Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Finding value in local ingredients



Finding value in local ingredients

A selection of traditional Cambodian ingredients
A selection of traditional Cambodian ingredients. Photo supplied

Finding value in local ingredients

Cambodians traditionally used hundreds of different native plants in their cooking. Today, just a few dozen are found in their kitchen.

Until recently, rural Cambodians never looked beyond their village for the ingredients of their culinary recipes and the rivers, jungles and soil provided the myriad flavours – from sweet and sour, to spicy and bitter – that make up Khmer cuisine. But today’s increasingly urban lifestyle has seen a shift away from food self sufficiency, with families substituting imported products for the local ingredients that were the heart and soul of traditional cooking.

Yang Saing Koma, founder and former president of the agriculture organisation Cedac, says Cambodians once incorporated the roots, leaves, seeds and fruit of hundreds of native plants into their most cherished recipes but now less than 30 of these uniquely Khmer ingredients remain.

“And of these, only about 10 to 20 of them are available in the markets,” he says.

Koma says Cambodians have become complacent in their cooking, preferring to buy readily-available imported ingredients instead of cultivating their own. It is ironic then that many foreign countries are taking interest in growing these native plants on Cambodian soil for their own markets.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Native aromatic herbs and flowers are essential ingredients in nom ban jok, a Khmer staple. Photo supplied

He points to the high demand – and prices – for Kampot pepper in Europe.

“There are also Indian companies that have planted turmeric and galangal in Cambodia to sell in their home market, as well Japanese companies that have come to grow ginger,” he adds.

Some restaurants in Cambodia have also looked to include fresh local ingredients to add a unique flavour to their dishes.

Sun Chanrothana, head chef of Khéma La Poste, said that while most of Khéma’s dishes are prepared using top quality imported products, he is always scanning the local market for specialty ingredients that can enrich the flavour of a particular dish.

“Taste is important, but quality is essential,” he says. “When we find [a suitable local ingredient] we try using it in our recipe and continually experiment with it until we achieve the taste and quality we desire. Only then will the management team make a decision to put it on the menu.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Hun Sen: Manet to be candidate for prime minister

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has reaffirmed that his oldest son Hun Manet will be his successor as Prime Minister if he is elected. Speaking during the inauguration of a new sewage treatment facility in Preah Sihanouk province on December 2, Hun Sen said Manet will be