seen or used in other parts.
Many of these herbs and leaves have Khmer names, which simply don’t translate to anything in English. We’ve never even seen most of these greens outside of Cambodia. Some of the greens are the leaves of vegetable and fruit trees.
There’s one reason that some things aren’t seen elsewhere and that’s because so much of Cambodia is so remote. Cambodia only has a handful of cities, with most of its settlements consisting of villages and hamlets that are peppered all over the country.
While the distances might not look great on a map, bad roads (mostly dirt), poverty and lack of transport prevent rural people from getting to cities. And when people from the villages get jobs in the big smoke they might only return home to their village once or twice a year from Khmer New Year or Pchum Ben.
For rural people, especially Cambodia’s indigenous tribes in the highland areas, foraging is a daily activity. It’s quite normal for the woman of the house – and sometimes the children – to pick up a basket or bucket, knife, and machete and head off into the forest.
Some of what they collect will be used in their own kitchen, while the surplus will be bartered or sold at the local market to bring in a small but valuable income.
One of the herbs we frequently see Cambodians collecting from the side of the road, whenever we trundle out into the countryside on a tuk tuk, is saom. When we do our culinary tours and food and travel writing and photography retreats, we stop to point it out if we see it growing wild or pull up at a farm to show participants if we see a villager collecting it or pruning it.
The shoulder-high shrub is rather scary looking, growing in a tangle across and around wooden and wire trellises, with long hard thorns. When you buy a bunch of saom you still need to take care, as there’ll be tiny thorns on the feathery stalks.
The first time we saw saom being collected a few years ago in the countryside in Battambang I asked our driver Mr Ol what it was used for. When he said “omelette”, I knew I had to try it – it’s found in markets, at roadside stalls, and modest local eateries (it’s rarely on restaurant menus) – and have Terence make it. I loved it and you’ll love it too if you’re fond of herb omelettes.
A warning: saom has a stinky fishy smell. Don’t let that put you off as the smell goes once cooked. Perhaps to make up for the loss, Cambodians often eat it with a dish of fish sauce on the side. They also make an omelette with fermented fish, but we’ll tell you about that in another post.
This Cambodian saom omelette recipe is very straightforward if you know how to make a good omelette. The most time-consuming bit is preparing the saom because of those tiny thorns I mentioned.
I usually work piece by piece, removing the feathery tip of each stalk first, taking care to ensure there are no miniscule thorns hiding beneath the leaves, and then holding the tip I run two fingers down the stalk to remove the remaining feathery shoots. I collect these in a small container, only breaking off as much as we need for two omelettes, as what’s left will last longer if left on the stalks and sealed in a plastic bag.
We’ve said that our Cambodian saom omelette recipe is ‘inspired by’ the traditional Cambodian saom omelette recipe because Cambodians tend to like their omelettes thinner and browner, to the point that the edges can almost be crispy. We prefer our eggs to be cooked a lot less and the omelette to be a little thicker and softer so it’s a classic French omelette technique used to make this at home.
I’m happy to eat my Cambodian saom omelette on its own, however, I’ve noticed Cambodians sprinkle white pepper on it, dip it in fish sauce, and eat it with bread. Whatever you eat it with, make sure you wash it down with a strong Cambodian coffee made with condensed milk.
- 2 extra-large or 3 large eggs
- 1 small bunch of saom leaves see text
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 dash of fish sauce
- Prepare the saom leaves as per the text (above) and roughly chop.
- Beat the eggs firmly and add a dash to fish sauce.
- Heat an omelette pan over medium high and add the oil.
- Serve with some fish sauce and salt and pepper on the side.
Do you have a good Cambodian saom omelette recipe? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.