Cambodian Ingredients

Cambodian ingredients are as diverse and unique as the cuisine they incarnate. Any Cambodian meal is a carefully curated mix of vegetables, herbs, spices, condiments, and proteins — ingredients that are locally grown and available at market stalls throughout the nation. Whether you’re a food lover on a quest to discover Cambodia’s enigmatic food scene, or a Cambodian expatriate longing for a taste of home, knowing the basic local ingredients will help you conquer the most popular Cambodian food in the comfort of your kitchen.

In this article, we will introduce you to the most common ingredients in Khmer cooking, including:

  • Vegetables
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Edible flowers
  • Condiments
  • Noodles
  • Proteins

Cambodian vegetables

Cambodian Vegetables

Vegetables are an omnipresent ingredient in Cambodian cooking. Cambodia is far from vegetarian, but almost every single dish is based on an array of vegetables and herbs, while meat is more of a flavoring.

“Vegetables” in Cambodian recipes is a loose category that comprises the following broad groups of ingredients:

  • Roots: Roots used in Cambodian food include carrots, sweet potatoes, bamboo shoots, daikon radish, onions, taro root, lotus root, and many others. These vegetables are often found in Cambodian curries and stir fries, while some get pickled and preserved.
  • Leafy greens: Cambodians love leafy greens such as green lettuce, morning glory (also known as “water spinach”), nappa cabbage, and others. Cambodian diners often consume these greens raw with various sauces and dips. That said, leafy greens also often end up in soups and stir fries.
  • Gourds: There’s an abundance of gourds available in Cambodian markets, including Asian eggplant, Thai eggplant, bitter melon, and various winter squashes. Some of these gourds (such as eggplant) are often consumed raw, with a dipping sauce and leafy greens. However, the majority are used in stir fries, soups, and even desserts (such as the buttercup squash custard).

Cambodian herbs, spices, and edible flowers

Cambodian Herbs and Spices

Cambodian herbs, spices, and edible flowers define the national cuisine with their unique aromas and flavor profiles. Cambodian cuisine would simply not exist without these quintessential ingredients, and sadly, they’re not as easy to find abroad as are the vegetables used in Khmer recipes.

Below are a few key examples of the fresh herbs, spices, and flowers used in Cambodian dishes:

  • Herbs: Herbs are common flavor-adding ingredients in any kind of Cambodian dish, from a stir fry to a curry. Kaffir lime leaves (also known as makrut leaves), lemongrass, Thai basil, and cilantro are the staple herbs that give Khmer cooking its distinct aromas. However, there are some unique herbs in Cambodian cuisine, too, including holy basil, river leaf creeper, rice paddy herb, curry leaves, and moringa leaves.
  • Spices: The most typical Cambodian spices are those used to make the kreung paste (Khmer curry paste), which is then used as a base in numerous curries and soup. Galangal, ginger, garlic, fresh turmeric, chili peppers, and occasionally fingerroot ginger are the spices generally used to make kreung, although the ingredients and proportions may differ. That said, Kampot black pepper is perhaps Cambodia’s most famous spice, and one that’s found its way to the pantries of countless Michelin-starred Parisian restaurants.
  • Flowers: Edible flowers are common ingredients in soups and some curries, such as the immensely popular nom banh chok. Examples of flowers used in Cambodian cuisine include sesban and banana flowers.

Cambodian fruits

No list of Cambodian ingredients is complete without a robust selection of tropical fruits. Fruits are sold all over the nation’s markets, mobile food carts, and street food stands, and people consume fruit in various forms at any time of the day. Some fruits (such as mangoes) are eaten unripe, with a helping of salt, sugar, and chili paste. Others are staple salad ingredients, such as bok lahong, the Cambodian green papaya salad. Fruits such as longan, dragonfruit, pineapple, mangosteen, and rambutan are enjoyed ripe, and often serve as an offering during religious events and a preferred dessert at special occasions.

Cambodian condiments and seasonings

Cambodian Seasonings and Condiments

Cambodian condiments and seasonings enrich the nation’s cuisine with pungent aromas and bold flavors. A large portion of condiments and seasonings used in Cambodia are made from seafood. These seafood-based ingredients include the (in)famous prahok (fermented fish paste), kapi (shrimp paste), the ubiquitous fish sauce, oyster sauce, and dried shrimp. These seafood byproducts get added to all sorts of dishes, but in some cases, they comprise the main ingredient itself — just take prahok ktiss (prahok-based dip for vegetables).

Other popular condiments and seasonings used in Cambodian cooking include soy sauce (a common alternative to fish sauce), palm sugar, coconut milk, and MSG.

Cambodian noodles

Noodles come in all shapes and sizes in Cambodia and are commonly made from rice. However, egg noodles and mung bean noodles (colloquially known as “cellophane noodles” or “glass noodles”) are also quite popular in traditional Cambodian food. Of the countless noodle types sold throughout Cambodia, the two types below are the best-known:

  • Kuy teav noodles: The flat, thin rice vermicelli is the primary ingredient in kuy teav (also known as “Phnom Penh noodles”), which is the go-to breakfast for millions of Cambodians.
  • Khmer noodles: Khmer noodles are made from slightly fermented rice and sold fresh (never dried). These are Cambodia’s most beloved noodles and are used in nom banh chok, another deeply cherished breakfast item (and arguably Cambodia’s national dish).

Proteins in Cambodian food

Cambodian cuisine is rich with an assortment of meats and seafood. Pork is by far the most widely consumed meat; from the famous bai sach chrouk (pork and rice breakfast dish) to kuy teav, and literally any stir-fry, pork is the meat of choice for Cambodians. That said, fish (freshwater fish in particular) is equally popular thanks to its abundance in the mighty Tonle Sap Lake and river, which feed a large portion of the country. Beef and chicken are often used in curries and soups across the nation, while seafood has a heavy presence along the coast. In the southern provinces that hug the coast of the Gulf of Thailand, seafood dominates local menus. Dishes, like the Cambodian version of tom yum, the world-famous Kampot pepper crab, or simply barbecued fish, shrimp, or squid are favorites of tourists and local people alike.

Summary: Cambodian Ingredients

Cambodian cuisine is defined by its unique ingredients. Our article above attempts to summarize Cambodian ingredients that are most commonly used in typical Cambodian cuisine. If there’s anything we’ve missed, or if you’d like to share your thoughts on the topic with us, please leave us a comment below.


  • Thida Koeut

    Thida Koeut, born near Kampot, Cambodia, is the chef and author behind Thida's Kitchen. Immersed in Cambodian gastronomy from childhood, she later managed a renowned Danish-French fusion restaurant in Kampot, mastering European culinary techniques. Her hands-on farming experience deepened her connection to authentic Cambodian ingredients. Now based in New Westminster, British Columbia, Thida seamlessly blends her rich heritage with global flavors, presenting them to the world through her online publication.

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