Here is one of the emblematic dishes of Cambodia: beef lok lak. Lok lak or loc lac (ឡុកឡាក់) appears on the menu of most restaurants in Cambodia but also abroad. It is indeed a dish that delights the palate of Westerners and has therefore exported very well.
It consists in beef cut into pieces, marinated and then sautéed in a wok before being served on a bed of green salad with slices of tomatoes and cucumber that bring freshness to the dish. It is accompanied by rice as well as a lime and black pepper sauce in which the meat can be dipped before eating. A culinary journey!
To complete the trip to Cambodia, I suggest you also try kdam chaa, stir-fried crab with green pepper, bai sach chrouk, grilled pork rice, ang dtray-meuk, grilled squid, or the famous amok trei, fish with coconut milk and lemongrass steamed in a banana leaf.
Origin and influences of lok lak
Lok lak is so popular in Cambodia that you could think it is originally from there, but it actually comes from Vietnam, where it is called bò lúc lắc. Bò means “beef” and lúc lắc means “stir” or “shake”. This term evokes the movement of the diced meat in the wok.
Bò lúc lắc is an example of the French influence exercised during the period of Indochinese colonization. In particular, beef was introduced to Vietnamese cuisine, as well as green salad, which replaces aromatic herbs.
Sometimes, the beef was accompanied by fries, for a very French variant but it is rather rice that was served, with tomato and onions rather than plain. Because of the use of chopsticks in Vietnamese cuisine, the steak in the bò lúc lắc is cut into pieces.
The Chinese culinary influence is therefore necessarily multiple in Vietnamese cuisine. For the bò lúc lắc, it is found in the marinade since it consists in particular of soy sauce, a typical Chinese condiment.
In Cambodia, potato starch or cornstarch, paprika, tomato coulis and fish sauce (called teuk trey in Khmer) are added to the lok lak marinade.
This fish sauce, better known by its Vietnamese name nuoc-mâm, is made by fermenting fish for 12 months in jars or wooden barrels in the sun.
A Cambodian variant is to serve lok lak with a fried egg.
It is also quite possible to cook lok lak with chicken, pork, or shrimp but the traditional version is definitely prepared with beef.
I remember that beef is cut into strips in Cambodia unlike in Vietnam where it is diced. I recommend that you make slices of about ¼ inch thick then cut them in strips of about 1 inch. To make it easy, you can firm up the meat beforehand by placing it in the freezer.
Another advice for the meat: do not cook too much, as it must be deliciously tender!
Another ingredient is very specific to lok lak: Kampot pepper (ម្រេច mréch) or seaside pepper.
This spice is a true pepper, growing on a tropical liana, called piper nigrum, which is grown in the coastal provinces of Kampot and Kep in southern Cambodia. It is considered one of the best peppers in the world.
For lok lak, people use black pepper that enhances the red meat. It develops powerful and delicate aromas with floral notes of eucalyptus and fresh mint.
This particular flavor is due to the unique ancestral way of cultivating pepper in this region. It was the first Cambodian agricultural product to obtain a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) on April 2, 2010.
Kampot pepper was already grown in the 13th century. However, its production did not develop until the late nineteenth century when the Sultan of Indonesia, then the world’s largest producer of pepper, set fire to the pepper plantations of his country to prevent the Dutch settlers from exploiting them. Cambodia would eventually take over.
This exceptional product almost disappeared following the Khmer Rouge’s takeover in 1975, which converted the pepper fields into rice fields.
The post Khmer Rouge period saw the slow recovery of its production by some peasants, which spread again in the provinces of Kampot and Kep.
Niang bai! Bon appetit (in Khmer)!
- 1½ lb beef steak , sliced
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 scallions , chopped
- 3 tablespoons tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 cloves garlic , chopped
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 5 tablespoons fish sauce
- ¼ teaspoon Kampot pepper
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon chicken broth powder
- 2 teaspoons potato starch (or cornstarch)
- 3 teaspoons paprika
- Juice of 5 limes
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ teaspoon Kampot pepper
- A few leaves lettuce
- 2 tomatoes , sliced
- Steamed white rice
Mix all the marinade ingredients in a salad bowl, add the meat and stir well.
Marinate the meat for 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Heat the 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok or pan and fry the chopped scallions over medium heat until they turn light brown.
Add the meat, mix well and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes.
In a bowl, stir all the ingredients of the lok lak sauce vigorously.
Prepare large plates.
In each plate, place a bed of lettuce leaves and a few slices of tomato.
Place the meat on the lettuce leaves and sliced tomatoes.
Serve with steamed white rice.
Place a small bowl of lok lak sauce on the side or the center of each plate.