In total I spent ten days recently traveling around Cambodia and was pleasantly surprised by the unbelievably tasty authentic Cambodian options for vegans, which I have outlined for you in the rest of this blog.
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Khmer cuisine is differentiated from other cuisines by its incorporation of local aromatic herbs and spices like lemongrass, ginger, mint, and kaffir lime leaves. Seasoning food with lots of black pepper, salt, and lime juice is also a longstanding tradition. Cambodian food is also well-known for dishes with contrasting flavours. Tropical national fruits such as mango and pineapple are often incorporated into savory dishes. There is no wonder I have fallen involve with the Cambodian Cuisine. With its mix of citrus, sweet, sour flavours and mild spices, it ticks all the right boxes!
As a free gift to you, I have created a Vegan Cambodian Recipe e-book containing a few of the famous dishes included in this blog post, which you can download using the link at either the beginning or the end of the post (all you need to do is subscribe to Vibrant Yogini and the instant download link will appear).
Subsequently, as a helpful additional bonus, I have also created a go-to translation sheet for both vegans and vegetarians with popular phrases to use when dining out. The sheet includes helpful word pronunciations too – especially useful if you are trying to explain what you can and can’t eat!
PC: Dean Bennett Photography
During my travels around Cambodia, I immersed myself in the culture by visiting the crowded local food markets in the mornings and only ever eating Cambodian cuisine for the entire trip. I witnessed locals visiting the food markets daily and getting stuck into touching the produce by hand to meticulously choose their raw ingredients for the day’s meals.
Strolling through the night markets of Siem Reap in the evenings, and getting lost in the famous Russian market of Phnom Penh, I felt excited that there was an array of sweet treats and Cambodian snacks to try that were also vegan-friendly.
I even found mobile street stalls at the edge of countryside roads during our long trips out to the jungle and across the country. It was satisfying to see that vegans and vegetarians will not struggle to eat in Cambodia. If you are planning to visit Cambodia and Vietnam, check out my blog post on vegan Vietnamese cuisine.
One of the highlights of my trip was learning about the jungle food survival way of life. Spending a few nights in the jungle of the Mondulkiri province, I learned from a native how traditional hill tribes survive from rainforest resources (check out the blog post on the Mondulkiri Project to learn more about jungle life and the fantastic charitable work Mr. Tree is doing to save Cambodia’s natural rainforest and the Elephants). Life seemed very simple, tough and back to basics.
While sipping on a local Keffir Lime Leaf Tea in the nature tree lodge I was staying in, I watched as a local tribesman climbed to the treetops, holding a long rod with a wicker basket hanging from the end. He used this to knock avocados from the trees into the basket. The same was done for limes, and most other ingredients available within the rainforest. I pondered whether people back in Europe really understand the extent of the struggles, sweat, and efforts that are put into sourcing their supermarket ‘fresh’ vegetables, fruit and spices…
On a walk through the jungle, a hill tribesman pointed out several plants and was in disbelief that us Westerner’s had no idea how to identify a Taro leaf within the thickness of the rainforest. He reminded us that the leaf was obviously used to wrap rice for cooking, and the root for soups and broths. I was in awe at how resourceful these rainforest inhabitants are.
Subscribers can use the free recipe ebook (available to download at either the beginning or the end of the post -all you need to do is subscribe to Vibrant Yogini and the instant download link will appear) to cook a few of the delicious Cambodian national dishes listed below.
My absolute favourite snack of the trip! These nutrient-packed spring rolls are prepared and served fresh rather than deep-fried like other types of spring rolls. Rice noodle paper wraps around shreds of lettuce, cucumber, mint, chive leaf, pineapple, and basil. Traditionally, peanut dipping sauce is served on the side. Typically they use nam pla (fish sauce) in this dish, however, you can use the free translation sheet to ask for no fish sauce and to explain that you are vegan.
Pomelo fruits are native to South East Asia and are in the same family as the grapefruit and orange. It has a refreshingly sweet and sour taste. The first time I tried it, I was addicted and have never left one drop left on my plate since it is that tasty! The salad contains pomelo, long beans, abalone mushrooms, lotus root, peanuts, mint, lemon basil, toasted coconut, deep-fried shallots and beans tossed in Khmer dressing. I have included this dish in the free recipe e-book available for download. If there was one Cambodian dish to try, I would absolutely recommend the pomelo salad! What’s more, the pomelo fruit is rich in health benefits:
When I first saw this dish on the menu, the incorporation of ‘lotus’ is so symbolic of yoga that it automatically won my heart over. However, it did seem very unusual for me to be eating part of a lotus plant, as the lotus is such an important flower in Buddhism. For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure of tasting it, I will not give too much away, but it has a slightly bitter taste with a crispy texture when eaten raw in salads. Did you know that lotus root is exceptionally healthy too?:
A crunchy, healthy salad with a naturally zesty flavour. This dish traditionally contains fish sauce, but you can use the free translation sheet to ask for soy sauce instead and explain that you are vegan. The salad contains lime, mango, tomatoes, shallots, cucumber, green onion, peppers and basil. Unlike the spicy Thai version, this mango salad is much more tastebud friendly being very mild. Sweet mangos are found everywhere in Cambodia and are also very good for your health:
I absolutely love eating green curry, however, I have always only ever tried the Thai version, which tastes slightly spicier. But, if I really have to choose, Khmer green curry has my winning vote with it’s gorgeous rich and creamy flavours oozing around the unique and mild Cambodian kroeung spices. The dish includes long bean, eggplant, pineapple, sweet potato, and basil in Khmer Khroeung and coconut cream. They usually serve this dish with a small portion of jasmine rice in Cambodian restaurants.
A mixture of grilled eggplant, cression, cucumber, tomato, deep-fried shallots, bean sprouts with vermicelli noodles and peanut sesame dressing. When I arrived in Cambodia, the very first restaurant I ate lunch in had limited vegetarian options and I didn’t yet know any Cambodian phrases to explain (hence my creation of the dining language translation sheet to help you out!). However, I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful flavours that brought this quite ‘normal’ sounding dish to life. The spices Cambodian dishes use to pimp up a dish, in my experience, are particularly special.
The national dish of Cambodia, Amok is given special status and is highly treasured. Named after the banana leaves it was traditionally served in, Amok gets its signature flavor from kroeung, an aromatic curry paste made with lemongrass, galangal, fresh turmeric, shallots, garlic, and a little chili. The kroeung is mixed with coconut milk, which turns a beautiful golden yellow. Other additions to the dish include sweet potato, vegetables, and kaffir lime leaves before it is steamed in banana leaf bowls above a stove. Traditionally Amok is also stewed with fish, however, the free translation guide can be used to ask for a vegan style Amok without fish. I have included a vegan-friendly version of this dish in the free recipe e-book available for download.
This was my go-to dish at a few places that were not so vegetarian-friendly. I really enjoy my vegetables, and I loved the flavours they stir-fry the vegetables in. The dish usually contains a combination of fried red peppers, onion, broccoli, carrots and red cabbage/ cauliflower. Again, the dish usually contains nam pla (fish sauce). However, you can simply ask for no fish sauce and explain that you are vegan by downloading the free translation sheet at the end of this blog. The dish is usually served with a portion of jasmine rice, as in the photo.
A simple and light noodle salad with an addictive mix of spicy, sweet, sour, and salty flavours. Perfect for hot humid days! The dish traditionally contains fish sauce, but again, you can use the translation sheet to ask for it without. Soy sauce, chilli, lime juice and brown sugar are combined and then tossed with the noodles, cabbage, and mint. Not forgetting the peanut garnish!
Sweet flavors are mixed with savory in this super delicious tasting concoction! Fresh pineapple is caramelised in sugar and then combined together with fried tofu, garlic, soy sauce, and scallions. Simple but decadent! I always felt like I was indulging when ordering this mouth-watering dish.
This was a street market food favourite of mine and a popular Cambodian treat. Quite simply it is grilled sweet potato and coconut patties. Extremely tasty!
Another Cambodian street market food delicacy and perfect for fellow coconut lovers! The tasty treat is toasted bamboo tubes stuffed with sticky rice, red beans, grated coconut and coconut milk.
PC: Dean Bennett Photography
Fried bananas on a stick could be found all over the Cambodian street markets. So simple, yet so popular. This one I am definitely taking away with me on my future travels. The bananas taste sweeter once fried. Naughty but nice!
PC: Dean Bennett Photography
Not the healthiest of foods but it had to be included as Cambodia is home to a vast sugar palm farming industry. The locals will collect palm water and pour it into a large cooking pan. It is then boiled and stirred until the paste turns white. Cut bamboo tubes are used to place the caramelised sugar palm inside until it dries to form small sugar palm sweets. I tried this on a roadside when traveling to the Kulen waterfall. The texture and taste are similar to a sweet biscuit.
Strictly Vegetarian (sorry vegans!). This was a breakfast favourite of mine while staying at the Cambodian jungle tree lodge, but it makes a great dessert option too! Whole wheat pancakes with organic banana, yellow raisins, Mondulkiri honey, clove and cinnamon, all taken fresh from the rainforest! I have included a vegan-friendly version of this dish in the free recipe e-book available to download below:
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Have you tried any other delicious Cambodian vegan dishes or delicacies? Write your suggestions in the comments below.
Try out the vegan recipes in the free Cambodian recipe e-book. I would love to see your culinary skills! Or, if you are eating Cambodian cuisine I would love to see! Take a picture and post it to the Facebook Group or tag Vibrant Yogini on Instagram or Twitter!
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Wishing you tasty and delicious travels!
P.S. Advice from a hill tribesman: if for any reason during your visit to Cambodia you suffer from an upset stomach, such as diarrhea, the most natural way of healing this is to find guava plant, boil the roots and leaves and then drink the water!