Pork with rice
Breakfast-time in Phnom Penh starts around six in the morning, but the street food stands don’t start really hopping until seven. Most of them serve until they run out at around nine. One of the most popular breakfasts — in addition to Khmer noodles — is bai sach chrouk, or pork with rice. This is my favourite Cambodian breakfast, and possibly my favourite Khmer dish period. It’s simple, very simple, and delicious.
Sliced pork is slowly grilled over charcoal on a wire grill. Sometimes it’s plain, sometimes it’s been marinated in coconut milk or garlic, but other times it’s just the slow roasting of the pork that brings out the sweetness in the meat. Some chefs add a topping of ground pork, as if there weren’t enough pork already on the plate. A sprinkling of fried scallion or green tomatoes or fresh cucumbers are served on top.
Bai sach chrouk is usually served with broken rice. Broken rice used to be reserved for pet food, but there’s a Khmer fable about an evil stepmother who forces her beautiful stepdaughter to eat the leftover food and broken rice that is meant for the chickens. An old woman came to the door and asked for food. As evil stepmothers are wont to do, she cruelly said no and sent the old woman away. The stepdaughter offered to share her dinner of broken rice with the old woman, who turned out to be a prince in disguise searching for a wife. Because of this fable, broken rice is a popular dish, particularly among young ladies of a marriageable age — although I might be making this up. This dish is sometimes called bai moan sach chrouk, or chicken rice with pork.
Bai sach chrouk is served with a side of pickled, slightly sweet cucumber, carrot, ginger and daikon and a small bowl of clear chicken broth with scallions and sometimes, fried onions. You can drink the soup on its own, or locals like to dip their spoon into the broth before each bite of rice. Some places will also sell fried eggs that you can add to your plate.
You’ll find bai sach chrouk being sold in small, streetside shacks or on tables set up on the sidewalk. The cost varies, but is usually 3,000 to 5,000 riel. Random local places that have more expensive bai sach chrouk are often the best — they serve thicker, nicer cuts of pork (see the one in the photo above for an excellent specimen).
Every place that sells bai sach chrouk also sell iced coffee. It’s an easy way to get a good thousand calories into you before 8am, so take advantage of the opportunity! Please let us know about your favourite bai sach chrouk sellers in Phnom Penh in the comments.
By Lina Goldberg
Last updated on 19th September, 2014.