Saramann Curry (Cari Saramann or Saraman), Siem Reap, Cambodia. Cambodia's Rich and Spicy Saraman Curry Recipe – How to Make Cambodian Cari Saramann. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Cambodia’s Rich and Spicy Saraman Curry Recipe for Cambodia Cari Saramann

This post may contain affiliate links.

Cambodia’s Saraman curry or cari Saramann is the richest of the Cambodian curries and the most complex. A cousin of the Thai Massaman curry and beef Rendang of Malaysia, its time-consuming nature makes it a special occasion dish for Cambodians, particularly in the Cham Muslim communities of Cambodia.

The similarity between Cambodia‘s Saraman curry and Thailand’s Massaman curry (also written as Mussaman curry) lies in the base curry paste with just a few ingredients setting the Saraman curry apart. That’s the use of star anise, sometimes turmeric, dry roasted grated coconut, and roasted peanuts – which makes this one of our best recipes with nuts.

The dry roasted coconut is what the Saraman curry has in common with Malaysia’s beef Rendang, helping to give the curry that beautiful rich, thick gravy that has you adding yet another spoonful of rice to your bowl just to mix it with the sauce.

Before I tell you more about the Saraman curry, we have a favour to ask. Grantourismo is reader-funded. If you’ve enjoyed our recipes, especially our Cambodian recipes, please consider supporting Grantourismo.

One way you could support our work on Grantourismo is to buy us a coffee and we’ll use that donation to buy cooking ingredients for recipe testing. Another way is to donate to our epic original Cambodian cuisine history and cookbook on Patreon.

Saraman Curry Recipe – How to Make Cambodian Cari Saramann

We’ve done a great deal of research on all three curries in recent years for the Cambodian culinary history and cookbook that we’ve been working on, and as a result we’ve had many conversations with Cambodians, Thais and Malays about these dishes.

While discussing the Cambodian Saraman curry recipe with some old Cambodian cooks with intimate knowledge of the dish’s recipe and long experience cooking it, they were horrified to learn that some Cambodian cookbook recipes include shrimp paste on the list of ingredients.

“We don’t use shrimp paste here, we use prahok (fermented fish)! Thais use shrimp paste,” one of the old ladies told us firmly.

Which brings us to one of the conundrums of documenting the cuisine and recipe writing. How do we remain faithful to the authentic recipes and respect the cuisine, while acknowledging that some ingredients might not be available to people outside the region or the country where it originates?

Should a quest for ‘authenticity’, as loaded as that idea is, and a respect for the country’s culinary heritage mean that we simply shouldn’t cook the dish at all if we can’t find the ingredients?

Saramann Curry (Cari Saramann or Saraman), Siem Reap, Cambodia. Cambodia's Rich and Spicy Saraman Curry Recipe – How to Make Cambodian Cari Saramann. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Chef David Thompson has no qualms in telling people that they should not cook a dish if they can’t obtain the right ingredients. At a cooking demonstration by the chef that I attended in Singapore in 2014, he amusingly told a participant to move to a more civilised country where he can get real coconut cream, rather than use a store bought tin.

An American pastry chef who lives in Paris recently slighted David Thompson in a blog post because David didn’t offer substitutes for ingredients in his cookbook. I can just imagine David’s response to that… in two words.

David’s huge tome, Thai Food, is just as much a reference and compendium of Thai food and the history of Thai cuisine as it is a cookbook. It makes no promises to pander to the cook who wants to knock out a curry on a Saturday night after a brief trip to the local supermarket duopoly.

While it is easy to find coconut milk on the shelves around the world (don’t tell David, but I’d be happy to make a curry with store-bought coconut cream if I had a desperate longing for a Thai curry), you’re not going to find prahok on the average supermarket shelf.

You’ll have to do a fair bit of detective work. Start by figuring out the suburbs where your city’s Cambodian diaspora resides and head there. At the very least, investigate the city’s best Asian supermarkets and Asian grocery stores.

Regardless of how our old Cambodian cooks believe an authentic cari Saramann should be made, every recipe for Saraman curry in the modern Cambodian cookbooks on our bookshelves calls for shrimp paste to be used in the curry paste and not prahok.

“The reason that you’ll see shrimp paste on the list of ingredients for this dish is its history,” says chef Jo Rivieres of Cuisine Wat Damnak, arguably one of the most knowledgeable of the working expat chefs in Cambodia when it comes to Cambodian recipes.

While chef Jo doesn’t pander to guests with the most obvious dishes, on occasion I have sampled his Cari Saramann – and it’s delicious. But there’s no shrimp paste in sight.

“I don’t have shrimp paste in my kitchen, it’s just not part of Khmer cuisine,” the chef says.

Note the distinction he’s clearly making between ‘Cambodian’ cuisine and ‘Khmer’ cuisine.

Cambodian cuisine has both influenced as much as it has absorbed the influences of other cuisines, including Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese, while Khmer cuisine is more ‘pure’ in the eyes of Cambodia’s Khmer people.

The Khmers, along with the Mons, are the oldest people’s of Southeast Asia, and Khmer cuisine, being the oldest living cuisine, is the Cambodia’s ‘true’ indigenous cuisine, with influences that date well beyond the Khmer Empire to India, and an influence upon all of Cambodia’s neighbouring cuisines.

Indeed, one well-regarded Khmer-American chef and cookbook writer, Narin Seng Jameson, in her book Cooking the Cambodian Way, calls the Saraman curry paste an Indian-style curry paste and the curry itself, a ‘Salman curry’. She uses shrimp paste and the addition of a powder of dried caraway seeds (also known as Persian cumin) in her paste.

Cambodia’s Cham Muslim people, however, consider the Saraman curry to be their dish, so it is therefore not actually Khmer. The Chams have historically been fishing people, living on the coast, lake and rivers, and use shrimp paste. So you could indeed use shrimp paste guilt-free.

While the provenance of Saraman curry is Cham rather than Khmer, it’s a knockout dish, as so many Cambodian dishes are.

When served family-style with an array of other dishes, including rice, a soup, vegetables, and maybe a salad — which is the traditional way of eating here in Cambodia – everyone usually just takes one piece of meat and some sauce until everyone has had some.

It’s hard not to go back for another spoonful before the meal ends. But keep in mind that everyone else at the table is probably eyeing those last pieces off too.

A final note: while we’ve tweaked this Saraman curry recipe a lot over the nearly ten years since we first published this post, the original recipe was adapted from Authentic Cambodian Recipes, from Mother to Daughter by Sorey Long and Kanika Linden.

While a lot of Cambodian cooks we’ve interviewed over the years claim it’s clear that the recipes are firmly aimed at an American audience — Sorey Long left Cambodia to move abroad following the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975 – it’s still an excellent resource on Cambodian cuisine if you live outside Cambodia.

Saraman Curry Paste Recipe

Saramann Curry (Cari Saramann or Saraman), Siem Reap, Cambodia. Cambodia's Rich and Spicy Saraman Curry Recipe – How to Make Cambodian Cari Saramann. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Saraman Curry (Cari Saramann) Paste

The Cambodian Saraman Curry or Cari Saramann is the richest of the Khmer curries and the most complex. This is how to make the Saraman curry paste.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 0 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine Cambodian
Servings made with recipe150 g
Calories 254 kcal


  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 pieces star anise - cracked a little
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 green cardamoms
  • 5 cm cinnamon stick - broken into small pieces
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • 5 dried red chillis - soaked, drained, seeded and chopped
  • 4 lemongrass stalks - outer part removed and very finely chopped
  • 5 shallots - peeled and chopped
  • 15 cloves garlic - peeled and chopped
  • 3 tsp galangal - peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp kaffir lime zest
  • 2 tsp shrimp paste
  • 1 tsp coriander root - cleaned and chopped
  • ½ tsp turmeric fresh - peeled and chopped
  • 100 g grated coconut - dry roasted


  • Dry roast the dry spices in a pan over low heat. If you have time, it’s best to do each spice separately as they all cook at a different pace.
  • Remove the cardamom seeds from the pods and discard the pods.
  • Grind the spices, either in a mortar and pestle or a coffee/spice grinder.
  • Add the grated coconut to the mortar and pestle or to the spices if you used a spice grinder.
  • Add the ‘wet’ ingredients (fresh herbs, and so on) one by one, starting with the hardest ingredient (the lemongrass), and pound it into a fine paste.
  • Roast the shrimp paste in a banana leaf or aluminium foil over low heat to release the aromas and then add to the Saraman curry paste you've made so far. Combine well.


This makes around 150 g of paste and can keep refrigerated for a couple of days. I have frozen some paste after making a large batch and it holds up pretty well when used for the recipe below.


Serving: 150gCalories: 254kcalCarbohydrates: 51gProtein: 10gSodium: 6.797mgFiber: 20g

Saraman Curry Recipe


Saramann Curry (Cari Saramann or Saraman), Siem Reap, Cambodia. Cambodia's Rich and Spicy Saraman Curry Recipe – How to Make Cambodian Cari Saramann. Copyright © 2022 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Saraman Curry (Cari Saramann) Recipe

AuthorTerence Carter
The Cambodian Saraman Curry or Cari Saramann is the richest of the Khmer curries and the most complex. This is how to make the final curry.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Course Main
Cuisine Cambodian
Servings made with recipe4 -6 Sevings
Calories 635 kcal


  • 150 gr Saramann curry paste - see recipe above
  • 250 ml coconut cream
  • 250 ml coconut milk
  • 500 gm beef fillet cut into 5 cm cubes
  • 100 gm roasted unsalted peanuts — extra for serving
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 ½ tbsp tamarind water


  • Heat a wok to medium heat and add a little vegetable oil and a teaspoon of the curry paste you have just made.
  • Add the cubes of beef and brown them all over. This should take around 10 minutes.
  • Remove the beef cubes, lower the heat, add the coconut cream and the curry paste. Stir until the paste is incorporated into the coconut cream.
  • Return the beef to the wok and increase the heat until almost to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and leave for one hour, checking regularly to ensure that there is enough sauce to cover the meat. If it doesn’t cover the meat add some water or stock.
  • After one hour add the palm sugar, fish sauce, tamarind water, and peanuts. You can taste for seasoning now, but it’s better to wait another hour. Leave the curry uncovered on a light simmer.
  • After two hours the sauce should have thickened and you should have nice separation between the sauce and oil. This is a good thing. Check the meat to see if it’s fall-apart tender. You may have to keep cooking it for another hour at least, depending on the cut of meat.
  • As the sauce reduces further, add the coconut milk gradually. You can now adjust the seasoning, using more palm sugar to make it sweeter or fish sauce to intensify the flavour by making it more salty.
  • When it’s nearly ready to serve, I like to add a little ‘zing’ with a couple of lightly crushed birds-eye chillis. Completely optional.
  • Sprinkle on the rest of the peanuts and serve with steamed rice, some pickled vegetables, or a baguette to mop up that delicious sauce, as the Cambodians do.


Serving: 1gCalories: 635kcalCarbohydrates: 27.1gProtein: 35.7gFat: 44.6gSaturated Fat: 17.8gSodium: 2759mgFiber: 3.5gSugar: 7.5g

This post is part of our Year of Asian Cookbooks series.


Lara Dunston Patreon

Find Your Cambodia Accommodation


Photo of author
Terence Carter is an editorial food and travel photographer and infrequent travel writer with a love of photographing people, places and plates of food. After living in the Middle East for a dozen years, he settled in South-East Asia a dozen years ago with his wife, travel and food writer and sometime magazine editor Lara Dunston.

18 thoughts on “Cambodia’s Rich and Spicy Saraman Curry Recipe for Cambodia Cari Saramann”

  1. Looks like another curry that I’m going to have to try! I’ve always been a huge fan of curry, but have not have much experience with Cambodian food. This one sounds awesome. Anything with fish sauce, shrimp paste and lemon grass has got to be awesome!

  2. Tried and tested multiple times! Looks great in the photo, it’s an awesome dish when you cook it out properly. Too many people don’t cook it out enough…
    Thanks once again for your comments.

  3. We have our family cari saraman recipe I got from mum but tried this for your Aussie meat pie and sausage roll recipes and it was seriously good we wanted to eat it all. Will be making everything again!! Thank you!!!5 stars

  4. Greetings Sopheakna, glad you liked it. It’s hard to choose between the two recipes. I like sausage rolls as a snack and those meaty pies as more a big lunch! Happy cooking.

  5. Terence, we’ve made many of your recipes over the years since our first trip to Cambodia but just made this one for the first time last weekend. Loved it so much we’ll make it again this weekend. Bob and I love the oil, but the kids didn’t. Should we take it off the stove earlier?5 stars

  6. Greetings Kerry,
    In terms of cooking time, more time is better. So a lot of the oil comes from the coconut cream as well as some of the vegetable vegetable oil (remember you just need a little to stop the paste from sticking). You can try to scoop off the oil for the kids’ plates. A better solution is to put it in the fridge and soon the oil will separate from the curry. You can scoop this off then. But don’t throw it away, Bob might not like this as it’s a feature of the dish, not a bug ;)

  7. Looks great, but I am curious about using fillet for such a robust dish with such a long cook time. Surely something like shin would be much more suitable & in fact, flavoursome. Love the look of the paste.
    Cheers K.

  8. Sure Kath, that’s fine. But we can’t get good cuts of shin or oxtail locally and when we can source them they end up cooking with an odd flavour, so I can’t really test the recipe with them. In Battambang they use goat for this curry, but it’s not really commercially available here and the Muslim communities raise and butcher the goats themselves. If you’re living in a location where you can get goat meat, give that a try over beef.

    Note that I state in the recipe that after two hours “you may have to keep cooking it for another hour at least, depending on the cut of meat.” So beef fillet will be fall-apart by that stage and with better braising cuts like shank and brisket you could go way longer.
    Thanks for your comment,

  9. Hi Terence,

    Made this with goat last night. Absolutely outstanding! Will go to our favourite goat curry file. As good as anything we had in Cambodia.Thank-you very much.

    Cheers Kath.5 stars

Leave a comment

Recipe Rating