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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?