Cambodia Gluten Free Guide
Cambodia is a beautiful country. Its cities are diverse, ranging from seaside fishing towns like Kep to bustling cities like Siem Reap. Cambodian food, perhaps like the country itself, is probably some of the most underrated in Southeast Asia. The use of local spices gives the curries great flavour, and the stir fries are fresh and tasty.
Although Cambodia might seem perfect for gluten free eating due to the amount of rice, the use of soy sauce and oyster sauce in dishes means it can be a pretty tricky to find gluten free options, as is the case in most of Asia. This blog post is to give you some general tips along with specific restaurant recommendations for some of the most visited cities. Hopefully you’ll enjoy Cambodia as much as I did, and eat as safely and as well as I did too!
Tip 1: Get an allergy card
Allergy cards in the local language (Khmer) are the easiest way to explain to your waiter what you need, and ask about the contents of dishes. There are plenty available with a quick google search. I found that the simpler the card, the better.
Tip 2: Enjoy the local dishes
The Khmer curry, often just listed as ‘curry’ on menus, is a naturally gluten free dish. It’s a delicious, mild curry (similar to a Thai massaman curry) usually containing sweet potato, green beans, carrots, onions, and if you’re not veggie a meat of your choice.
Amok is another naturally gluten free dish which is found in almost all Cambodian restaurants. Although it might look like the contents of a baby’s nappy, it smells and tastes delicious. ‘Amok’ means that it’s cooked in a banana leaf, and the dish is coconut milk based with the flavour from ingredients such as kaffir lime leaves, chilli, lemongrass and turmeric. Fish amok is most popular, but other varieties are commonly available.
Although both dishes are naturally gluten free, it is of course worth showing your allergy card to the restaurant anyway to ensure no gluten is used in the dish at that restaurant.
Tip 3: Take your own gluten free soy sauce
Gf soy sauce is worth the space it takes up in your luggage as it’s near impossible to find in supermarkets in Cambodia. With gf soy sauce to hand you can ask for stir fries without the sauces and then add your own, which is really handy for lunch-time or when you’re bored of curries (if it’s possible to get bored of Khmer curry).
Tip 4: Check the local shops for gluten free cereal
I was so surprised when I walked into a small ‘Panda Mart’ in Phnom Penh and saw gluten free ‘weet-bix’ and 3 varieties of gluten free cheerios! It turned out that these were pretty common finds in Cambodia, so it’s well worth checking. It’s so helpful to have gf cereal on you when you fancy a change from the fruit and yoghurt I ate most mornings in South-East Asia.
Tip 5: Social enterprise cafes often cater for gluten free
There are a lot of social enterprise cafes around Cambodia, which all have great ways of helping the local community through education, employment, etc. These are often also the best places for eating gluten free, and have a good grasp on allergies as well as vegetarian and vegan diets.
GLUTEN FREE RESTAURANT RECOMMENDATIONS
Siem Reap was gluten free HEAVEN. I spent 2 months in South East Asia and found the most places that catered for gluten free here.
ARTillery is a health café and arts venue with loads of gluten free options. I went for breakfast, which I would recommend doing, and had the most amazing crepes topped with mango, passionfruit, an almond, raisin and date mix, and wild honey. It was hands down the best breakfast I had in South East Asia.
ARTillery is also good for lunch if you have time to go twice, and you can make your own health bowl by pick-and-mixing from an extensive list of options.
Sister Srey is a social enterprise café and is great for vegan and veggie options, as well as gluten free. All gf options are marked on the menu. It’s only open until 6pm so is a good breakfast or lunch stop. I went for the veggie sweet chilli stir fry, which was great, as was the ‘Bodia bowl’ my boyfriend ordered.
Gluten free Italian food is a rare find in Cambodia, and GOOD gluten free Italian food an even rarer find, so I was thrilled to find it at La Pasta. The excellent service includes a free welcome drink, cold towel and sweet potato fries. La Pasta has gluten free pizza and pasta for $2 extra, and you can choose between spaghetti and ‘short pasta’. The pasta is a little on the hard side, but the sauces are great, and I cannot rave enough about the delicious pizza! I went for the chicken pesto pizza and had no regrets.
ARTillery Phnom Penh Branch (see Siem Reap section for details)
Shop: La Vie Claire
La Vie Claire stocks an extensive range of gluten free products including loads of Schar gluten free items. It’s a little on the expensive side due to being imported, but worth the cost if you’re spending a little while in Cambodia.
Note: google maps has the location of La Vie Claire slightly off, so don’t panic and think it’s closed down (like I might’ve done…), just carry on a bit further down the street and you’ll spot it!
My Friends’ Café and Bakery
My Friends’ Café and Bakery has gf pizza, bread, pancakes, and cake! You can also buy loafs of bread to take away with you. My experience here wasn’t so great as the waitress gave me my boyfriend’s “normal” pizza and insisted it was gluten free. Luckily the very understanding owner corrected the error before I took a bite, but the base was also pretty raw. Whilst I can’t recommend the pizza, I’d definitely recommend going and checking out the other options!
Unfortunately I didn’t get round to visiting Backyard Café, but it was recommended to me as it has a gluten free menu with a lot of options, so it’s certainly worth a visit.
Jaan Bai is a social enterprise restaurant initiative of the Cambodian Children’s Trust, dedicated to helping children stay off the streets and out of orphanages. All gluten free dishes were marked with a ‘gf’ symbol on their menu. They serve various types of Asian food, and it is absolutely delicious. I’d recommend going for dinner as the restaurant has a nice style and atmosphere for an evening meal.
I went to Creperie Battambang twice, and it was closed both times! If you’re lucky enough to go when it’s open, the crepes here are made using Buckwheat flour, so are all gluten free. Note: it definitely does not open at 7:30am despite what google tells you.
Bohemiaz bungalows are a little out of town and down a muddy track, but if you’re renting a scooter (which I’d recommend doing in Kampot) then it’s not too far to go. Alternatively you could stay here, or at the Orchid Bokor just opposite which I can personally recommend. The restaurant at Bohemiaz has gluten free wraps with a variety of fillings as well as gluten free fajitas. I went for the chicken tikka wrap which was great, no falling apart whatsoever.
I hope you love Cambodia as much as I did, and that your trip is made a little easier with my ultimate guide to eating gluten free!