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..
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.
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.
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.