12 Popular Cambodian Food Ingredients

Cambodian Food Ingredients

Food ingredients when used in cooking are substances that are added to food preparations for a specific dish. Cambodian cuisine is a cooking style in Cambodian dishes while Khmer cuisine is a cuisine that is specific to Khmer people. There are different food ingredients used in Khmer cuisine. In this post, we have listed some of the most popular and often used Cambodian Food ingredients.

Popular Cambodian food Ingredients

Cambodian dishes are not as popular as compared to Thai and Vietnamese food, but Cambodian dishes are just as delicious as its neighboring countries.


There are two types of Basil used in Cambodian cuisine: Holy Basil and Thai Basil.

Holy Basil is also known as Merap prey or Chi m’rash prov. The combination of Italian basil and geranium gives this ingredient its distinctive smell. Holy Basil is usually used in Cambodian cuisine and most of the time it is added usually at the end part of the Khmer cooking process to stir fry dishes and often used as stuffing. Holy Basil can be found in Asian supermarkets. Holy Basil can also be used as an alternative to the other type of Basil which is Thai Basil.

Thai Basil or also known as Chie Nang Vorng is a food ingredient used in Cambodian cuisine. It can easily be recognized as having dark green leaf. Most of the time, it is usually used in salads and soups in Cambodian cuisine. Similar to holy basil, it is also added at the end of the dish preparation to ensure that the texture and aroma remains. Cilantro leaves and Italian basil can be used as an alternative to Thai Basil but there will be a difference when it comes to taste.

Chilli peppers

Chilli peppers or also known as capsicum is a widely used food ingredient in almost all Asian dishes most especially in Thailand, Indian, Cambodia and Indonesia. Although Chili peppers is not known until the 17th century not until the Portuguese and the Spanish introduced the ingredient. Before that, ginger and black pepper were the ingredients used in Asian cooking.

Chilli peppers comes in different sizes, shapes and even colors. Each variety can be used in any cooking but with Cambodian cuisines, the most favorite and popularly used variety is the small Bird-eye Chilli peppers.

Moderately hot Chilli are the green and the red ones, while chillies that are very hot are the tiny red and the green variety of bird’s eye chillies. The heat that comes from green chillies will usually take effect immediately while the heat from the red ones slowly appears. The green pepper tends to spoil easily that is why in most of Cambodian restaurant in Pho Places, the red birds-eyes chilli peppers is usually partnered with fresh herbs instead.

Mate Phlao Krims are dried Chilli peppers in Cambodia. These are mild Chilli peppers the size of a finger. The seeds of these peppers are removed, then it is salted and then allow to dry. Ideally, it must be soaked first before crushing. The purpose of soaking it before crushing is to remove its residual salted that was added beforehand.

Coriander (Coriandrum Sativum)

Coriander is also known as as Chinese Parsely or Cilantro. This is perhaps the most popular and commonly used herb everywhere. Coriander can be found in most of the supermarkets and grocery stores in your area.

When coriander is used in Cambodian cooking, its roots, stems and even its leaves will be used. In the past, coriander was used to help treat upset stomachs as well as used in treating ptomaine poisoning, but aside from its curative properties coriander is used mostly to increase the flavor of Cambodian dishes. Since Coriander is known to have a strong taste, it is with just a little amount when adding it to Cambodian soups and salad.

To preserve the freshness of the herb, you can place them in the refrigerator. The roots and the stem of coriander should be placed in the water while the leaves are covered with a plastic bag.


Prahok is a salted fermented fish paste that is usually used in Cambodian cuisine as a condiment or a seasoning to Cambodian recipes. Since it tends to have a strong fishy taste and scent, most westerners is not a fan of the fish paste. Prahok is considered to be the main ingredient that gives Khmer dishes its real flavor.

Preparing Prahok is pretty simple. Make sure the fish is thoroughly cleansed then allow to air dry under the sun for the day. Then, add some salt to the fish and placed in barrels. Leave inside barres for at least a month. The longer its aging process, the flavor of the paste is also increasing and improving.

Prahok is often used to add as a seasoning to dishes similar to fish sauce used in Thailand and Vietnam and also similar to shrimp paste used in Indonesia.

The fermented fish paste is often mixed with lime and can be eaten as either cooked or fried accompanied by a steamed rice.


You might be wondering why Rice is included in the list of the most popular food ingredients in Cambodia. Although many would say that rice is a staple food on Cambodia and that it is not an ingredient per se, but rice is used to make rice noodles. With rice as the main ingredient in making rice noodles, hence comes other dishes such as fried noodles or Mee char, kuy teave and nom banh chok.

Aside from that, rice flour is also used to make batter and dough used in desserts dishes.

Galangal (Romdeng)

Galangal is a Rhizome that is also called by its English name as Thai Ginger or Siamese Ginger. It looks like a ginger but the taste is different, pine , menthol and peppery taste.

Galangal is used to season soups and broths. Though slices of these ingredients cannot be eaten since it is hard. It just gives the soup and broth its aromatic flavor.

In Cambodian cooking, Galangal is usually mixed with other spices in a mortar together with Cambodian curry paste or Kroeung.

Galangal have medicinal properties and is usually used to treat nausea similar to ginger, and galangal added with lime juice.


Ginger or Chnay is another rhizome type of food ingredient. Most of the time, ginger is used when having digestive problems. Ginger is very famous in South East Asia, as matter of fact Asian food will not be that delicious without adding Ginger.

Ginger is usually used to remove the strong flavors of specific meats such as goat that is why Ginger is mostly used in seafood dishes and more so with meat stews.

In Cambodian cooking, ginger is used in stir fry dishes with meats such as beef, pork and chicken.


Another rhizome is Turmeric, a food ingredient used in Khmer cuisine. Aside from Galangal, Turmeric is also used to make Kroeung. Turmeric have many health benefits that are scientifically proven such as improves health of the heart and prevents cancer as well.

Fresh Turmeric when used in Cambodian cooking are used in stews because it has a strong aroma. Since turmeric tends to have an orange hue, it would typically your dish into orange too.


Lemongrass is a popular food ingredient in Cambodia. This is another ingredient used to make Kroeung (Cambodia Curry paste), The stalk of these grass are chopped and then added to the paste. It can also be added to stir fried dishes or can also be used when marinating meat in preparation before grilling the meat.

The leaves of the lemongrass is often used to make teas and sometimes used in brewing soups. Although a powder form of lemon grass is also available for purchase, the fresh ones are the most recommended to use in cooking as it is more aromatic as compared to the powdered form.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir Lime leaves are also known as Kroy Saoch. These are described as glossy and dark green leaves that is similar with bay leaves.

When used in Cambodia, Kaffir is usually added to the curries. Often added to salad and stir fry dishes when the leaves are sliced thinly and the central veins of the leaves are removed.

To preserve the freshness of the leaves, place them in the refrigerator and it could be used for the next few months.

Palm Sugar

Palm sugar or also known as Skoa Tnaot is another food ingredient used in Cambodia. It is made from the sugar palm tree called Arenga Pinnata.

Palm sugar can be found in most Asian groceries. To make a syrup out of palm sugar, make sure to bring it boil with added water.

Star Anise (Pka Tian)

Star Anise is a dried spice, the seeds and its oil are usually used for flavoring the dishes. It is characterized as an eight pointed brown star. It has a strong aroma.

Star Anise is one of the main ingredients in making Khmer Curry or Cambodian curry.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is Cambodian food healthy?

Cambodian foods are considered to be healthy. In fact, if you noticed Cambodians usually have a slim and healthy body that is because Cambodians consumed healthy diet.

What makes Cambodian food unique?

Cambodian food is unique from its neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam because with Cambodian food it is less spicy.

What is the difference between Thai and Cambodian food?

Although Thai foods are somehow similar with Cambodian food but Cambodian foods usually consists of less chili peppers, sugar is also lessened as well as the use of coconut milk also lessen too.

What is a typical Cambodian meal?

A typical Cambodian meal typically consists of a soup, main dish (fish and other meat dishes), salad, raw vegetables and rice.


There are a wide variety of food ingredients that are used in Cambodian cuisine. Different herbs and spices such as star anise, fingerroot, cardamom, and shallots are some of the most popular and heavily consumed ingredients necessary for Khmer food. Aside from that, we also have the coconut, palm sugar and even tamarind.

The lists above mentioned the different food ingredients used in Cambodia that make Cambodian foods taste extremely delicious and tasty.

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