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Cambodian cuisine, though uniquely Khmer, draws heavily on the traditions of both its Thai neighbours and Chinese residents. An oft-repeated generalisation which is, nevertheless pretty accurate, likens Cambodian food to Thai food but without the spiciness. The main national staple is of course rice, but French colonial influence has dictated that the Cambodians eat more bread--generally French-style baguettes--than any other Southeast Asian country. Because of the country's incredible richness in waterways including the Mekong, Sap and Bassac Rivers, not to mention the Tonlé Sap, freshwater fish and prawns are especially popular--in addition to which plenty of fresh seafood is available from the Gulf of Thailand. Beef, pork, chicken, duck and other poultry are widely available but generally more expensive than fish dishes, whilst other less well known Cambodian delicacies include locusts, field rats, snakes and land crabs.
Soup is served as an accompaniment to almost all Cambodian meals, though it is always served with the main dishes, not before as in the West. Some of the better-known soup dishes include somlar machou banle (sour fish soup), somlar machou bangkang (sour and spicy prawn soup, akin to Thai tom yam gung), somlar chapek (pork soup with ginger) and mon sngor (chicken and coriander soup). Num banh choc (rice noodle and fish soup) is a common and popular Cambodian breakfast.
Other common dishes include khao poun (rice noodles in a coconut-based sauce), hamok (fish with coconut milk steamed in a banana leaf), sach mon chha khnhei (stir-fried chicken with ginger), somlar machou sachko (sour beef stew) and choeeng chomni chrouc chean (fried pork spareribs). An sam chruk (pork & soybeans marinated in ginger and chilli) can be delicious, but packs a fairly hefty punch. Similarly watch out for pong tea kon(fertilised duck egg containing an embryo, like the Filipino balut) which is not to everybody's taste. Many dishes are served trey, or grilled. Thus trey aing (grilled fish) is available just about everywhere, as is trey chean neung spey (fried fish with vegetables). By extension, trey mon is grilled chicken,trey sachko is grilled beef, and so on. Fish and meat dishes not served with noodles are generally accompanied by rice. Indispensable condiments--certainly as far as the Cambodians are concerned--are prahoc (fish sauce just like Thai nam pla and Vietnamese nuoc mam) and tuk trey (fish sauce with ground, roasted peanuts added).
Travellers up country will generally find themselves limited to Cambodian cuisine or to the fairly ubiquitous baguette and paté. In towns of any size-- All provincial capitals, for example--Chinese food is widely available, generally reflecting the southern coastal origin of most of Cambodia's Overseas Chinese migrants. Expect, therefore, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochou and Hailam fare, but don't waste your time looking for Szechuan or Yunnanese cuisine. In the west of the country, notably at Poipet, Sisophon, Battambang and Siem Reap, Thai cuisine is widespread. Similarly in the east, at Kampot, Takeo, Kompong Cham and Svay Rieng, Vietnamese culinary influence is common. Sihanoukville excels at seafood cooked in every conceivable way, and also has a fast growing smattering of Western food outlets--French, Italian, British, German and Australian.
Phnom Penh has, naturally enough, the widest range of restaurants in the city. Here the visitor can find everything listed above as well as Greek, Turkish, North Indian, South Indian, Malay and-increasingly--'Fast Food' restaurants. The capital also serves some of the best French food available in Indochina, as well as some unexpected colonial hangovers from the Middle East and North Africa, notably cous-cous and merguez spicy Moroccan sausage. Pizza is increasingly popular, but the 'Pizza Hut' restaurant near the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument is, at time of writing, a copycat operation.
There is an abundance of fruit in Cambodia. In the appropriate seasons--especially towards the end of the hot season in May--the markets overflow with a wide variety of exotic fruits. There's fruit to be had the year round, though, and it's generally both reasonably priced and (if carefully washed) healthy and safe. Amongst the most popular and widespread fruits are mango, coconut, rambutan, durian, mangosteen, starfruit, pineapple, watermelon and a wide variety of bananas.
It's always best to drink bottled water in Cambodia. The traveller should also beware of ice of unknown provenance, particularly up country or at street stalls. Soft drinks like cola and lemonade manufactured by internationally known companies are available everywhere, as is canned and bottled beer. International beers to look for are Carlsberg, Heineken, Tiger, ABC, Victoria Bitter, Fosters, San Miguel and Singha; local brands include Angkor, Angkor Stout and Bayon. Draft Angkor is available in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap. Imported wine--shades of Cambodia's colonial past--is similarly available in major towns, whilst domestic varieties promising strength and virility are widespread. Caution should be exercised with fresh fruit juices and sugar cane juice, but cartons and cans of fruit juice, milk and drinking yoghurt are available on supermarket shelves in the capital and at Sihanoukville. Coffee--often very good--and tea are generally available throughout the country.