Siem Reap - Great Cambodian in Long Beach
I hadn't had Cambodian before so I took the opportunity to go to Siem Reap, on Anaheim Blvd., while I was in Long Beach. It was fantastic! The flavor profile is similar to Thai, but with less heat (although it's possible they dumbed it down for us) and more intense sour and funky flavors (lots of lemongrass). We had an amazing red pork curry, a beef noodle salad, a beef sour soup, and a beef satay/kabob type thing with a papaya, carrot salad. It's rare that I go somewhere were every dish is great, but it was here. I will definitely be back to eat there again, and explore the other Cambodian restaurants in Long Beach.
its a strong possibility that some of what you ate were in fact thai dishes. of course there is a lot of culinary blurring as they are border countries.
if you specifically want to try cambodian dishes, you must ask which dishes are Khmer.
I can tell you that having recently spent 3 weeks in Cambodia, the food there generally is not spicy and in fact tends to be overwhelmingly sweet (we often saw Khmer people spooning heaps of sugar only already sweet dishes) As Modernist says, there is some crossover with Thai food (they both make the sour tom yam goong soup for example) but Khmer food definitely has a taste all its own.
It was pretty rare that we found anything either distinctly savory or with a lot of meat in it (since Cambodia is a pretty poor country and meat is expensive.)
More evidence of poverty expressed through food were the street vendor carts found all over. Whereas in Thailand shops would give us a bowl of soup filled with proper noodles, in Cambodia they mostly used packaged ramen noodles, stacked neatly behind the glass window in their food carts.
Out of the foods I really liked there were the fresh barbecue (on the rare occasions that I found it) and the fresh fruit shakes, blended with condensed milk and ice. They were spectacular... they sell these in Vietnam too. (Yes, you can eat the ice. It's made with purified water in factories left by the French colonialists... besides, the people are too poor to have freezers-- most live in bamboo huts with no electricity-- so there is no opportunity for them to make their own ice with the tainted local water.)
Overall I really didn't like the food in Cambodia, especially compared to the brilliant food we had eaten during our previous month in Thailand (and the fantastic food to follow in Vietnam). But there was one dish called "lok lak" which I did like-- basically a portion of juicy cubed marinated meat of some kind, served with (or seasoned with) the locally grown spicy green peppercorns that became highly prized by French chefs. Lok lak was one of the only dishes I was able to find which wasn't overly sweet for my taste.
The dish that most tourists come back from Cambodia talking about is "Fish Amok" which is kind of a sweet (of course) coconut curried fish stew, but the only place that seemed to sell it were the expensive joints catering to tourists. I found no fish amok at all being sold at any of the hundreds of local restaurants and vendor carts that we ate from during our stay.
I would be very curious to know how Siem Reap's lok lak tastes (and how much they charge for it.... it's probably more expensive than the $1.50 I generally paid for it in Cambodia!) Also, did they sell those fantastic fresh fruit shakes? (I paid 25 cents for mine :)
re: Mr Taster
I wonder - since many of the cambodians here came over either in 1975 or just after the Khmer rougue, if they don't have decent memories of what food was like before the devastations of Pol pot and the poverty under the vietnamese occupation, etc. There was court cuisine and city food before...
so perhaps the meat dishes etc at the Anaheim St are typical as well, maybe only what they might eat on special occasions now in Cambodia, but were perhaps more common.
AFter all, look at the German diet today or in 1913 as opposed to 1919 or 1946...
We went to Siem Reap last night and it was dieffinatly good. but, I gotta say, I much prefer Sophy's instead.