A culinary journey and lookout for the best Siem Reap food

A culinary journey and lookout for the best Siem Reap food
June 29 17:56 2017

Going to a different country should involve immersing yourself in its culture. That may very well involve learning a few phrases and reading up on its history. But our favourite part of cultural immersion lies in engulfing ourselves with the country’s culinary delights. When you visit Cambodia you will quickly learn that its food is not “mild Thai” food but has a rich flavour of its own. Here is what you need to eat when visiting Siem Reap and where you need to go to get the best dishes.

What you need to eat in Siem Reap

siem reap food
Fish amok in a young coconut, beef lok lak and char kreung, with sago pudding from Templation

While there are Western type restaurants, especially French, you will have missed the plot entirely if you didn’t venture into some local cuisine. Here is what you need to try.

Start with fish amok, a sort of fish mousse made with any fish, fresh coconut milk, slok ngor (a bitter local herb), and kroeung which is a distinctly Khmer curry paste that has flavours of lemongrass, ginger, and turmeric. It is either served in a banana leaf, or as we had it in Templation, a young coconut.

Not that into fish? Then char kroeung is your next best option. I’ve already explained kroeung above, so this dish is basically stir fried meat in kroeung. Choose from pork or chicken and be delighted. Similar is the block shaped lok lak that is garnished with lettuce, tomato, and other seasonal veggies. This is the dish we ate most on our trip.  

A simpler dish is bai sach chrouk, or just plain old pork and rice, a Khmer breakfast staple. Enjoy the thinly sliced, slow coal grilled pork, sometimes with spices, sometimes marinated in coconut milk or garlic.

Prahok is a uniquely Khmer dish made with a base fermented fish, fresh fermented white rice noodles and then adapted to the specific region’s tastes. In Siem Reap, you will find it with a coconut and fish based curry (kroeung). It is often compared to our very own laksa when spice is added.

Kuy teav is the answer to your Vietnamese pho cravings. It is a clear broth served with vermicelli rice noodles with slices of pork or beef. Borbor is for those in need of a porridge like meal similar to congee.

Other staples include Nom banh chok (Khmer noodles), Lap Khmer (Lime-marinated Khmer beef salad) and Khmer red curry (not as spicy as you’d think). Feeling adventurous? Then nosh on some frog’s legs or red tree ants, quite delicious after getting past the fact we had ants in our mouths.

Most dishes will be served with Kampot pepper. Yum. And definitely try as many fruits as you can, there are so many we’d never heard of before and were really fun to taste. We always asked the Khmer name and English name of the fruit so we knew what we liked.

Fine-dining in Siem Reap

siem reap food
Round 1 at Cuisine Wat Damnak: Image

Sugar Palm will make your mouth water with its more traditional home-style Cambodian menu. It is a great gateway into Cambodian cuisine, as the flavours are not too pungent nor are they too Westernised. Stand outs are the authentic fish amok and Cambodian curry. The space is also really nice as it is set in a traditional wooden house. Located on Taphul Road. Open Monday-Saturday from 11.30am-3pm and then 5.30pm-10pm.

Malis has an authentic charm with a modern flare. Chef Luu Meng is always on the lookout for new recipes from around his beloved country. The food is always sourced locally (except for some items such as the beef) so there is an air of sustainability and quality. Visit for a chilled breakfast and lunch or a more formal dinner. Try the soft shell crab or fish amok. Located on Pokambor Ave. Open 6am-10pm daily.

Walk through the foliage lined pathway to Chanrey Tree, set in a traditional Khmer house. Try the prahok if you want a truly authentic, not-toned-down taste. The char kroeung is amazing and can be topped with beef, fish or frogs’ legs. Ever eaten tempura frangipanis? Well, now’s your time to shine. Located on Pokambor Ave. Open 11am-2.30pm and then 6-10pm daily.

We highly recommend a visit to Cuisine Wat Damnak. It was voted as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 as well as holding the title of Best Restaurant in Cambodia. But if the proof is in the pudding, then the pudding at Cuisine Wat Damnak is great! If you’re a foodie, this is the place to be. French chef Joannès Rivière has proven that he is a force to be reckoned with while serving traditional Cambodian cuisine with a twist. Some dishes are authentic, right down to the plating, while others take Cambodian flavour profiles yet prepared using European techniques. There is a 5 or 6 course degustation menu as well. So come hungry and book in advance. The restaurant does close two months out of the year and is only open for dinner every day of the week except Sunday and Monday. Located on Wat Damnak Street. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 6.30-9.30pm.

At Mie Café you’ll find a fusion of Cambodian and European fare. Within the traditional Khmer architecture you’ll find an experienced Swiss-trained chef in Pola Siv who uses French culinary techniques with a dash of Cambodian flavour. Like Cuisine Wat Damnak, you will find a degustation menu. Try the pork ribs, trust us. Located at #0085, Phum Treng Khum Slorgram. Open Wednesday-Monday from 11am-2pm and then 5.30-9.15pm.

The elegantly plated Cambodian dine-dining fare is not to be missed at The Embassy. With an all-female team at the helm, something not usual in Cambodia, chefs Pol and Sok will bring you something inventive, fresh and super tasty. The 5-6 course seasonal gastronomic menu and wine pairing will definitely have you calling for more. Located on Street 27 and open from 6-11pm daily.

Time to tickle your tapas tastebuds at delicious Marum. Not only will you have a delightful meal among the bushes, you’ll also be helping out a good cause. Marum is a hospitality training restaurant that was spearheaded by Friends International along with local NGO Kaliyan Mith, who is a member of a group of restaurants called Friends (forming the Tree Alliance) like the one in Hoi An. Marum is therefore a sort of school for those who want to break into the hospitality industry but are unable to. You can lick you fingers are tasting the small bites and the move over to the bigger selection of menu items. You must try the unusual lotus, jackfruit and coriander hummus. Go on, be adventurous. Located on #8A, B Phum Slokram (Between Wat Polanka and Catholic Church). Open daily from 11am-11pm.

For a local taste

siem reap food
Sample the local flavours and watch a show at Por Cuisine 

While in Siem Reap, you may be looking for some authentic Cambodian meals, something the locals would eat. For this type of fare we would recommend you go to the airy concrete and wood structure Spoons, an EGBOK initiative.

What’s EGBOK? It is a skills development social enterprise that stands for Everything’s Gonna Be OK. It provides hospitality training and education for underserved young adults. They serve only Cambodian dishes ranging from street food to home-style dishes. Located at 0142, Group 5, Pave Road (Bamboo Street), Wat Damnak Village Salakomreouk Commune. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10.30am-10pm.

Chong Phov Khmer serves some of the best local dishes with one of the best nom banh chok’s (Cambodian rice noodle soup) in Siem Reap. You can also take a cooking class there. Located in Wat Damnak Village, Sala Kamreuk Commune. Open daily from 7am-11pm.

For a local eatery with a bit of history, head over to Chep Por’s (no website or social media). Chep Por was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. After one of his children died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, he needed to support his remaining 8 children and wife. So he decided to open the rice noodle soup store that is still in existence today, even though he has passed on. Located at 7 Makara Road, near Wat Damnak pagoda and opposite the Kings Road Angkor tourist complex. Here’s a nice article by the Phnom Penh Post for a more in depth look.

Another place where you can take a fantastic cooking class is Templation by MAADS. The class is a one of a kind experience where you travel to the local farm or market and then cook a meal by the massive poolside. Having a meal here is also a great way to spend the afternoon. The eco-friendly hotel is designed using traditional Khmer architecture with emphasis on natural airflow. So it is spacious, breezy and the massive pool is a plus. They serve both local and international fare, but their Khmer dishes are some of the best we tried in Cambodia. Understated and delicious. They also have a fully stocked bar with wines and Brewpub craft beer. Located off Route du petit pont at Rok Rak Street, Modul 3, Phum Sla Kram. Contact the hotel for operating hours.

Still in the hotel restaurant mindframe? Then you’ll want to visit Maison Polanka who serve all the flavours of Cambodia. Much like Templation they focus on locally sourced, fresh produce, either picking what they need from their grounds or from the local market. Contact the hotel for operating hours.

To have some traditional Khmer while watching an Apsara performance (a traditional Cambodian dance), you can either choose Por Cuisine for a plated menu or Koulen for a buffet. Either option is tasty and the performances are fantastic. A double-whammy of culture. Por Cuisine has open from 10am-10pm and is located at No. 298, St. 22, Wat Bo Village, Sangkat Sala Kamroeuk. The performance is 1 hour and is nightly from 7.30pm-8.30pm. Koulen is open daily from 11am-10pm and is located at Street 02, Sivatha Rd. Buffet starts at 6pm and the show at 7.30pm.

Cafés in Siem Reap (with free wifi)

siem reap food
The Little Red Fox Espresso has everything your caffeinated heart desires 

First on our list of cafés and by far our favourite is Little Red Fox Espresso located in hip and happening Kandal Village along Hap Guan Street. It’s our best pick for several reasons, the first being that it serves probably the greatest coffee in Siem Reap. Aussie owned with a team of Cambodian youngsters. Come here for a delightful breakfast of Western staples like omelets or muesli. If you’re a digital nomad in need of some solace and good wifi, ascend to the second level called The Den for table and calm atmosphere. Located in the middle of Hap Guan Street in Kandal Village. Open from 6.30am-5pm daily except Wednesdays.

High ceilinged The Hive Café have a great selection of bites as well as great coffee, including breakfast, pizzas, sandwiches, juices and cakes. Located  behind the Riviera Hotel. Open 7am-6pm daily.

The retro Artillery Café with it eco-conscious organic, fair trade beans, no use of plastic bottles and freshly squeezed cold-pressed juices and smoothies. Their healthy breakfasts are also a must try. Located at Wat Bo Rd, near Street 25. Open from 7.30am to 9pm daily.

Not only does the vintage Pages Café have good coffee and food, but also a nice selection of wines. Come here to mingle with artsy expats and locals and choose from the international blackboard menu. Oh, and all-day breakfasts, another plus. Located just off Wat Bo Road opposite Viroth’s Hotel. Open from 7am-10pm daily.

If you’re shopping in Old Market and are in need of a rest, head to New Leaf Eatery for coffee, juice or even a book. Feel good that all profits, that’s right, all of the profits go to educational projects in Siem Reap. If you’re there on a Monday head to movie night for 2 bucks. Sundays include live music. Located at 306 Street 9, Old Market Quarter, one block from the riverside. Open from 8am-9.30pm daily.

Support the up and coming pastry chefs of Siem Riep in the Parisian styled Bayon Pastry School Coffee Shop run by Bayon L’Ecole School. Your purchase helps run the school, so that young girls from poorer families have a chance at success. Desserts abound, you’ll find anything from chocolate fondant to lemon meringue. Located off Taphul Road. Open daily from 7.30am-5pm except Mondays.

Similar to Bayon, Bloom Café not only provides scrumptious treats, but is a social enterprise that also helps less fortunate women gain life skills and learn about business. One word to describe Bloom: cupcakes. Gloriously decorated and delectable cupcakes. Enough said. Located at 6 Mondul, 1 Svay Dangkum on Central Market Road (one block away from Hap Guan road in Kandal Village). Open daily from 10am-5pm.

If you walk to the end of Hap Guan Street in Kandal Village, you’ll come face to face with Vibe Café. It’s a happening joint where citizens of the modern world will be welcomed. It has a new-age hipster-ish feel from its vegan menu to the super food smoothies. If you’ve spent enough time snapping photos of the temples, this will be your go-to IG spot. 10% of profits go to the Good Vibe Foundation that supports healthy eating. Located at 715 Hap Guan Street. Open daily from 7.30am-9pm and Mondays till 4.30pm.  

International Stand-outs

siem reap food
Brewpub is a great place to relax and have a cold one 

The food at the Red Piano is nothing to write home about, but you will enjoy it for its location, right above Pub Street. This is where you can voyeuristically watch the hubbub of Pub Street go by while diving into a pizza, Khmer curry or even Belgian specialties. Located at 341 Street 08. Open 7am-12.30am daily.

Keen for some Japanese in Cambodia? Take a seat at The Hashi. Or better yet get your party a private room before indulging in quality yet affordable sushi and sake. Located at Wat Bo Street next to Gloria Jean’s Coffees. 11am-3pm and then again from 6pm-11pm daily.

If you’re craving a burger, you’ll probably want to head to Kiwi-run Jungle Burger Sport’s Bar & Bistro. It’s a sports bar open daily from 11am-11pm daily, a great plus for some hair of the dog. Don’t come if you’re looking for a relaxed, calm atmosphere, this place is pumping! Located on Street 26.

A calmer place for a beer, well, actually the only microbrewery in Siem Reap, is Brewpub. Located quite a distance from Pub Street, you’ll get to lounge in the spacious breezy environment (with small pond) and play a game of darts in front of the large garden. The finger foods are also wonderful, serving a blend of local and Western fare from prawn skewers to cheeseburgers. Try the beer tasting with four different styles of brew, choose from a Blonde Ale, Golden Ale, Saison, Honey Weiss, IPA and Dark Ale and have a game of darts in the spacious area. Located at the corner of Street 05 & Shinta Mani, Phum Mondul II, Sangkat Svay Dong Kom. Open daily from 11am-11pm.

A fantastic place to socialise with people from all over the world is the Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC). It’s a watering hole for intrepid adventurers, locals and visitors, from all corners of the globe. You’ll find reporters, travelers, news correspondents and the like sharing stories and insider information. It’s located in an elegant historic building and serves an array of treats, both international and local. Or come for pre dinner drinks. Located at Pokambor Ave., next to the Royal Residence and there’s also one at the airport departure lounge! Open daily “for breakfast, lunch and dinner”.

Where to get your street food on

siem reap food
 Much like the hawker centres in Singapore, Cambodian street food is cheap and delicious

If you’re on a scavenger hunt for the best places to eat street food in Siem Reap, there are a few areas you can visit. Wat Damnak neighbourhood is a local favourite for some take-aways. It’s located on Wat Damnak Street one block from the pagoda. Try the beef skewers.

Road 60 is another place for street food stalls of all kinds from seafood to soups. It’s a place to have a truly Cambodian experience, somewhere Anthony Bourdain might have visited. Wat Damnak and Road 60 are typical food street stalls, so timings are a bit difficult to tell. Going at lunch or dinner times might be your best bet.

Along National route 6 you’ll find Siem Reap’s biggest market, Phsar Leu. If you’re there I the morning, head to the wet market in the rear or the front later in the afternoon. It’s located a bit further out, but is a great experience for the more adventurous traveler. Ride about three kilometres from Old Market on National Road 6, in the direction of Phnom Penh. Open 5am-6pm daily.

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