A quintessential Khmer dish
Nom banh chok is a quintessential Khmer dish, loved by locals and tourists alike. The dish, which is similar to Thai kanom jeen, consists of rice noodles topped with a green fish gravy and heaps of fresh green beans, bean sprouts, banana flower, cucumbers and other greens. The noodles are laboriously made in the provinces and delivered to the local markets early each morning. (The excellent Asian food blog Eating Asia has a two-part post about the process of making nom banh chok noodles.)
The dish is so ubiquitous that in English it’s called “Khmer noodles” and most Cambodians are convinced that the Khmers invented this type of noodle and all of the other countries in Asia with similar noodles stole the idea from them.
The dish is a typical breakfast food, and you’ll find nom banh chok being sold in the early mornings at stands on the street all over Phnom Penh for less than a dollar. It also makes for a nice mid-afternoon snack, and at that time of day you can find it being sold by women walking around carrying the ingredients hanging off a pole across their shoulders. They carry bowls with them as well, and wait patiently for you to finish eating. There’s also a fancy red curry version that is often served at weddings and rarely on the street. You can find both versions being sold by a remarkably friendly woman at a stall in Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Pong).
Although these days the dish is usually sold by women, it was traditionally sold by men, as recounted in Narin Seng Jameson’s cookbook about life in Phnom Penh before the Khmer Rouge, Cooking the Cambodian Way. There’s even a hilarious song about two nom banh chok sellers battling to be the king of nom banh chok.
By Lina Goldberg
Last updated on 19th September, 2014.