Today we are gonna share some budget tips for traveling in Cambodia! In this article, we tell how cheap street food in Cambodia looks like and where you can find it. We spent one month backpacking in Cambodia with a daily budget of 15 dollars each. From that amount we spend around 6 dollars a day for all the food and drinks (including all the partying as well). Read also out travel budget summary here. We are big fans of street food and from our opinion, every traveler should try street foods in South-East Asia also because of the experience, regardless if you are traveling with a small or big budget.
When we moved from Thailand to Cambodia, we noticed immediately that the price level in Cambodia is actually surprisingly high, considering how poor the country is. The price level is, of course, a relative thing. Anyhow, in Siem Reap we noticed that the food prices in many restaurants are even close to the European level. Again in Thailand you can easily eat for 1-2 dollars even in the restaurants and not only in the street stalls.
Soon we found the budget travelers’ saviour which is cheap street food!
In our hostel in Siem Reap we met a guy who told that he hasn’t found food for less than 2 dollars even once in Cambodia. This is true for sure if you only eat in those restaurants in the tourist streets. Luckily, Cambodia offers also other alternatives for backpackers than these “pricey” places. Soon we found the budget travelers’ savior which is cheap street food! After that we didn’t eat in restaurants at all before going to Sihanoukville and Koh Rong where the selection is not that wide.
What is Cambodian food like?
Like in many other South-East Asian countries, in Cambodia the basic food normally consists of either rice or noodles with side dishes. We mostly ate noodle soup, fried noodles and rice with different sauces. Fish seemed to be very popular among locals as well.
Sometimes the meat in the food was very nice and tender. Anyhow, we noticed that the Cambodians like their chicken and meat very bony. Of course it makes sense to use all the parts of the animal as much as possible. We had to get used to this but still, we couldn’t understand how to get anything to eat from these bony parts… Normally the food we had was quite tasty though!
Many street stalls also sell fruit shakes, filled baguettes, pastries, corn and deep-fried banana (you should definitely try it!). For the brave ones, there is also a big selection of insects and other interesting creatures. We skipped these things this time though.
Where to find cheap street food in Cambodia?
In Cambodia there are street food stalls and cheap eateries scattered at almost every corner. You just need to open your eyes and look further than those places full of foreigners having their dinner. We were almost every time the only foreigners in the food places where we went. At least this tells that the food and atmosphere were authentic! We found cheap food places even in the middle of the city in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Kampot. Finding cheap food doesn’t have to mean that you must wander in small side alleys.
Local Cambodian food places can be found especially at the marketplaces and around them. So if it seems to be difficult to find budget-friendly food, you should head to a local market. You can recognize good and cheap food places by spotting 1) plastic chairs and 2) local people eating. Unlike in touristic restaurants, the local eateries rarely are beautifully decorated. The purpose is to fill the stomach and not hang around, right. We recommend choosing a place that looks popular because it means that the food is probably fresh and safe.
Especially at the marketplaces, there are places where you can buy cheap Cambodian food takeaway in a plastic bag or box with rice aside. We named this kind of food “pot food” (that sounds reeeeally suspicious btw) because the food is sold directly from big pots. This food offered us the most interesting and authentic (and sometimes the weirdest) food experiences in Cambodia. Sometimes the food was just cooked and steaming hot but sometimes already cool. We had no idea how long the food had been standing there but at least we never got sick! Everyone should make the decision based on own courage and instincts.
How to buy street food in Cambodia?
Once you spot an interesting food stall or eatery, you should first check what they have to offer and also evaluate how clean and popular the place looks like. You might face confused looks and smiles because many places are normally not visited by foreigners. Many vendors don’t also speak English. Don’t get discouraged but smile and just take a place among the locals!
You should ask and bargain the price beforehand. Once the food is already in your stomach, the vendor can ask for almost any price and it’s difficult to say anything against at that point. We normally paid $0,75 to $2 for the food in Cambodia. The ultimately cheapest meal was in the small town of Kampong Cham. In a small eatery next to a marketplace, we got two portions of rice and a curry for $0,70 altogether. That’s dirt cheap we would say! If you feel like the vendor is asking for an overprice, fell free to bargain. That’s a normal habit in Cambodia.
In the “pot food places” the table is full of mysterious steel pots with lids on them. We followed the example of the locals and had a look what’s inside the pots. Normally we found different kinds of curries, vegetables and meat and fish dishes. The places also sell fish, grilled meat (very delicious!) and eggs. One portion of the vegetarian or meat dish normally costs $0,50-1 and a big portion of rice $0,25.
In Cambodia we could be spotted quite often sitting somewhere at the corner of the street or on the stairs and eating from plastic boxes and bags. Not really anything luxurious but then again, what wouldn’t a backpacker do to save some money.
Summarized, Cambodian street food is very affordable and mostly also tasty. We recommend skipping the touristic restaurants at least from time to time and go to see what you get when you sit down on a plastic chair among the locals.