Trying Cambodian food is a must when you’re in Cambodia! Luckily there are many restaurants in Siem Reap so you will have plenty of opportunities to do so.
For a first time encounter with Cambodian food, you might want to start with the national dish: amok.
It is a curry of sorts, but with a much milder taste than Indian curry. Because it’s also coconut based, amok is probably more comparable to Thai curries, although more mild.
Does that mean it’s not good? Not so! Although the flavor does not scream for attention, it has that subtle taste that is comforting and relaxing. There are no surprises with amok, just a simple and good hearty dish. Wow, I feel like a food critique, but never mind that. In short, I think amok is a dish that is worth trying while you’re in Cambodia.
You can usually choose either fish or chicken, but amok also comes in beef, shrimp, or pork. If you want to try something different, try the amok ‘degustation,’ which is an amok dish made from a combination of these meats.
Amok restaurant at the Passage
There is a popular restaurant in Siem Reap that is named for this national dish, and their sign boasts of having the best amok in the city. It’s located in one of the alleys of Pub street and is alongside other restaurants.
There is something about Amok though. When you first sit down at Amok for dinner, you might feel as if you’re no longer in Cambodia. The warm decor, the colorful table settings, and the white and blue china all seem to suggest that you’re anywhere but Cambodia. It’s as if you’re tucked in a little, exotic place, somewhere far, far away in the East.
But wait a minute, Cambodia does meet that description! It all comes back as soon as the waiter smiles at you. Then you’re back in the land of the smiles, Cambodia.
The food: Amok Fish
We tried the amok fish, and here it was served in a banana leaf bowl (some other places serve it in a coconut shell) and with a side of rice. There was also another little banana leaf bowl with a dipping sauce that tasted very much like the amok curry itself.
It all looked very pretty. I couldn’t wait to try it!
Turns out, it was really tasty. They combined the amok fish with other vegetables, and it all blended together. There was also a dollop of coconut cream on top, just for presentation I suppose.
Be careful with the fish, however. There was fish bone in my first bite, which I was not expecting as I thought the fish had already been deboned. I found several other bones after that first bite. That’s all fine. I was just taken a bit by surprise.
The restaurant was rather generous with their servings. The amok fish was filled to the top of the little bowl, and it was much more than I was expecting. The rice, however, was a little bit less than ‘normal.’ I suspect that they adjusted the amount rice to the type of visitors they get, mostly Europeans or North Americans (who don’t eat much rice).
For Asians like me who eat rice with everything, the small mound of rice looked a bit lacking. But all was good because I was full by the end of the meal. It was very yummy.
The food: Beef Loklak
We also tried the beek loklak, another popular Cambodian food. The beef loklak at Amok was one of the better ones I’ve tried. The best beef loklak, I think, is at The Villa Siem Reap. Don’t ask me why. I just like their version better.
Beef loklak is a dish made of stir fried beef, served with onions or red onions, on a bed of lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers.
Sometimes they also serve it with an egg prepared sunnyside up. The egg is on the side or on top like at Amok’s.
Beef loklak is a bit similar to Chinese beef stir fry. It’s a little bit sweet, and it’s another dish with no surprises.
Beef loklak, however, is served with a dipping sauce made with lime and pepper. And wow, that dipping sauce gives the dish a different taste altogether. With the dipping sauce, beef loklak is no longer semi-Chinese. It’s officially Cambodian!
I’ve found that restaurants make their dipping sauces at different intensities. At Amok, the lime dipping sauce is strong. Just one drop of it can make your face scrunch in response to the sour taste. I tried to put 1/5 of a drop of dipping sauce each time (guess how), and was rewarded with that delicious beef loklak taste.
Beef loklak is just not Cambodian without the dipping sauce!
Don’t forget about Cambodian drinks, which I think are fruitshakes at this point.
Amok does a good job with the pineapple shakes. It’s pineappley without being too strong and biting.
The thing about a shake though, is that you must drink it fast or the taste will change. The longer you wait before finishing it, the thinner it will get because the crushed ice will continue to melt. Not a big deal. Though I wish it would stay cold and thick through the entire meal.
So In Short…
The Cambodian food at Amok was so satifying. There was nothing left when we (my mom and I) finished. We left with a smile on our faces, still remembering how good the whole meal was.
Everything was great. The food was good, the service was prompt, and the price was also reasonable. The fish amok was $5.50, the beef loklak was $5.75, and the pineapple shake was $2.50.
Compared to the other restaurants nearby serving similar food, the prices at Amok are a bit higher by a dollar or two. But I guess that’s what you pay for trying the best Amok is town. It’s worth the money, that’s for sure. 😉
So if you’d like to venture into the land of Cambodian food, try the amok curries and beef loklak. After loving those two, you’ll no doubt try the other Cambodian food around.