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One of my top things to do when visiting a new country is to try the local cuisine, and going on a food tour is a great way to introduce yourself to exciting new things to eat. I knew absolutely nothing about Cambodian cuisine before I arrived in Siem Reap so was very keen to learn more.
A few months before we arrived in Cambodia I had read about a company called Siem Reap Food Tours in a New York Times article online, and the write up was so excellent I decided to book with them. The company was founded by a Cambodian expat couple: Steven Halcrow and Lina Goldberg.
Steven is a Scottish chef who has previously worked at a two-star Michelin restaurant, and Lina is an established food and travel writer. Both have lived in Cambodia for years and spent a long time researching the perfect food tour (many rival companies have been copying their itineraries!).
Siem Reap Food Tours offer two unique small group food experiences – one in the morning and one in the evening – both tours take you to locations off the beaten tourist track to sample authentic Khmer cuisine. I decided to book the morning tour as I wanted some natural light for my photography, plus the itinerary of the tour takes you into the countryside where many tourists do not venture.
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I was picked up at my hotel at 8am by Steven, I was the only one who had booked that particular tour that day so I had my own private experience which was excellent!
A Cambodian tuk tuk was our transport for the morning – which was fully prepared for the morning excursion with a cooler full of bottled water and wet wipes. I loved travelling in a tuk tuk as it felt so much more exciting than just sitting in a car.
Our first stop of the day was for a traditional Cambodian breakfast of fish porridge and a strong coffee at a local cafe. The dish was so comforting that I could have easily polished it off, but I kept some room aside for more delicious foods to come!
Our next stop of the tour was a large local market which is a photographer’s dream! I loved every moment of our walk around it – the place was so vibrant and colourful with many stall holders happy to have their photo taken.
Steven speaks fluent Khmer and it was fun watching the relationship between him and the locals, they really enjoyed joking with him and were asking him so many questions.
We manoeuvred our way through narrow walkways taking in the sights of many fruit and vegetable stalls, tables of butchered meats, baskets of slithery snakes and several large tubs of Prahok – a fermented fish paste which is integral to Khmer cooking.
We ended our market visit in the hawker stall area for some iced coffee, fishcakes and Banh Sung – a rice noodle salad which comprises of fresh rice noodles, crushed peanuts, pork, sweet and sour fish sauce, lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts and mint.
Click here to check out our top things to do in Siem Reap blog post
Exploring the countryside
For the second half of the tour we drove out of the city into the countryside near Angkor Wat where the landscapes opened up to rice fields. We stopped off to snack at a roadside stall that sells deep fried battered bananas which were super tasty!
We arrived in a small village where the large houses were built on stilts and housed small family businesses in their backyards. We visited three of these to meet and watch the locals go about their daily lives making palm sugar, rice noodles and rice wine. Again the locals were extremely friendly and happy to let you take as many photographs as you liked.
Watching a family make rice noodles by hand was a big highlight of the tour. The process involves using centuries-old techniques where the dough (a rice flour and water mixture) is placed into a mill to create the strands of noodles. This is achieved by someone sitting on top to push the weight down, which in turn presses the dough through the holes at the bottom, which creates your noodles!
The strands of rice noodles are then gently and skilfully folded by members of the family into neat little bundles and placed in banana leaf baskets to be delivered to many restaurants and markets in Siem Reap town. These particular type of noodles are usually used in the famous Cambodian dish Num Banh Chok.
I got to sample a handful of noodles within seconds of them being cooked (with a little seasoning added) – the taste was incredible!
The final stop of the tour was a bite to eat at a local restaurant which sells delicious bowls of Nom Banh Chok (Cambodian fish curry noodles)- one of the most popular dishes in Cambodia. The dish comprises of rice noodles (that we saw being made by hand earlier), served with a mixture of prahok (fermented fish), sweet palm sugar and fresh raw vegetables including cucumbers, banana blossom, water lily stems and fresh herbs, such as basil and mint.
The bowl I tried was heavenly and was accompanied by some fresh coconut juice, followed by some milk fruit and passion fruit. A perfect end to a wonderful morning tour!
I absolutely loved this Siem Reap food tour – it was so much more authentic than other food tours I have done (and I have been on a lot), and it was a fantastic glimpse into Cambodian daily life. Steven was fun and extremely knowledgable, plus he knows so much about Khmer cuisine.
The morning tour exceeded my expectations, and the night food tour that they also offer is top of my list of things to do when I next return to Cambodia!
If you live in London and want to try some authentic Cambodian cuisine, then head to Tottenham Green Market on a Sunday. Steven spends a few months of the year living there and runs a Cambodian noodle stall called Chok Shop serving Nom Banh Chok (the dish I tried at the end of the tour) – using hand made noodles and genuine ingredients imported from Cambodia.
Book with Siem Reap Food Tour
To book this Siem Reap food tour head over to Siem Reap Food Tours. The morning tour costs $75 per person and include all food, drinks, and transportation during the tour. Hotel pickups start around 8am and the experience lasts between three to four hours. Check out the reviews for these guys on Tripadvisor, plus they also run food tours in Phnom Penh.
Check out our other South East Asia blog posts
- 3 must see temples in Angkor, Siem Reap
- Exploring Kulen Mountain and Kampong Phluk village in Siem Reap
- The ultimate guide to Hoi An, Vietnam
- A Thai cookery class ‘with a twist’ in Bangkok’s flower market
- The best street foods to try in Hoi An, Vietnam
- A Morning Cooking Class in Hoi An, Vietnam
- A luxurious stay at the Avani Riverside hotel in Bangkok
- Exploring Bangkok at night by Tuk Tuk
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