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Foods and Drinks

Cambodia Food and Drinks
Cambodian cuisine, though uniquely Khmer, draws heavily on the traditions of both its Thai neighbors and Chinese residents. An oft-repeated generalization which is, nevertheless pretty accurate, likens Cambodian food to Thai food but without the spiciness. The main national staple is of course rice, but French colonial influence has dictated that the Cambodians eat more bread--generally French-style baguettes--than any other Southeast Asian country. Because of the country's incredible richness in waterways including the Mekong, Ton Le Sap and Ton Le Bassac Rivers, not to mention the Tonlé Sap Lake, freshwater fish and prawns are especially popular--in addition to which plenty of fresh seafood is available from the Gulf of Thailand. Beef, pork, chicken, duck and other poultry are widely available but generally more expensive than fish dishes, whilst other less well known Cambodian delicacies include locusts, field rats, snakes and land crabs.

Soup is served as an accompaniment to almost all Cambodian meals, though it is always served with the main dishes, not before as in the West. Some of the better-known soup dishes include Somlar Machou Banle (Sour fish soup), Somlar Machou Bangkang (Sour and spicy prawn soup, akin to Thai tom yam gung), Somlar chapek (Pork soup with ginger) and Mon sngor (chicken and coriander soup). Num Banh Choc (Rice noodle and fish soup) is a common and popular Cambodian breakfast.

++Rice and fish are the basic foods enjoyed by Cambodians. Delicious noodle soups are available at cafes. Fresh seafood is plentiful at Sihanouk Ville. In major cities a wide range of culinary fare is on offer including; Chinese, Thai, French, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese and Middle Eastern.

The Cambodian food combines Chinese and Indian influences with its own; native recipes. Most famous are the curries and the spicy hot seasoned stews, plus the smooth and tasty coconut curries. Most meals use rice as the filler, but there are many noodle dishes: and salads without rice.

Ovens are not part of the ordinary Cambodian kitchen or small restaurant, for cooked food is either boiled or stir-fried. Cambodian food is never bland. Its range of spices includes chili, pepper, coriander leaf and root, lemon grass, basil, ginger, mint, cardamom, and screw pine. Sour soups are popular and meat and fish are always served with sauces like shrimp paste, tamarind, or honey with chili.

Fish sauce is the basic substitute for salt across the country. Spicy salads are a local specialty. They are made from raw prawns, meat, green papaya, field crab, or chopped raw meat, with chili and other spices. Like the various noodle dishes, they are often sold at street side stalls for those who want a light meal. Cambodian have no food bias and are always willing to try any sort of meat, wild or domestic, and most seafood.

++A Traditional Meal
 Before Western influence introduced tables and chairs, Cambodian dined by sitting on the floor around a small, short table. Various curries and other dishes were set upon the table, like cabbage and green bean, skewered or fried meat, crab or fish. The hot, sour soup that is part of any full-course Cambodian meal was cooked in clay pot that was placed in the center of the table. Rice was served in small bowls to each person, who then used spoons or chopsticks to select pieces of food from the other bowls. Each dinner also had a separate soup bowl that he or she filed from the common pot. That ancient style of eating has not changed much; the only exception is that the food has been transferred to a taller table. Soup is still cooled in the center, if not in a clay pot then in a wheel-shaped pan. But throughout the countryside, the old my still exist.

++Rice
Several months of hard labor go into providing Cambodian supper tables with their most important food-rice. Farmers have to break up the hard ground during the dry season of the year and plough it with the first drops of rain.

Rice seedlings are first planted in one part of the field, where they grow while the farmer cultivates and prepares another part of the field in which the rice will be transplanted at the start of the heavy rain season. Weeds and pests attack the rice fields all summer. Hoppers, rice bugs, field crabs, mice, and herons keep the farmers busy. After the rains comes the harvest, followed by the exhausting job of threshing, winnowing, and milling the rice grains. Most Cambodian prefers the highly polished variety called Angkor laar, or “beautiful rice.”

++Nonalcoholic Drinks
All the famous international brands of soft drinks are available in Cambodia. Locally produced mineral water is available at 500r to 700r per bottle.

Coffee is sold in most restaurants. It is either served black or with generous dollops of condensed milk, which makes it very sweet. Chinese-style tea is popular and in many Khmer and Chinese restaurants a pot of it will automatically appear as soon as you sit down.

You can find excellent fruit smoothies all over the country, known locally as a tikalok. Just look out for a stall with fruit and a blender and point to the flavors you want. Keep an eye on the preparatory stages or you may end up with heaps of sugar and a frothy egg.

On a hot day you may be tempted by the stuff in Fanta bottles on the side of the road. Think again, as it is actually petrol (gas).

Fruit
There is an abundance of fruit in Cambodia. In the appropriate seasons--especially towards the end of the hot season in May--the markets overflow with a wide variety of exotic fruits. There's fruit to be had the year round, though, and it's generally both reasonably priced and (if carefully washed) healthy and safe. Amongst the most popular and widespread fruits are mango, coconut, rambutan, durian, mangosteen, starfruit, pineapple, watermelon and a wide variety of bananas

++Alcoholic Drinks
The local bee is Angkor, which is produced by an Australian joint venture in Sihanoukwille. Other brands include Heineken, Tiger, San Miguel, Carlsberg, VB, Foster's and Grolsch. Beer sells for around US$1 to US$1.50 a can in restaurants. In Phnom Penh, foreign wines and spirits are sold at reasonable prices. The local spirits are best avoided, though some experts say that Sra Special, a local whisky-like concoction, is not bad. At around 1000r a bottle it's a cheap route to oblivion.

Other common dishes include Khao Poun (Rice noodles in a coconut-based sauce), Amok (fish with coconut milk steamed in a banana leaf), Sach Mon Chha Khnhei (stir-fried chicken with ginger), Somlar Machou Sachko (Sour beef stew) and Choeeng Chomni Chrouc Chean (Fried pork spareribs). An Sam Chruk (Pork & soybeans marinated in ginger and chili) can be delicious, but packs a fairly hefty punch. Similarly watch out for Pong Tea Kon (Fertilized duck egg containing an embryo, like the Filipino balut) which is not to everybody's taste. Many dishes are served Trey, or grilled. Thus Trey Aing (Grilled fish) is available just about everywhere, as is trey Chean Neung Spey (fried fish with vegetables). By extension, Trey Mon is grilled chicken, Trey Sachko is grilled beef, and so on. Fish and meat dishes not served with noodles are generally accompanied by rice. Indispensable condiments--certainly as far as the Cambodians are concerned--are Prahoc (fish sauce just like Thai Nam Pla and Vietnamese Nuoc Mam) and Tuk Trey (fish sauce with ground, roasted peanuts added).

Travelers up country will generally find themselves limited to Cambodian cuisine or to the fairly ubiquitous baguette and paté. In towns of any size--all provincial capitals, for example--Chinese food is widely available, generally reflecting the southern coastal origin of most of Cambodia's Overseas Chinese migrants. Expect, therefore, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochou and Hailam fare, but don't waste your time looking for Szechuan or Yunnanese cuisine. In the west of the country, notably at Poipet, Sisophon, Battambang and Siem Reap, Thai cuisine is widespread. Similarly in the east, at Kampot, Takeo, Kompong Cham and Svay Rieng, Vietnamese culinary influence is common. Sihanoukville excels at seafood cooked in every conceivable way, and also has a fast growing smattering of Western food outlets--French, Italian, British, German and Australian.

Phnom Penh has, naturally enough, the widest range of restaurants in the city. Here the visitor can find everything listed above as well as Greek, Turkish, North Indian, South Indian, Malay and-increasingly--'Fast Food' restaurants. The capital also serves some of the best French food available in Indochina, as well as some unexpected colonial hangovers from the Middle East and North Africa, notably couscous and merguez spicy Moroccan sausage. Pizza is increasingly popular, but the 'Pizza Hut' restaurant near the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument is, at time of writing, a copycat operation.


Laos Food & Drink
As with so much in Laos, it comes as no surprise that the food is closely affiliated to that of Thailand. It is, however, a lot more basic and lacks the huge variety of Thai cuisine. The basic ingredients are the same, with lots of lemon grass, coriander, basil, galangal, and, of course, the very pungent fish sauce. Like Thai food, it is often lemony and tangy, using fresh ingredients swiftly prepared.

The staple for lowland Lao is sticky rice, though many highland groups don't eat it at all. In fact, Laos boasts more than 3,000 traditional rice varieties, with colors ranging from black and purple to red and brown. It is eaten steamed or boiled, with a wide range of meats, vegetables, poultry, and fish, all well spiced and flavored. Lao cooking uses an astounding array of flavorings including garlic, chilies, tamarind, sugar, lime juice, and fermented fish sauce. Fresh salads, native sausages, and noodles are other common ingredients. Most food is dry and spicy, and often watered down with fruit juices, beer, or plain water. Grilling, boiling, stewing, and steaming all come into play in a Lao kitchen. Stir-frying is now also very common, but actually considered to be a Chinese influence. Stews are often green because of the many fresh vegetables used. Soups you will encounter include tom cheut, keng, and keng soua. Keng is characterized by ginger and padek, and keng soua is keng that contains both galangal and ginger. Tom cheut is a mild soup with tofu and no spices.

Ping is grilled food, be that chicken, pork, or field rat (everything that is healthy and edible in the rice field will eventually go into the pot). Laab is a spicy salad that is very popular. You will also find restaurants serving the "cook-it-yourself" steam boat and grill. A fire is lit under a large metal grill, surrounded by a trough at the side for boiling vegetables and noodles.

Since Laos is landlocked, it will come as no surprise that fish tends to be freshwater. You will also find a lot of Vietnamese food and Chinese food. Pho (pronounced "fur") is the ubiquitous Vietnamese noodle soup. It contains pork or beef, plenty of fresh vegetables, and fragrant fresh mint.

As with elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the French influence remains. Fresh baguette (khao ji), strong filtered coffee, and pâté sandwiches (khao ji pâté) are all available on the street. Laos is also a major coffee producer, so if caffeine is your thing you are in for a treat. Ask for "kah-fe Lao" to make sure you don't get served a cup of instant granules rather than the real thing. Both Vientiane and Luang Prabang boast superb French restaurants with authentic Gallic fare and great wine. Both places are a gourmet treat and have gotten better over the years as competition has forced up quality. The food in both towns is world-beating in terms of both quality and price.

Water in restaurants is safe to drink since it is purified. Apart from that, stick with bottled water. There are also the usual soft, sweet fizzy drinks available. Then there is Beer Lao. This used to be the only beer on the market -- now in tourist areas you can also get Heineken, Carlsberg, and Tiger, although Beer Lao is still by far the cheapest and most popular. Beer Lao has achieved high international status and is now widely exported. People rave about it as if they had joined a religious cult. It's hip, it's fashionable, and it's popular. Laos is a country that is very proud of its national beer, though there is serious dissent. Some people describe it as a flat, overrated, chemical brew. If you like beer, you will have to decide for yourself whether you wish to be a Beer Lao evangelist. The other thing that Lao people drink in quantity is "lao-lao." It is an astonishingly cheap, brutally strong white rice liquor and is really best avoided unless you are a supremely confident hangover adventurer. The stuff is lethal. As with French food, Laos is also a great place for French wine in the major towns and it is also very reasonably priced.


Thai Food & Drink
Thai Cuisine
Thai cuisine is distinctive, thanks to liberal use of spicy ingredients, and combines the best of Chinese and Indian culinary traditions -noodles, curries, sweet and sour dishes, lengthily cooked and fast-cooked ingredients, exotic spices and condiments - while retaining its own very special character.

International Food
Chinese food in Thailand, normally quite bland is second to none. Major European, Levantine, Asian and Oriental cuisine are represented in gourmet restaurants. American, English and Continental breakfasts are served in most hotels and numerous, ubiquitous coffeeshops specia1ise in European dishes. Western-style fast food shops, snack bars and ice-cream parlours gain increasing popularity with Thais.

Restaurants and Food Shops
Food parks, or centres, usually in large shopping malls and hotels, are unusual Thai ventures. Numerous restaurants offer every imaginable type of Asian cuisine and huge colour pictures of dishes assist diners in their choices. Open-air garden restaurants, and riverine restaurants, are more peaceful and are favoured in the evenings by most Bangkokians. Menus are extensive. Service is prompt. Prices are reasonable. All kinds of regional Thai food can be sampled. Special dinners can be enjoyed on boats cruising the Chao Phraya River. Soft breezes, candlelight dining and distant music create romantic moods. Seafood restaurants are also popular. They offer a wide choice of fresh ingredients, charcoal grilled or broiled to individual requests, and a fine selection of local and imported wines. Some tourist-oriented restaurants present selected Thai classical and folk dances. Guests sit around low tables, often in traditional surroundings, with teak panelling and floors, classic paintings and precious porcelain. A combination of Thai cuisine, music, silk, orchids and graceful dances creates memorable evenings.


Myanmar Food
Dining in Yangon can be both pleasurable and exciting. As food is generally inexpensive, one can easily sample different dining options as food choices abound the city. The city's cuisine is influenced mainly by the neighboring countries and has therefore inspired various dishes:

Burmese
the local cuisine is an interesting blend of Chinese, Indian and local Myanmar influence. Typical Burmese dishes are curry-based and make use of chicken, seafood, and mutton. As the country is Buddhist-dominated, there is very little use of pork or beef.

Chinese
the country sits next to Mainland China and since Yangon is inhabited by many local Chinese, various regional cuisines such as Cantonese and Szechuan are available in the market.

Asian
influence is also very strong in the city's dining lifestyle. Japanese and Korean restaurants abound the city. Thai, Singaporean and Malaysian dishes are also quite common in many restaurant menus.

Western
most hotels and restaurants offer a wide variety of Western food. Items are usually available in buffet set-ups as well as in the ala carte menus. Oddly enough, the (Western) fastfood industry has not clearly penetrated the dining market. Worldwide fastfood chains are clearly absent in the city although this has given rise to a few local fastfood establishments and cafes.

Yangon has kept its local touch in terms of dining. Small teashops line up the streets of Yangon where one would find delicious local dishes served with favorite hot beverages. The "mohinga" is the most popular snack item and is served in practically all corners of town. This light, curry-based fish noodle soup is very tasty and although traditionally eaten for breakfast, is now served all-day. This tropical country also offers a wide variety of native, tropical fruits and while there is essentially no season for these fruits, most of the sweet and delicious variety come out during summer months.


Vietnam Food and Drink
Tet Food
Banh Chung and banh Tet (Boiled rice and pork cakes)

Boiled rice and pork cakes are usually cooked 2-3 days before Tet. Both can be kept for about two weeks in cool temperature. However, after this time they become hard and must be re-boiled.

Soak some green beans overnight in water to soften. Drain, rub and clean to remove the skin, and leave to dry. Next, cook the beans in a steamer and grind. Form into balls the size of tennis balls.

Soak some glutinous rice overnight. Clean and rinse. Mix with a little salt. Cut fresh pork meat (lean or fat, according to personal taste) into 2cm strips. Mix with salt, fish sauce and pepper, and leave for about one hour.

Clean dong leaves (leaves from arrowroot) and place them over each other to form a cross. Place an amount of rice in the centre of the leaves. Shape into a square (the southern version is in a circle). Press a "ball" of green bean on top. Then, add 1-2 pieces of marinated pork, then more green bean, and finally rice. Press firmly into a compact square and wrap the leaves over to cover the cake completely. Tie with bamboo strings. Place in a large pot of boiling water and boil overnight. Squeeze the moisture out by placing it in a colander with a heavy object on top.

To serve, untie and open the leaves. Invert on a plate and cut into pieces using the bamboo strings, not a knife. Serve cold.

Canh mang (Dried bamboo shoot soup)
Soak dried bamboo shoots in water for 2-3 days to soften. Boil 2-3 times if necessary. Cut into 5cm strips. Fry with pig trotters and salt. Add water, bring to boil and simmer until meat is tender. Garnish with green onion.

Bong (Dried pig skin)
Soak dried pig skin (the skin should be yellow, which means it has been pre-treated) in water for one hour. Drain and then add a cup of rice whisky and fresh ginger. Rub onto the skin (this will remove the smell). Cut into diamond-shaped pieces.

To make fresh chicken stock, add dried shrimps and dried huong (perfume) mushrooms, which have been pre-soaked in warm water, to 2-3 chicken carcasses. Bring to boil and simmer. Remove the dried mushrooms. Cut carrot and kohlrabi into decorative shapes (flowers, leaves etc). Boil the dried pork skin in the chicken stock for several minutes until tender. Add French/ string beans. To serve, mix all drained ingredients (place vegetables on top) and garnish with coriander.

Hanh muoi (Pickled onions)
You should make this dish about two weeks before Tet. Clean onions. Dissolve some salt and sugar in warm water. Add onions, cover and keep in a clean, dry place for two weeks.

Mien (Vermicelli noodles)
Cut mien into lengths and pre-soak for 10-15 minutes in water. Boil chicken innards (liver, heart, etc), salt and green onions in a fresh chicken stock. Mix with mien and serve.

Moc (Pork soup)
Buy raw minced pork. Add dried mushrooms, which have been soaked to be softened. Mound pork on the mushrooms and boil in chicken stock.

Ga ran or luoc (Fried or boiled chicken)
Fried version: marinate raw chicken in salt, sugar, garlic, fish sauce and burnt sugar. Fry chicken and marinade in oil.

Boiled version: served with julienne lemon grass.

Ca chep kho rieng (Carp with galangal)
Scale carp, cut into steaks and fry. Add finely sliced galangal, fish sauce, salt, burnt sugar and water (this makes the fish turn dark brown). Cook over a low heat until the fish is hard and little liquid remains.

Bo kho que (Beef with cinnamon)
Tie up beef muscle firmly with several strips of bamboo. Break cinnamon into small pieces, rub into beef. Sear.

Add fish sauce and salt, and cook over a low heat. Only cut beef when about to serve. The meat should be firm but not tough.

Xoi gac (Steamed momordica glutinous rice)
Soak glutinous rice in water overnight. Drain. Cut open the momordica (qua gac). Remove flesh and large black/red seeds. Mix this with a small cup of rice alcohol. Mix rice with salt and qua gac mixture.

Steam in a rice steamer. During steaming, add some chicken fat and stir through. When steamed, add a little sugar and stir through with chopsticks. Mound onto a plate and decorate with the black seeds from the fruit.

Che kho (Soft green bean cake)
Soak green beans in water overnight to soften. Rub and remove skin. Drain. Cook in boiling water until soft. Drain and grind into a wet powder. Mix with sugar in a pan over a medium heat. Keep stirring until a little drier and smoother. Place in a mound and invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. To serve, cut into slices like a cake.

Mut (Preserved fruit)
Prepare a week before Tet. The most important thing is to maintain the shape of the fruit. Use apple, potato, tomato, plum, ginger, mandarin, or gourd.

Apple: Pierce skin lengthwise, but don’t cut too deep. Place in a bowl of cold water and lime. Soak overnight. Wash carefully and dry. Cover in red sugar. Stir very carefully in a dry pan over low heat until sugar melts and solidifies. Take off heat. Press down carefully on top of apple to make into shape evocative of a seashell.

If using a kumquat, a traditional Tet fruit, use white sugar to keep the natural orange colour of the fruit. You must also keep the stalk in to keep the shape. You must also carefully press juice out after piercing skin.

Last, but not least
After indulging in all the above, remember that you cannot throw out any leftovers until the fourth day of Tet. It would also be highly inauspicious to sweep the rubbish from the house as all the good luck you have been working hard at will disappear with it.

Drinks
At some hotels in Vietnam, water are potable but you can not drink it from public water system in the street. There are too many kind of drinks such as: coffee, tea, mineral water, fruit juices, soft drinks, alcohol, wine, champagne and liquor... The most suitable for you while travelling is the mineral water sealed in plastic bottles ( well-known marks like La vie - Vittel France... ). At leisure, you can drink coffee and Vietnamese green tea or coconut milk, coca-cola, Pepsi. If you like alcoholic drinks, you should taste local beer 333 and Hanoi Beer or local alcohols made from rice. Otherwise if you are curious or adventurous to try a little bit of snake wine or the like. It said to be more powerful for men. Frozen drinks usually are better than drinks with ice.

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