This Cambodian saom omelette recipe is inspired by the typical herb omelette that Cambodians love to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a filling snack. It’s a delicious herbaceous eggs dish made with a beloved Cambodian green that is foraged and farmed. Stinky when raw, it’s sweet, garlicky and comforting when fried in butter.
Our Cambodian saom omelette recipe is made with a beloved Cambodian herb called saom. Known in English as climbing wattle or acacia leaf, saom is called cha-om in Thailand 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 here in Cambodia, but it’s mostly foraged. Cambodians were foragers well before it was fashionable. The natural instinct is to pluck something from the backyard, the neighbour’s yard, the side of the road, or anywhere in and around the village where things grow.
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Cambodian Saom Omelette Recipe for an Herbaceous Weekend Eggs Dish with Foraged Greens
“I really need to get out to the villages and get some wild herbs and things that we don’t have here in Siem Reap and grow them,” a Siem Reap chef friend said to me recently, and it’s not the first time a Cambodian chef has said that.
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 for major holidays such as Khmer New Year or Pchum Ben.
For rural people and 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 find on their foraging trips 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 or sa’om. When we used to host culinary tours and food and travel writing and photography retreats, we would stop to point out saom if we saw it growing wild or stop by a farm to show participants if we spotted a villager collecting saom or pruning a bush.
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 need to take care, as there’ll be thorns on the feathery stalks. They’re tiny on young saom, which is best for cooking, and need to be removed.
The first time we saw saom being collected many years ago in the countryside in Battambang I asked our dear driver cum guide, Mr Ol, what it was used for. When he said “omelette”, I knew I had to try it and make it. Saom omelettes are sold in markets, at roadside stalls, and modest local eateries.
Saom omelettes are rarely on restaurant menus. If you’re on holidays in Cambodia, ask your hotel chef to make it for you during your stay. Cambodians are so lovely and so eager for travellers to try their food, I’m sure you’ll find a saom omelette delivered to your table the next morning. I loved the saom omelette the first time I tried it and I’m you’ll love it too if you’re fond of herb omelettes.
A warning: when raw, saom has a stinky fishy smell, but don’t let that put you off. Once cooked, especially when fried in butter, the smell is replaced by enticing, comforting, sweet garlicky aromas.
Cambodians typically eat saom omelettes with a dish of fish sauce on the side, which is also fantastic with another Cambodian omelette made with prahok (fermented fish) and pork, another of my favourites. I practically soak that omelette in fish sauce!
If you enjoy this Cambodian saom omelette, also try this climbing wattle frittata recipe.
Tips to Making This Cambodian Saom Omelette Recipe
This Cambodian saom omelette recipe is very straightforward if you know how to make a good French-style omelette. Of course if you want to make a very traditional Cambodian saom omelette, you can fry it up in the local style that’s typical of this kind of Southeast Asian omelette. More on that below.
The most time-consuming part of this Cambodian saom omelette recipe is preparing the saom because of the 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 collected in the process.
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 container or zip-lock bag.
We’ve said that our Cambodian saom omelette recipe is ‘inspired by’ the traditional Cambodian saom omelette recipe and that’s because Cambodians tend to like their omelettes cooked thinner and browner so that the edges are almost crispy.
We generally prefer our eggs to be cooked less and the omelette to be thicker and softer so we use this classic French omelette technique. However, of course you can make this in the Cambodian style, which I love for the wonderful pork and prahok omelette (link above), which is another of my favourites.
I’m happy to eat my Cambodian saom omelette on its own, however, locals here in Cambodia love to sprinkle white pepper on their omelette, dip it in fish sauce, and eat it with a baguette. However you eat it, make sure you wash it down with a strong Cambodian coffee made with condensed milk.
Published 3 September 2016; updated 19 April 2021
Cambodian Saom Omelette Recipe
- 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 make our Cambodian saom omelette recipe or do you have a good climbing wattle omelette recipe of your own? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.