Eat like a local: street food in Cambodia

Fried crickets, skewered snakes and curried arachnids were on my radar well before I even set food in Cambodia. But in reality how does Cambodian street food stack up against my pre-trip Google results?

Well, let’s tick off what I have actually seen roadside:

  • Fried crickets? Yes.
  • Curried arachnids? No.
  • Skewered snakes? Yes. But it was right below a sign that said “Photo: 50 cents”, so it doesn’t count.

Insect delicacies aside, the Cambodian street food has been both an adventure and largely acceptable. Here are some of the photos I have snapped market-side.

Dumplings are one of the more common street foods. I tried one in Phnom Penh in my first days, getting half way through it before making the mistake of actually looking at what I was eating. At this point I very quickly identified a giant chunk of what I assume was probably once the rotator cuff of either a pig or a cow (hopefully not a dog..) and stopped eating. But taste-wise alone they are excellent. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my minced meat a little more minced. Like… to the unidentifiable level.

dumplings

These were a win. They are some sort of rice, coconut and cane sugar concoction mixed with sesame seeds, wrapped in palm leaves. When we asked the woman what they were she said “like biscuit!” … well, yeah. No. But still good. And for 50 cents for about twenty of them I won’t complain.

coconut treat

Today the bus ride from Siem Reap to Battambang had a quick roadside stop that did actually have the option of chill fried crickets (!) and the person in the seats across from me did buy a bag (!!). I watched in awe as she bit each one in half, sort of sucked out the insides then crunched away at the remaining exoskeleton.

crickets

And a closer look at a gourmet cricket and cockroach mix at a market in Battambang:

insects

However, on bus trips I stuck to the other options, like these Cambodian rice crispy treats. They were some sort of puffed rice, lightly deep fried with caramel sauce on top. I can’t say it was healthy, but it seemed like a better option than some of the sitting-in-the-sun-since-last-week mystery meat options.

ricecrispies

To balance out my rice treat I had some more rice. This tube of bamboo was stuffed with sweet sticky rice, black beans and some coconut. It is a bit of a trick to get all the bamboo off of the rice, but I guess this is just some added fibre.

stickyrice

Actually come to think of it most of the street food is made up of rice, coconut and sugar.  Like this rice, coconut and sugar burrito-esque thingy I had while working one morning.  Again – 50 cents!

coconutburrito

In the major cities I have yet to see a corner that doesn’t have a fresh water clam and chilli stand, but shellfish in hot sun is pushing it even for me, so I won’t be trying any even though this probably ranks among the national dishes.

Clams

However, street food doesn’t always mean some little snack with a high chance of bacterial hitchhikers on the side. When a real meal is in order you can always find a decent bowl of noodles for under a dollar.

noodle bowl

Or just some spring rolls in these ubiquitous styrofoam boxes, accompanied by the even more ubiquitous sauce-in-a-bag. Which is not inconvenient at all, unless you actually intend to use it.

spring rolls

Though if you have a hankering for rodent with your noodles there just might be the option of some fried rat on the side.

rats maybe

Also, an absolute first in my travel history: pigs are flying and hell is a skating rink because:

One month into my trip and I haven’t been food poisoned yet!!!

So, on that note I would like to dedicate this post to the travel gods who have generously decided not to leave me in this state… yet:

Kyrgystan food poisioning
Me in some yurt in Kyrgyzstan, vowing to never eat beef soup again. 2013.

Next up – Thailand! Bon appetite!

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