In terms of global cuisine, Cambodian food is, in my opinion, seriously underrated. Cambodian food has the same culinary roots as it’s Thai neighbours, but with less of the heat. When the Portuguese brought over chillies in the 16th century, it became an integral part of Thai food culture, while it didn’t influence Khmer cuisine in quite the same way.
Dishes like fish amok or beef lok lak are delicious, but relatively unknown outside the region. They are seriously under appreciated, and if you do ever have the chance to try them, you should.
A two hours drive from the capital, Kampot province is home to the Kampot pepper. Kampot, you could argue, along with the neighbouring province of Kep, is the Lyon of Cambodia – the gastronomic capital of the country.
Kep and Kampot are a foodie’s paradise – with rich spices, deliciously fresh seafood, and, inexplicably, home to the BEST RIBS I’VE EVER HAD.
I was in the region for three days, and managed to make it to the Rusty Keyhole twice for their ribs. I’d like to point out that I am usually not a fan of ribs at all – I don’t like barbecue sauce, and gnawing at bones isn’t usually my thing. Usually.
The Phnom Penh Post rated the ribs at the Rusty Keyhole as the best in Cambodia. I, however, rate them as the best in the world. The sauce was perfect – not too sweet, not too sickly, just right – and the meat was succulent, falling off the bone and divine. I am still dreaming about these ribs, three weeks on.
For those who dare brave it, they challenge diners to eat a whole ‘Dino-Rib’ (1kg of ribs). Those who accept, and succeed, get a free dessert and a photo up on the wall of fame. There’s also a hilarious wall of shame for those who fail miserably. I didn’t take them up on the challenge, but if I could eat a kilo of anything in one sitting, it would be these ribs.
Rusty Keyhole: (5 / 5)
There was no shortage of things to do during a trip to Kep – like going to Rabbit Island, just a short boat ride away, and going up to Bokor Palace and Casino, an abandoned French-colonial resort on top of a mountain. It’s all beautiful, eerie, and somewhat magical.
Dining in Kep was also a magical experience. Go down to the crab market at sunset, to enjoy fresh crab served with a delicious Kampot pepper and lime juice sauce.
We went to So Kheang, one of many establishments adjacent to the crab market. Once we gave our orders, our waitress would wade out into the ocean and retrieve the crabs fresh from the baskets.
You can get the crab served in different ways, but from experience, getting it steamed rather than grilled or fried is the way to go. For anything else, I’d recommend the latter, but for crab you want it to retain its juicy flavour and texture.
So Kheang, and the other establishments alongside the crab market will get you a few crabs each for around $7. They are standard, no-frills type places, but often have a stunning view of the ocean and the food is simply incredible.
So Kheang (5 / 5)
Another place to try in Kep is the Sailing Club. Try and get a table for sunset (it’s worth booking), and the cocktails are really enjoyable, and the view is simply stunning. The Sailing Club has a great atmosphere, but is let down by the food slightly – with such a good view, and such great cocktails, it’s such a shame that the quality of the food doesn’t compare to the cheap and cheerful joints a stones’ throw away. However, if you’re looking for a romantic setting, the Knai Bang Chatt Sailing Club would be a great place to go (and the desserts there are fabulous).
Sailing Club (3.5 / 5)
The Rusty Keyhole can be found by the riverfront in Kampot.
So Kheang can be found next to the Crab Market in Kep – 092 254 683; 097 253 9186.
The Kep Sailing Club (Knai Bang Chatt) can be found at Phum Thmey Sangkat Prey Thom, 989, Cambodia.