Country Listing

Cambodia Table of Contents



Dietary habits appear to be basically the same among the Khmer and other ethnic groups, although the Muslim Cham do not eat pork. The basic foods are rice--in several varieties, fish, and vegetables, especially trakuon (water convolvulus). Rice may be less thoroughly milled than it is in many other rice-eating countries, and consequently it contains more vitamins and roughage. The average rice consumption per person per day before 1970 was almost one-half kilogram. Fermented fish in the form of sauce or of paste are important protein supplements to the diet. Hot peppers, lemon grass, mint, and ginger add flavor to many Khmer dishes; sugar is added to many foods. Several kinds of noodles are eaten. The basic diet is supplemented by vegetables and by fruits--bananas, mangoes, papayas, rambutan, and palm fruit--both wild and cultivated, which grow abundantly throughout the country. Beef, pork, poultry, and eggs are added to meals on special occasions, or, if the family can afford it, daily. In the cities, the diet has been affected by many Western items of food. French, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian cuisine were available in Phnom Penh in pre-Khmer Rouge days.

Rural Khmer typically eat several times a day; the first meal consists of a piece of fruit or cake, which workers eat after arriving at the fields. The first full meal is at about 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning; it is prepared by the wife or daughter and brought to the man in the field. Workers eat a large meal at about noon in the field and then have supper with their families after returning home around 5:00 P.M.

Before the early 1970s, the Cambodian people produced a food supply that provided an adequate diet. Although children gave evidence of caloric underconsumption and of a deficiency in B vitamins. During the Khmer Rouge era, malnutrition increased, especially among the people who were identified as "new people" by the authorities (see Society under the Angkar , ch. 1). Collective meals were introduced by 1977. Food rations for the new people were meager. Refugees' statements contain the following descriptions: "[daily rations of] a tin of boiled rice a day mixed with...sauce"; "we ate twice a day, boiled soup and rice only"; "one tin of rice a day shared between three people. Never any meat or fruit"; "Ration was two tins of rice between four persons per day with fish sauce." People were reduced to eating anything they could find-- insects, small mammals, arachnids, crabs, and plants.

The food situation improved under the PRK, although in the regime's early years there were still serious food shortages. International food donations improved the situation somewhat. In 1980 monthly rice rations distributed by the government averaged only one to two kilograms per person. People supplemented the ration by growing secondary crops such as corn and potatoes, by fishing, by gathering fruit and vegetables, and by collecting crabs and other edible animals. A 1984 estimate reported that as many as 50 percent of all young people in Cambodia were undernourished.

Data as of December 1987