Whenever someone asks me what I am doing in Siem Reap, I give them these answers: hosting travelers, going around the city on a bicycle, hopping from one swimming pool to another and eating Khmer street food.
Back in the Philippines, I have been used to eating street food since I was a kid. Right outside our school, we had a lot from green mangoes with shrimp paste, fish balls, sweet potato chips and banana cue, spaghetti sandwich that my Mom worried every time my brother and I ate food from the street because she thought they weren’t safe or clean to eat. But what is really safe to eat anyway?
So, that didn’t stop me and my brother. We have really been big fans of street food that there’s no day when I am walking without eating something.
So, now that I am in Siem Reap, it’s like a heaven of street food for me. Khmer food is very similar to Filipino cuisine that every taste brings me back to my home country. However, Khmer food has more twist in its taste than Filipino food with the way they use more spices, leaves and how they mix them with just about anything. To be honest, they have better street food than my own country. More than real street food, if there’s such comparision. And no, Cambodian food aren’t spicy.
The streets of Siem Reap offer a lot of food for both locals and tourists that you won’t really go hungry while roaming around the city before and after you go to Angkor Wat. Nor would you go broke.
Below are my favorite street food and will be updated every now and then until I get on our next destination.
This may not be considered as a street food by most people however I do because coconuts are almost everywhere in Siem Reap especially in residential areas. Like the Philippines, Cambodia never run out of coconuts. And this is one of the main reasons why I easily decided to stay in Siem Reap longer than I originally planned. $.50 for one coconut.
First day in Siem Reap, we had our coconuts and I told my friend I am going to rent one of their apartments. Easy, breazy.
2. Pong tia koon (Balut as it is called in the Philippines) or duck’s egg.
In the Philippines, it’s only available at night. However, here in Siem Reap, you can eat them anytime of the day. And the Khmers eat them with rice for dinner. I tried to eat it the way they do but I prefer to eat it as it is just like the Filipino way.
On our first 2 weeks in Siem Reap, I only knew how to get to Pub Street. On one of my coffee afternoons with Elmo, I saw a vendor preparing some eggs which I was sure looked like Balut. I approached her and sure, I was right. $1 for 3 poh tia koon.
3. Fruit shakes
Home is wherever you meet old and new friends. From volunteering in Leyte right after the super typhoon Haiyan, giving slippers to children in Malapascua Island, being a part of the making of Let’s Do It Philippines, coffee in Cebu and now fruit shakes in Siem Reap. Noel, my very good friend, made sure to see us when he and his friends visited Cambodia earlier this month.
Siem Reap is a little hotter than our home country that we fancy drinking some fruit shakes for $1/glass. You see them around Pub Street at any time of the day. It is really refreshing especially with the hot weather in the country.
4. Bread and lots of bread.
I haven’t tried eating the Khmer sandwich sold along the streets however I have my breadman who passes by our house every day at 4PM. $.50 for a loaf of bread ($.90-$1 in most groceries store or bakeshops). Other breads or cakes for $.75 each.
5. Nhum Krouk
Since we first arrived in Cambodia at the end of July, we only had the free ASEAN visa for 21 days. Originally, the plan was to stay only for a week or so. However, on the first day I decided for us to stay longer. For three time, Elmo and I had to do border runs before our visa expired. It was fun to go in and out Thailand for just a few minutes. However, on our third border run, I finally decided to take the regular visa or the business visa as it is called which is good for 30 days only. Then we can extend for as long as 12 months without having to leave the country anymore.
While we were waiting for the shared car we were riding back from Poipet to Siem Reap, I saw local drivers lining up to buy some snacks. I just knew it must be something really good to eat for these locals to be around the food cart. Nhum Krouk, so far, is my most favorite street food! They usually sell them in the afternoon.
Since the guy didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Khmer, I just gave him 1,000riels and waited for him to give me something back. I had two Nhum Krouk which makes it 500riels each!
6. Nhum Chhack
Cambodia has a lot of rice cakes just like the Philippines. No words can describe how much I love rice cakes. And Siem Reap is feeding me well! One pack costs 3000riels or $.75. You can choose to get the assorted one to taste a little bit of everything. Or one slice for 500Riels.
My favorite is the coconut wrap. Okay, I just made that name. It’s some coconut meat, sugar and peanuts wrapped in a thin pancake. The coconut filling just taste the same with our very own Philippines’ Palitaw.
The time I first tasted Lotchet was the same time I first visited Road 60, our favorite place in Siem Reap. Elmo’s favorite playground and my happy place. Khmer families spend time in this place after a busy day from work and school. The young ones spend time with their friends on the side of the road with the motorbikes parked. They laugh and I wish I could speak and understand Khmer to join in the conversation.
Apart from how cheap the food can be in this place, it is my favorite place because I see people with simple happiness. Parents smile as they look out for their children playing in the air slide or riding the duck train or the bumper cars. Children are just so happy to experience what is already fancy for them. For $.75, Elmo can go on the slide until he gets tired while I munch on any food that I crave for.
Lotchet has been one of my favorite snacks while I wait for Elmo. It’s similar to Philippines’ Halo-Halo and Malaysia’s Cendol with crushed ice, milk and anything you mix in it like fruits, dried seaweed or even mung beans for $.75 only.
And whenever I need to have some time off from thinking of what to do next in our lives, Elmo and I go to Road 60. The simple happiness and positive energy from the people spending time in this place can be really contagious.
8. Curry noodles
Curry noodles is a very common food for Khmers both on the streets or at home. You may find them easily on Road 60 where they sit on reed mats on the grass. And yes, you eat on the mat.
For only $.75, you get some noodles, curry sauce with some vegetables like carrots, potato and/or slices of banana heart. You also have the options to add some leaves and chili in it. Khmer curry isn’t spicy at all.
I love donuts! No filling or cream needed, just the classic ones please. Should I say more? Even in the Philippines, the local way of making donuts is so much better than those commercial brands. Happily, when I tasted the Khmer donuts, boy did it bring me back home again!
10. Lot Char
Lot Char is simply stir fried noodles with bean sprouts and eggs. I have only tried it around Pub Street where most street food is a little more expensive than in Road 60. I had it for $1 which is a decent price in a touristy place.
It’s really good especially after I had some beer, on my way back home. They are still up until everyone is done partying in Pub Street, somewhere on the river side.
Within my two months of living in this side of the world, there are still a lot I haven’t tasted yet. Cambodian food is simple yet they have a good variety. As we stay longer here, this list of street will surely be updated with our own stories behind it. Siem Reap has become our first home away from home and everything is just special for us here.