Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - At the grill: Khmer barbeque in your own home

At the grill: Khmer barbeque in your own home

At the grill: Khmer barbeque in your own home

130329 06a
On the hook: a butcher reaches for a piece of fresh and juicy. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Cambodia is a BBQ nation and in Phnom Penh the fires never go out: all around the clock, crusty crabs, juicy beef cutlets, caramelised pork chops, and fish steam and sizzle on grills or grids over a bucket of glowing charcoal. Cambodians and expats alike love a hearty Khmer BBQ, spiced with some ground Kampot pepper, sea salt and limejuice and washed down with jugs of cold beer.. But how many of us do it ourselves? Hong Chea, the owner of city favourites Sovanna and I & II, gave 7Days tips on how to find best quality ingredients on O’Russey market and some simple recipes for delicious BBQ dishes.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The pork has to be fully cooked but left on the grill too long it shrivels. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
When the crab is red it is done and when the veggies are black they are burned. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The snakehead fish gets a generous body scrub of chilli, ginger and sweet basil. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The marinade of oyster and soy sauce with a little sugar is foolproof and delicious. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Crabs at O’Russey Market. Photograph: Alexander Crook/Phnom Penh Post

O’Russey Market

O’Russey is Phnom Penh’s biggest market. Thousands of stalls on three stories and shops sell everything you need for a BBQ. The section that sells fresh meat, live seafood and vegetables is spread out over the lower level.

7D Tip: Wear shoes that can get wet. Leather loafers will be spoiled.

The grill

Buy a grill at the South-Western corner of O’Russey. A medium sized grill should cost you about $20. Pick up tongs and double-sided grids with a handle for an extra $5.

Firing up the grill

Most markets and street corners sell coal – fire it up two hours before grilling. This way you get consistent heat. Pile the charcoal up to a little tower and stick paper in between, light it and start blowing.

7 Tip: Don’t blow on the fire yourself. Use a fan and watch or prepare the next steps.

Beef and pork

Beef and pork are best bought in the morning between six and seven am.

Fresh beef ($8 per kilo) has to look deep red, and when you press on it blood should come out. Use fat free parts like filet.

Fresh pork ($4 per kilo) looks pink.

Meat should never be pale and should not smell sweet.

 If you press a finger in, it should pop back into its original shape.

Marinate the beef slices and thinner pork slices in some oyster sauce, soy sauce and sugar half an hour before putting them on the grill.

The beef can be grilled at a very high heat so you might throw it on for 30 seconds on every side. Smear some butter on there as well.

The meat is then brown, nicely glazed on the outside and juicy and pink in the middle.

Pork has to be well done, so grill it on a small flame for seven minutes on each side with some butter on it.

Then it is as crispy as the beef but tender on the inside. A well-done cutlet shouldn’t bend when you pick it up with the tongs.

7D Tip: Withstand the temptation to grill the pork with too much heat.

It will get as chewy as a shoe sole if its left on the flame for too long - so keep a very close eye.

Mekong fish

Fish that still moves is fresh from Phnom Penh. A variety of living river fish ($2.5-3 per piece) is available at the market.

You can point at a specimen that looks tasty and have it killed, disembowelled, and de-scaled for you on the spot by a willing vendor.


Sea fish and seafood are brought into Phnom Penh from Sihanoukville. The best time to buy is about 3-4 pm. Before the truck arrives, you will get yesterday’s leftovers.

To tell fish is fresh, look at the gills. They have to be light red, not brown. Because fish vendors know customers check the gills some of them colour them. Don’t be fooled.

The eyes and the skin have to be clear. When you pinch the fish the flesh should feel soft. You should be able to lift the skin a little.

7D Tip: We rubbed the inside and outside of our snakehead fish with a mix of chopped ginger, chilli, sweet basil, and salt, and cut the skin so the flesh would draw in the aroma of the herbs.  

Then wrap the fish in tinfoil and throw it on the grill.

Grill at medium heat for ten minutes on all four sides.

The result is tender and flaky fish with a subtly spicy taste. Our favourite.

Shrimp should also have clear eyes and shell and not smell. Crabs($10-13 per kilo) in all sizes can be bought live.
Throw the whole crab on the grill straight away.
It’s done quickly and you can tell the crab is ready when it turns red. Don’t leave it too long otherwise the meat will spoil and dry out.

7D Tip: You have to kill the crab with a stab between the eyes before throwing it on the grill.
Traditionally, ground pepper, salt, and limejuice make the best BBQ sauce. Add chilli and sugar if you want.

7D Tip: Fry whole peppercorns and salt grains in a pan before grinding them. That adds a delicious, roasted aroma.