Did Cambodia really invent noodles?

In its simplest form, num banh chok is the perfect dish to eat in warm weather: rice noodles topped with a cool fish gravy and crisp raw vegetables including cucumbers, banana blossom, and water lily stems and fresh herbs!

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Probably the most famous num banh chok comes from Phnom Penh (or around the city), but of course there are also many regional variations, such as Kampot-style num banh chok, which relies on locally-produced sweet dried shrimp, coconut cream, fish sauce and peanuts. Siem Reap – where I tasted my latest sampling – has its own version, which has more garlic and coconut milk than the original, and is served with a sweet sauce called tik pha em. Sometimes, the Siem Reap version is served with a curry chicken sauce made with shrimp paste and yams. Regardless of which version you try, you can be sure that you will be sampling some of the finest Cambodian food.

Nom Banh Chrouk (Khmer Noodles)
Nom Banh Chrouk (Khmer Noodles)

A popular Khmer folktale is that a celebrated politician called Thun Chey was exiled from the Khmer Empire by the Khmer king who was scared of his power and popularity. In China, he was forced to resort to making a living selling these Khmer noodles! Of course, such a delicious dish quickly gained popularity with the Chinese, until even the Emperor heard about it. Most Cambodians are familiar with the story of Thun Chey, and many will say that this is where China got their own idea for noodle dishes (and subsequently the undeserved glory resulting from Cambodia’s invention). See: Top 5 Chinese Noodle Dishes. It is an interesting notion that Cambodians invented the simple noodle dish!

khmernoodles3

If you want to try what most Khmers call “the world’s first noodle”, you can find women walking around Phnom Penh in the mornings and early afternoon selling bowls of num banh chok out of baskets hanging off poles balanced on their shoulders, as well as at local markets closer to the Mekong River or at Sisowath Quay. I had tried in vain to find some Khmer Noodles during my time at Sisowath Quay, but I just wasn’t looking in the right place! In Siem Reap, I found an amazing guy selling Khmer Noodles in a small market near Angkor Thom temple. In fact, many of us were sitting eating our noodles and a huge branch broke from the tree above us and fell to the ground close to where we were seated. It’s a dangerous business, eating noodles!

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2 thoughts on “Did Cambodia really invent noodles?

  1. You seem to enjoy trying lots of different foods at local markets and street stalls. How do you prevent from getting sick? Do you look for places with lots of customers, freshly cooked food or food prepared in front of you? Or go with recommendations from locals?

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    1. I like to get some advice from friends (or online) and that way I can have a mental list of everything I want to try before I get to a particular country. Then I specifically look for it while I’m in town! I do get ill occasionally, but fortunately nothing too serious. The worst food poisoning I had was after eating Chawanmushi in Japan and after eating some seafood on the beach in Bali. 😦 On the flipside, Cambodian food has been good to me so far! 😀

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