The Cambodian breakfast

As much as I loved to eat every minute of the day in Cambodia, the meal I look forward to the most has been the Cambodian breakfast. Not because of the wide variety, everything that I’ve had just feels right and sets me up for the day ahead. In Cambodia, there are three meals to the day. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, so missing breakfast isn’t really an option for them, like missing a Cafe Latte for most westerners. The typical breakfast options here are rice soup (congee), grilled pork or chicken and rice and beef or pork noodle soup. I would say I’ve had about a 60%/40% split between the rice and pork and noodle soups combinations..

Beef noodle soup

My first beef noodle soup in Phnom Penh

If you were to compare Khmer food to the other well known SE Asia cuisines of Cambodia, there is an emphasis on balance of flavours – between salty, sour and sweetness. I would say though that Khmer food leans towards the sweeter side of things. From the marinade for the grilled pork, to the chilli pastes, even the already sweetened iced coffees there is a noticeable heavy handedness with the sweetness. There’s a subtle difference between broths between the Khmer and Vietnamese style noodle soup that you know that I’m obsessed with. The Vietnamese broth from experience tends be be slightly richer in collagen and more complex in flavours with notes of cloves, cinnamon, ginger and star anise. The Khmer noodle both is a lot simpler in its preparation and subtle in its flavour profile with most of the finishing touches to the flavour made with a garnishing of fried garlic prior to serving.

pork and rice

Grilled pork with chive oil and omelette. Now this is my kind of bacon and eggs

Present in the middle of every restaurant table is an assortment of condiments. Usually some chillies – both pickled and dried varieties, pickled vegetables, pepper and of course sugar. Along with soy and fish sauce, these form the perfect accompaniments to customise and supercharge any dish to your own flavour preferences.

No breakfast is complete without a beverage. Hot tea is always included with the meal however if you need a kickstart then iced coffee is the go to drink. Black coffee sweetened with condensed milk and poured over ice is how it’s served with a swizzle stick and a straw dangling off the side. Unlike the Vietnamese variety though, the Khmer version tends to be a little heavy handed with the condensed milk. A strange ritual that I have only been introduced to here is to pour hot tea into the leftover watery remains of the iced coffee. The watered down iced coffee mix actually works surprisingly well with the tea.

pork noodle soup

You never know what you can get sometimes. This pork noodle soup came with prawns

If you go early in the morning before 8am then you’re guaranteed supreme freshness as temperatures are still cool, the pork is grilling away over the charcoal BBQ and the broth is boiling away in the large pots, usually at the front section of the restaurant where staff can interact  with the customers. It’s usually the women, loosely dressed in pyjamas and with a permanent  smile on their faces, who are preparing and dishing up the plates or bowls of food. As much as I’ve the same dishes over my month here, I’ve never gotten over it or craved the traditional western breakfast.

fried bread

Fried bread is usually broken into pieces and dunked into the broth. Leftover coffee and tea mix in the background

What is the ultimate breakfast for you when you travel or at home?

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The Cambodian breakfast — 11 Comments

  1. Interesting to read your glowing praise of Cambodian cuisine… while we didn’t hate the food we had in Cambodia, we found it rather lackluster and far less interesting than Vietnam where we had happily spent 2 months eating our way through the country. I found it was actually quite difficult to find actual local food that wasn’t just dodgy meat on sticks (with the exception of Kep, where seafood was the natural choice… though sketchy meat could still be found), and I thought the soups that were available were generally not as tasty as their Vietnamese counterparts and generally a lot more expensive. That said, Tony & I are decidedly not morning people, so we didn’t really do breakfast in Cambodia… perhaps that fist meal of the day is really where it’s at!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…The Art of Ambling in George TownMy Profile

  2. This was so very fun to see! (I get up at 3 a.m. each day and thus eat my “dinner” at 8 or 9 in the morning – complete gourmet and healthful feast with wine and so forth – and so perhaps that’s while others are still on “breakfast”). However, seeing your food photos served as delicious for any time! Great post! Cheers!!!
    Leah Elisheva recently posted…Sometimes, The Body Needs BLOOD!My Profile

  3. I had the exact breakfast in Cambodia a month ago, beef noodle soup and iced coffee. The coffee was pretty good but didn’t think the pho was as good as the pho in Vietnam. Funnily enough, it was at a Vietnamese restaurant so I’m not sure if it was representative of Cambodian noodle soup. I don’t think I saw noodle soup anywhere else in Cambodia when I was there, I’ll have to keep an eye out for it next time!
    Anneliese recently posted…LeersMy Profile

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  5. If you find the coffee here sweet (which it is!) wait until you try the tea houses in Burma!
    Holy crap those teas are the sweetest, strongest things I’ve ever tasted, and surprisingly refreshing on a 44°C day.

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