Vegan Guide to Cambodian Street Food

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As vegan foodies who love to travel, street food has a particular appeal to us. Street food can be quick, available, fresh and delicious and it gives you a feel country you are visiting as you eat like the locals with all the sights, smells and daily life going on around you.

It took us a while to discover the delights of vegan Cambodian street food but once we did, it found a solid place in our hearts. You’ll be pleased to hear it’s not all about fried bugs and meat on sticks in Cambodia.

You might notice that there is an abundance of sweet treats to be found; we have discovered a few savoury snacks (and there’s always somewhere selling noodles to veganise if you want a bigger meal) but it’s the desserts and sweet snacks that really float our boat on the street in Cambodia. It might also be worth noting that due to the natural sweet tooth of the Cambodian population we found a lot of the ‘savoury snacks’ to be sweet too.

Vegan Cambodian Street Food Tips

Pick places that look popular with the locals so you can be sure to get the good stuff and then venture forward with a big smile and a willingness to perform your wish for vegan food through the medium of mime, however, the following language tips may also be useful:

I do not eat… – “kn-yom mun nyam…”

Fish sauce – “tduk tdrei”
Fish paste – “prahok”
Oyster sauce – “praing kjong”
Shrimp – “barngkear”
Squid – “muk”
Crab – “gdam”
Snail – “kjong”
Eggs – “bpong”
Milk – “tduk dah ko”
Butter – “bur”
Condensed milk – “tduk dah ko cap”
Fish – “dtrei”
Seafood – “ahar samohk”
Chicken – “sackh mo-an”
Pork – “sackh jrouk”
Beef – “sackh ko”
Meat stock – “masow sup”

And of course the most important of all…

Thank you – “or-kun”
Delicious – “changnyang”

Steamed peanuts (son da-i di sngyow)

Steamed peanuts have to be one of the most underrated foods on the planet (at least in the Western world anyway). Addictively moreish, deliciously tasty and healthy too… it’s not often we find a street food that ticks all these boxes. Crack open the shell to find a soft steamed nut inside with a subtle earthy peanut flavour. Much nicer than their dry, salted, roasted counterparts in our book.

vegan steamed peanuts in Cambodia

Chive Cakes (nom ga chai)

A moist, light rice flour dough, stuffed with wilted chives then fried on a hot plate in a seriously generous amount of oil. These vegan street food delights melt in the mouth and are best eaten fresh off the hotplate (although be careful not to burn your mouth!). Watch closely as the chilli sauce gets added at the end to make sure that no fish sauce sneaks in.

vegan chive cakes in Cambodia

Rice in bamboo (krolan)

Sticky rice, black beans, freshly shredded coconut cooked in a stick of bamboo. Get it early in the day when it’s fresh then peel back the wood to eat the slightly sweet, slightly salty rice inside. When it’s really good you’ll get smokey flavours too; it’s a great filling snack.

krolan rice in Bamboo

Steamed sweet potatoes (dumlowng)

Sometimes purple, sometimes white, steamed sweet potatoes are a healthy street food (no deep frying here for once!) that is cheap, tasty and filling. We love the purple variety which are full of anti-oxidants and have a fibrous texture.

purple steamed sweet potatoes in Cambodia

Ring donuts (nom korng)

A fried donut made from rice flour and then covered in a hard palm sugar caramel with sesame seeds, this food is sent directly from the vegan gods. Be warned, that caramel can be hard on your teeth but it tastes so good!

vegan fried donuts in Cambodia

Akor cake (nom akor pronounced ‘a-cow’)

We love these cakes because they have a really firm cake-like texture. Made from rice flour, sugar and yeast, and for the yellow variety (nom akor t’nau) with the addition of palm fruit, they are sweet, spongy and have a slightly sour thing going on too. Add some fresh shredded coconut and eat away.

vegan akor cake in Cambodia

Rice flour dumplings (nom pla-aye)

Rice flour dumplings which are filled with a piece of palm sugar candy before being simmered in water until they are soft. We love them best when they are served the traditional way, in little banana leaf baskets held together with bamboo skewers.

vegan Rice flour dumplings in Cambodia

Banana and sweet potato (chjake chung dumlowng chung)

Don’t be fooled into thinking this is some kind of savoury casserole, these bananas and sweet potatoes are as sweet as they come. Covered in a palm sugar caramel with fresh coconut, if you see someone selling it, then get yourself a bit of the action. Fruit and vegetables all in one super sweet delicious snack.

vegan Banana and sweet potato

Rice baked in banana leaf (nom an som ang)

Chewy sticky rice with a soft banana in the middle, a little sweet and salty with a subtle banana leaf flavour from being baked in a banana leaf parcel. When they are cooked well they get a bit caramelised on the edges… yum.

Chewy sticky rice with a soft banana in the middle

Rice flour ‘donut’ filled with sweet bean (nom groy)

‘Nom groy’ are made by stuffing a rice flour dough with a paste of sweet yellow beans and then deep frying and topping with sesame seeds. The result is a snack that is like a soft chewy donut that’s crispy on the outside with a dryish, sweet, mashed bean filling. We’re probably not doing them justice with our description so any alternative descriptions would be welcome!

vegan Rice flour ‘donut’ filled with sweet bean

Banana fritters (chjake jeun)

The jury is out on whether these are actually vegan or not as some sources say they are and others say that the batter contains egg. Our Cambodian friend has been asking around for us and they seem to be vegan where we are in Siem Reap. We think it probably depends on who makes the batter and whether they really understand what you mean when you are asking if there is egg or milk inside. Some people might tell you there is no egg inside because there isn’t a ‘whole egg’ in the fritter, not really understanding that you are referring to the batter.

banana fritters in Cambodia

Rice with sweet yellow bean paste roasted in banana leaf (nom kom)

Sticky rice flour dough stuffed with a sweet yellow bean paste and then roasted in a banana leaf parcel. They are a kind of staple, filling snack with the chewy glutinous rice certainly keeping you busy for a while.

Rice with sweet yellow bean paste roasted in banana leaf

Fried breads (nom heng)

These are like soft sweet pitta breads with sesame seeds that have been deep fried but they have a lighter texture. We love the way they puff up but the flavour of the sesame seeds is the real winner about this perfect vegan street snack.

nom heng vegan fried bread in Cambodia

Rice custards (nom gkow)

We can’t eat a lot of these because they are quite sweet and rich and pretty filling too. Rice flour, coconut milk and sugar are all mixed together and then steamed in a mini banana leaf basket with a topping of jackfruit (or sometimes nuts). The finished product is a firm, set ‘custard’ full of coconut flavour.

Sweet vegan rice flour custards

Rice flour layer cakes (nom cjack gajan)

People call these different things but this is what we know them as. These are made from layers of sweetened rice flour and coconut milk and flavoured with pandan for that typically South East Asian experience. We generally love anything flavoured with pandan (known as srewpine in other parts of the world) and cant get enough of the sweet, aromatic, grassy and slightly pine-like flavours.

vegan Rice flour layer cakes

So there you have it, some of our favourite vegan street foods, although we must admit that the longer we look, the more we find; so you can expect this list to grow.

Did we miss out your favourites? Have you tried and fallen in love with any of the things we found? Are you reaching for your passport to book a flight to Cambodia to eat on the street as we speak?

Check out all of our Cambodia vegan travel guides

Connect with Vegan Food Quest

We hope our Vegan Guide to Cambodian Street Food has been helpful, please let us know if we’ve missed out any vegan street food you have discovered in Cambodia?

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You can even come and stay with us at Vegan Villa which is our 100% vegan Airbnb in Siem Reap, Cambodia

2018-06-05T05:48:30+00:00

12 Comments

  1. Justine August 15, 2015 at 2:22 pm - Reply

    This post is exactly what I need. I’ve been seeing those chive cakes all around town and I’ve been meaning to try them. But it’s nice to know that they’re actually veg!! I’m going to make a point to sample them this weekend 🙂 There’s also a market that has tons of street food in the back of my apartment. I’ll have to scope it out to see what sorts of veg-friendly options there are 🙂 Thanks for putting this together!

    • Vegan Food Quest August 15, 2015 at 2:36 pm - Reply

      Thanks Justine! You’ll have to let us know about all the extra things you find as you explore… those chive cakes are real comfort food but do tend to get heated to volcanic temperatures inside! I’m sure you’ll find loads more things that are veg friendly though, especially in the markets of PP. Happy exploring 🙂

  2. Stefan August 25, 2015 at 10:18 am - Reply

    OMG those chive cakes and rice custards

    • Vegan Food Quest August 25, 2015 at 10:25 am - Reply

      You know it! Those chive cakes are possibly one of the best hangover foods on the planet – not that i’d know of course as my body is generally a temple 😉

  3. Mey September 25, 2016 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Meat stock is not called Masaw Sup. Just say ” toek soup saj” instead because ” masaw sup mean MSG which is a type of seasoning.

    • Vegan Food Quest September 25, 2016 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      Ah thanks Mey! It’s hard to get the Khmer language right – not an easy language to master so your help is very much appreciated 🙂

  4. eileen October 31, 2016 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    A very helpful, informative and interesting guide to street food. Before I ‘hit the streets’ I think I’ll need help with pronunciation of the language!
    Great photos.

    • Vegan Food Quest November 3, 2016 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks! In fairness we probably need as much help as you!! 😉
      We’ll take you on a street food tour when you visit if you like – fill up on iced coffee, sesame laced ‘nom heng’, chewy sweet rice flour donuts and banana and sticky rice that has been grilled over coals for hours before we’ve even woken up. Getting up in the morning and heading to the local market lets you see a wonderful side Cambodian life, always starts my day with a smile 🙂
      Caryl x

  5. Rachael February 14, 2017 at 9:27 pm - Reply

    Hi We are living in Phnom Penh, can you tell us the areas you have found all of these yummy foods in please?

    • Vegan Food Quest February 16, 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      Hi,
      When we visited PP we saw a lot of these on sale in the central market. We are based in Siem Reap and we can find all of these things either at the local markets or on various street corners (although these do tend to move and are often only there at certain times of day). Let us know if you find any that you love and keep your eyes peeled for a vendor passing by! 🙂

  6. Rachel May 29, 2017 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    Hey 🙂 in which market in Phnom Penh did you see the sweet potatoes? I’ve been looking everywhere for some

    • Vegan Food Quest May 31, 2017 at 8:44 am - Reply

      Hi Rachel,
      Haven’t seen them in markets in PP as we are based in Siem Reap but will have a look next time we visit. They are commonly found on the street here in Siem Reap, or in the food section of the market? I guess the search for the elusive sweet potato goes on! Good luck and we’ll let you know where we spot them in PP. You could always ask in the Vegan Cambodia Facebook group – there are a couple of PP based vegans there who might be able to help too – they’re a very friendly and helpful group too 😉
      Caryl

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