Seasonings are bold and flavorful in Cambodian cuisine. Cambodian seasonings are used to give dishes their piquant and umami taste, but some are common alternatives to salt.

Cambodian seasonings

The most common seasonings in Cambodian cooking are as follows:

  • Fish sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Prahok (fermented fish paste)
  • Kapi (shrimp paste)
  • Oyster sauce
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Coconut milk

The list above is far from exhaustive, and we will be adding more seasonings to it with time.

In the meantime, below is a more thorough description of each of the seasonings, along with uses in popular dishes.

Fish sauce

Fish sauce is the byproduct of fermenting fish, and is a quintessential condiment in various parts of Southeast Asia. Fish sauce has an incredibly pungent aroma and a salty taste, which is why it’s often used in lieu of salt in Southeast Asian (and Cambodian) dishes.

Fish sauce is a vital ingredient in countless Cambodian recipes, including sauces like teuk trey koh kong and the dressing for the famous green papaya salad.

Soy sauce

Soy sauce is not used as often as fish sauce in Cambodian cooking — it’s mostly a seasoning ingredient in some stir fries. However, soy sauce is an alternative means of adding salt to a dish for those who prefer it over fish sauce.

Prahok (fermented fish paste)

Prahok is a fermented fish paste that’s dubbed the “Cambodian cheese” due to its strong aroma and pungent flavor. Prahok is an essential component in an elaborate array of dishes, where it can be used either as the main ingredient (like in prahok ktiss) or the seasoning (like in nom banh chok).

Kapi (shrimp paste)

Kapi (or fermented shrimp paste) is used throughout a number of Southeast Asian nations, and in Cambodia it’s most commonly eaten as a dip for fresh vegetables. Kapi has a distinct, bold aroma that resembles the smell of dried shrimp.

Oyster sauce

Oyster sauce is a traditional Chinese ingredient that has found its way into Cambodian cooking. Oyster sauce is mostly used to add a savory taste to meat and vegetable stir fries, although Cambodian cooks also add it to fried noodles and braised chicken.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Apart from desserts, there isn’t a Cambodian dish that gets made without MSG. Cambodian cooks prize controversial seasoning for its umami flavor and add it generously to almost every dish they prepare. That said, you can probably do without MSG in any dishes you cook following our recipes without sacrificing taste.

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is rich, creamy, and has the distinct taste of coconut flesh. In Cambodian cuisine, coconut milk generally serves as a base for curries.

Palm sugar

Palm sugar is integral to Cambodian cuisine, offering a natural sweetness and a unique caramel flavor to many traditional dishes. Palm sugar gets extracted from the sap of sugar palm trees, which are abundant in Cambodia, and it’s commonly used in savory dishes like meat and seafood marinades and spicy soups. It’s an integral component in braised Cambodian dishes, such as this pork intestine and pig’s ears recipe. Additionally, it sweetens desserts such as steamed rice cakes and flavored coconut puddings. Besides taste, palm sugar, with its amber tint, also enhances the visual appeal of dishes.


  • 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.

    View all posts