Pork with rice or bai sach chrouk is one of Cambodia’s most popular breakfast dishes (along with noodles or noodle soups). It is impossible not to hear about it in the various travel reports! It is the ubiquitous breakfast of Cambodians and every tourist who is curious about local foods. It is difficult to find it past a certain time in the morning. Too bad for those who get up late!
It is composed of pork (sach chrouk or chrouk) that is marinated then grilled (ideally on charcoal) and sliced finely, accompanied by rice (bai in Cambodian) and pickled vegetables. Its marinade with coconut milk, garlic, palm sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, lime and Kampot pepper brings a unique flavor to the meat and gives its unique identity to the dish. It also allows for a nice caramelization when cooking.
The marinade is a pre-cooking process and a way of flavoring the meat that is often used in Cambodian cuisine. Lok lak for example, another iconic dish of the country, is based on the same principle: beef marinated in tomato sauce, soy sauce and fish. But also the lap khmer where the meat is marinated in lime.
If bai sach chrouk is a simple dish, it is no less delicious and it brings together several markers of Cambodian culinary identity.
The rice on which the meat is served is one of the staples of Cambodian food. It is a very inexpensive, nourishing ingredient, which accompanies both meats and fish. Cambodia, which is one of the major rice producing countries and is very dependent on this production, has exported 635,679 tons to international markets in 2017 alone! In Cambodia, you will often be served bai sach chrouk on broken rice, certainly because it is cheap.
Sugar palm (or thnot) is also one of the great natural resources of Cambodia and one of its symbols. Its wood is used for the construction, the palms for covering the houses, the fruits are consumed and finally its juice (teuk tnot) is transformed into a fresh drink (teuk tnot chou), syrup, in alcohol after fermentation or in sugar loaf and in refined sugar. It is an important income for the country and its inhabitants, but the harvest is dangerous for the workers because the palm trees are sometimes more than 100 feet high (palms included).
Coconut trees are also part of the landscape and coconut milk (ktis) is widely used in the kitchen to prepare soups, curries and desserts. In the latter, it is very often associated with palm sugar.
Kampot pepper (ម្រេច កំពត [mréch kâmpôt]) which benefits from a PGI (protected geographical indication) is very fruity and slightly minty. It has been cultivated in the country for quite some time (it is mentioned by Zhou Daguan, Chinese diplomat, at the end of the 13th century), and if it almost disappeared during the regime of terror of the Khmer Rouge, its production is today one of the prides of the country. It is produced in the south, in the region of Kampot. In this recipe, it brings a very specific flavor to the meat.
Fish sauce is widely used in Asia and the recipes to make it may vary from one country to another, but in all cases, it consists in the fermentation of fish for a few months. It will give this flavor that is so typical to the dish, along with soy sauce. Finally, lime, pickled vegetables and cilantro will bring a lot of freshness to the rich flavors of this breakfast.
The least we can say is that with such a start of the day and a full breakfast, you can only go about your business with energy and without feeling hungry. Of course if you are not into savory dishes for breakfast, bai sach chrouk will make a perfect lunch or dinner!
- 1 lb boneless pork chops (or boneless pork shoulder), sliced thinly
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 4 cloves garlic , pressed
- 4 tablespoons grated palm sugar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 large lime , squeezed
- Black kampot pepper , freshly ground
- Cilantro leaves , for garnish
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 3 small cucumbers , julienned or sliced
- 1 daikon radish , julienned or sliced
- 1 carrot , julienned or sliced
- 4 cloves garlic , pressed
- 2 Thai peppers , thinly sliced
- In a small saucepan, pour the vinegar, sugar, salt and fish sauce. Simmer over low heat until the sugar is dissolved.
- Let cool.
- Mix the vegetables, garlic and peppers in a bowl. Pour the marinade.
- Place the vegetables in a jar.
- Marinate for 8 hours, shaking the jar from time to time without opening.
- Mix all the ingredients of the marinade in a salad bowl and add the pieces of pork. Mix well.
- Marinate for 5 hours in the refrigerator.
- Remove the meat from the marinade. Reserve the marinade in a saucepan.
- Grill the pork until you see the grill marks and the meat begins to caramelize.
- Bring the marinade to boil and boil for one minute over high heat.
- Add a little boiling water if it evaporates too quickly.
- Cut the meat into thin strips and serve with white rice and pickled vegetables.
- Pour the sauce over the meat and garnish with cilantro leaves.