This authentic nom banh chok recipe for Cambodia’s beloved Khmer Noodles makes nom banh chok samlor proher, a popular breakfast dish of freshly-made rice noodles doused in a yellow-green coconut-based fish gravy that at its best is richer and creamier than other iterations of this dish. It’s garnished with fragrant herbs, seasonal vegetables, edible flowers, and wild herbs.

Nom banh chok refers to both the fresh ever-so-lightly-fermented rice noodles that are still made daily by hand by artisanal noodle makers all over Cambodia, just as they’ve always been made, as well as the delicious breakfast noodle dish, comprised of the rice noodles doused in a soup, ‘gravy’ or curry, served with seasonal vegetables, and garnished with fragrant herbs, foraged leaves, and edible flowers.

Cambodia’s most beloved dish, Cambodia’s most quintessential dish, and Cambodia’s national dish for so many Cambodians – indicative by the fact that locals translate the dish to foreigners as ‘Khmer noodles’ – nom banh chok has long been ‘Cambodia in a bowl’ for me and is perhaps my most favourite Cambodian food and one of my favourite Southeast Asian noodle dishes.

Centred around Cambodia’s indigenous noodles, nom banh chok showcases Cambodia’s much-loved ingredients – rice, prahok, fish, coconut milk, palm sugar, seasonal vegetables, and kroeung, the spice paste distinguished by aromatics such as lemongrass and kaffir lime that are so intrinsic to Cambodian cuisine – and is garnished with the foraged wild leaves, aromatic herbs and edible flowers so important to Cambodians for their fragrance and flavour, as much as their sense of aesthetics.

If you’ve visited Siem Reap’s majestic Angkor Wat and the Angkor temples, admired their sublime sculptures and carvings, witnessed its ancient traditions of dance, music and martial arts, stepped inside a traditional wooden house, and wrapped a Cambodian silk scarf around your shoulders, then you’ll know exactly what I mean.

But before I tell you more about this Cambodian nom banh chok recipe, we have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is reader-supported, which means we rely on income generated by our readers to continue to publish recipes and food and travel stories on the site.

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Now let me tell you about this nom banh chok recipe for Cambodia’s beloved Khmer Noodles.

Authentic Nom Banh Chok Recipe for Cambodia’s Beloved Khmer Noodles

When we fell in love with Cambodian cuisine on our first trip to Siem Reap almost a decade ago – embarrassingly only discovering Cambodian food after 25 years eating and cooking Asian cuisines such as Thai, and Vietnamese – it was thanks to a handful of quintessential Cambodian dishes that we’ve been cooking ever since.

There was prahok k’tis, a rich dip of prahok (fermented fish), pork mince and pea eggplants, eaten with fresh crunchy vegetable crudités; a gentle aromatic Cambodian chicken curry that was comforting than the fiery Thai curries that we loved; a rich, complex Saramann curry that felt like a cousin to Thailand’s Massaman curry; and a green vegetable-driven sour beef soup called samlor machou kroeung sach ko; and, of course, nom banh chok.

Then why did it take us so long to publish a nom banh chok recipe for a noodle dish that is not only one of Cambodia’s favourite street food dishes, but also one of our favourite dishes? Mainly because nom banh chok is so ubiquitous and so affordable here in Siem Reap, sold from market stalls, on the streets by mobile vendors, and at specialised eateries that only make and sell nom banh chok, that until we began recipe-testing for our Cambodian cookbook, we didn’t bother cooking nom banh chok at home.

I’ve written about nom banh chok extensively on Grantourismo during our almost eight years researching Cambodian cuisine, so click through to this post on everything you need to do about nom banh chok if the dish is new to you and you want questions answered such as what is nom banh chok, what are the different types of nom banh chok and how do you actually eat nom bahn chok because in this post I’m going to focus on this nom banh chok recipe for nom banh chok samlor proher.

A ‘samlor’ refers to both a soup and stew, something that often confounds newcomers to Cambodian food, and ‘proher’ means fragrant, perfumed, aromatic – the perfect name for this nom banh chok, which can be served as a light noodle soup or doused in a filling curry-like fish ‘gravy’.

Note that if you’re keen to do further research, that there’s no standardisation of Khmer, so you’ll also see ‘samlor’ written as ‘somlor’, ‘somlar’ and ‘slor’ – a new trend, which our translator loathes – and ‘proher’ written as ‘proheur’, ‘broheu’ and ‘prahar’.

‘Nom banh chok’ is the name of the dish as well as the fresh rice noodles. ‘Nom’, also written as ‘noum’ and ‘num in Khmer, is one of these all-encompassing words that describes something made from rice flour, such as cakes and noodles, while ‘banh chok’, also written as ‘ban chok’, ‘banhchok’, ‘pan chok’, and ‘pachok’, has slightly different meanings for different Cambodians I’ve consulted over the years, from ‘something eaten’ to ‘being fed something’, but not exactly food, which is ‘mahop’ or ‘mahob’.

So what distinguishes this nom banh chok recipe for samlor proher and what makes it so ‘authentic’? While I obviously appreciate that ‘authenticity’ is a loaded term, this nom banh chok recipe is authentic to this particular time and place. This recipe makes the kind of nom banh chok you’ll find in Cambodia, particularly at one of my favourite Siem Reap market stalls.

It is very different to a bizarre ‘Khmer Noodles’ recipe on the New York Times that uses wide noodles and includes pork, pork mince, large fresh shrimps, preserved cabbage, soy sauce, parsley leaves, Chinese hot sauce, and Hoisin sauce. I guarantee you will not find any ‘Khmer Noodles’ like this in Cambodia. I’m wondering if they’ve confused nom banh chok with Cambodia’s kuy teav, but even so it’s an odd kuy teav.

A recipe on a New Zealand site starts off well with a fish stock made from a whole fish – even I haven’t done that here! – but then quickly goes downhill when the writer recommends a chilli seafood paste called ‘sate trieu-chau’, which in no way, shape or form resembles any of the kroeungs (spice pastes) used as a base for nom banh chok, and then writes “but any chilli- and fish-based paste will do, or use Thai red curry paste instead” Eek!

Most Cambodian nom banh chok recipes don’t even include chilli, except as a condiment, and you’ll notice if you click through to my post above that aside from two types of nom banh chok, most are yellow-green in colour, made from a yellow/green kroeung, so the last thing you want to add is a Thai red curry paste. Now let me share some tips for making this nom banh chok recipe for samlor proheur.

Authentic Nom Banh Chok Recipe for Cambodia's Beloved Khmer Noodles. Copyright © 2021 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Tips to Making this Cambodian Nom Banh Chok Samlor Proher Recipe

Our Cambodian nom banh chok recipe makes a batch of nom banh chok that will feed four people or two incredibly hungry people, so just double or quadruple the recipe if you’re making it for a family or group of friends.

We recommend making the yellow kroeung (spice paste) for this nom banh chok recipe in a mortar and pestle as we’re big fans of making as much as we can by hand; we actually find pounding spices pastes in the mortar and pestle therapeutic – the sound is music to my ears! – and we think pounded pastes taste better than those blitzed in a blender.

It’s best to use a stone or granite mortar and pestle for pounding pastes, but a big wooden mortar and pestle, which are fantastic for salads, will work if that’s all you have and be fine for pounding your fish. If you’ve never used a mortar and pestle before, we have some tips. Pounding spice pastes also provides a fab workout for the arms, but we get that some people are just too busy or it’s not a priority, so by all means use a blender.

You will have some of the Khmer spice paste leftover, which you can pop in a well-sealed tupperware container and keep in the fridge for a few days or freeze in a resealable plastic bag. You can use it for so many other dishes, from the soup I mentioned above to these fantastic smoky skewers, fragrant stir-fried chicken, this succulent roast chicken, fragrant fish cakes, and this super easy but incredibly sand in Cambodia’s famous fish amok, which is essentially a rich steamed fish curry.

Cambodians love their freshwater fish, which they catch from the lake and rivers, especially snakehead fish, however, we know that the taste is too ‘muddy’ for a lot of foreigners. You can use your favourite soft white fish for this nom banh chok recipe instead. Anything from the whiting or cod family will work. The fish is typically pounded with the kroeung here, but you’ll find with a soft fish that you can probably mash it right in the pan or pot. Do whatever works best, as long as it is well combined in the ‘gravy’.

Prahok, Cambodia’s famous fermented fish paste, can be hard to find outside the country. Prahok gives dishes a funky salty flavour. If you can’t find prahok, you can use fish sauce or even shrimp paste in this nom banh chok recipe. Palm sugar is another ingredient that readers tell us can be tricky to find. Use brown sugar instead, as you want that caramel taste, otherwise raw sugar or white sugar.

When it comes to the herbs, flowers and vegetables we recommend for this nom banh chok recipe, keep in mind that Cambodians use what’s in season and to hand, so don’t worry if you can’t find wing beans, banana flower or water lily stems. Try long beans or any green beans, shredded cabbage and perhaps celery stems. The same goes for the fresh fragrant herbs.

Part of the fun of tucking into a bowl of nom banh chok in Cambodia is selecting your own fragrant herbs, foraged leaves and edible flowers from a basket on the table, so if you’re cooking for a group of friends or family, highly recommend doing the same. In pandemic times, you might want to provide individual mini-baskets for each guest – or gloves.

Authentic Nom Banh Chok Samlor Proher Recipe

Authentic Nom Banh Chok Recipe for Cambodia's Beloved Khmer Noodles. Copyright © 2021 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Authentic Nom Banh Chok Recipe for Cambodia's Beloved Khmer Noodles

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Course: Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch
Cuisine: Cambodian / Khmer
Servings: 4 Servings
Calories: 564kcal
Author: Lara Dunston

Ingredients

  • 200 g lemongrass stalks peeled chopped and outer layers discarded
  • 1 tbsp galangal peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 tsp fresh turmeric peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 tbsp finger-root also called Chinese keys/lesser galangal, peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves citrus hystrix/krouch soeuch, chopped finely
  • 1 tsp kaffir lime zest
  • 5 garlic cloves peeled and chopped finely
  • 2 shallots peeled and chopped finely
  • 400 g fish fillets freshwater fish such as snakehead, or any white fish, such as cod, whiting, hake, tilapia etc
  • 1 tsp prahok optional, mashed and strained
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp fish sauce or to taste
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 600 ml coconut milk or coconut cream or a combination of both
  • 500 g fresh rice noodles or dried rice vermicelli, cooked to instructions on pack
  • 200 g bean sprouts blanched and drained
  • 1 large cucumber grated or julienned
  • 2 water lily stems sliced into ½ cm-wide rounds
  • 4 medium-sized wing beans sliced into ½ cm-widths
  • 1 small banana blossom shredded, soaked in water and drained just before using

Garnish

  • 2 limes edible flowers such as purple water hyacinth (pictured), yellow sesbania bispinosa or white sesbania grandiflora, and chi (mixed fresh herbs), such as coriander, basil, mint, and laksa leaves.

Condiments

  • chilli flakes chilli sauce and fish sauce

Instructions

  • In a well-supported granite mortar, first make the yellow kroeung (spice paste) by pounding the lemongrass with the pestle until you can no longer see the rings of the lemongrass and it's all mashed up.
  • Gradually add each of the galangal, turmeric, finger-root, kaffir lime leaves and zest and pound until they're incorporated into the mashed lemongrass.
  • Add the garlic and pound, then add the shallots and pound, until the paste is smooth, but still has some fibres from the lemongrass. Transfer the kroeung to a well-sealed container to refrigerate.
  • In a medium-sized pot or pan, poach the fish fillets with the prahok (mash and strain, ensuring there are no bones) or 2 tablespoons of fish sauce, palm sugar, and enough water to cover the fish, until the fish is cooked.
  • If the fish is soft enough, mash it in the pot with 4 tablespoons of kroeung and the juices. Alternatively, remove the fish fillets (leave the juices), transfer them to the mortar, and pound the fish with the kroeung until well combined.
  • Transfer the pounded fish-kroeung mixture to a medium-sized soup pot if you poached the fish in a pan, then add the coconut milk/cream, another tablespoon of fish sauce, and taste, adding more fish sauce or salt or palm sugar if needed, so that it’s balanced. Bring to a gentle boil then turn the heat down to low to simmer for 5-10 minutes, adding a little water if desired.
  • If you don’t have access to fresh rice noodles, prepare the dried rice vermicelli according to the instructions on the pack, drain and set aside to cool.
  • Bring the fish gravy to a gentle boil then turn the heat down to low to simmer for 5-10 minutes, adding a little water if desired if it reduces too much. When it’s ready, turn the heat off as it should be served warm to room temperature, but not hot.
  • If you don’t have access to fresh rice noodles, prepare the dried rice vermicelli according to the instructions on the pack, drain and set aside to cool.
  • Prep the vegetables, herbs and flowers while the rice noodles are cooling, then distribute them amongst the bowls, first placing the shredded banana blossom in the bottom of the bowl and then the rice noodles on top of these to diminish browning.
  • Ladle the fragrant fish gravy over the rice noodles, distributing evenly amongst the bowls, then arrange the bean sprouts, cucumber, water lily stems, and wing beans on top of the noodles.
  • Garnish each bowl with lime quarters, some edible flowers and chi (fresh herbs), and provide additional flowers and herbs in a basket at the centre of the table, along with condiments such as chilli flakes, chilli sauce and fish sauce.
  • Serve with a spoon and chopsticks and advise your guests if eating nom banh chok for the first time to use the chopsticks to combine the noodles, vegetables and garnish, and then taste before adding more garnish and condiments.

Nutrition

Calories: 564kcal | Carbohydrates: 37g | Protein: 28g | Fat: 38g | Saturated Fat: 32g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 51mg | Sodium: 1380mg | Potassium: 1375mg | Fiber: 6g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 86IU | Vitamin C: 27mg | Calcium: 112mg | Iron: 9mg

Please do let us know if you make our Cambodian nom banh chok recipe for nom banh chok samlor proheur in the comments below as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.

End of Article

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