This fragrant Cambodian dish, Kho Manor Nung To Hu, is the ultimate balance of sweet and savoury flavours. Caramelised pineapple and crispy baked tofu are coated in a garlic, soy, ginger sauce, then topped with green onions and served with white rice.
Cambodia has a very special place in my heart. Cambodia was the second country that I ever visited. It was actually this trip that initially ignited my love for travel.
Although the trip was over 11 year ago, I still remember being delighted by the complex flavours and unique ingredients used in the food I ate. I do also remember the food being really spicy. Given that Cambodian food does not have much heat to it, this goes to show my spice tolerance as a 15-year-old (I swear it has improved a lot since then)!
I absolutely adore South East Asian food (as you may have deducted from my excitement over making mango sticky rice waffles). Admittedly, Thai and Vietnamese are my go-to South East Asian cuisines and what I cook the most at home. However, I was stoked for the opportunity to broaden my SE Asian repertoire as we prepared a Cambodian feast.
History of Cambodian Cuisine
A lot of Cambodia’s history and checkered past is reflected in its cuisine. For 2,000 years, Cambodia absorbed its influences from China and India. This is evident in the cuisine of the country, with stir-frying and noodles coming from Chinese culture and curry dishes coming from Indian culture.
The Khmer (Cambodian) empire reached its apex in the 12th century. Then, 400 years later it was colonised by the French. As a consequence, to this day the baguette is part of the cuisine and is considered to be Cambodia’s national bread. Eventually, war, occupation by the Japanese and political instability lead to the devasting reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Between 1975 and 1979, millions of people died and a huge amount of information was lost. This also meant many traditions were prevented from being passed on. This had a terrible effect on every part of Cambodian culture, including its cuisine.
Influences on Cambodian Cuisine
Alongside the influences mentioned above, Cambodian food also shares a lot of similarities with its neighbouring countries of Thailand and Vietnam. However, the flavours in the cuisine are very unique. Unlike the spiciness of Thai cuisine, for example, Cambodian food is milder, with dishes tending to be sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or a mix. Chilli and fermented sauces are served on the side of most meals. Prahok is the most popular type of sauce, made of fermented fish paste.
With the Mekong river running through the centre of Cambodia, the country is blessed with a prolific amount of freshwater fish. It is also filled with lush plains and rice paddies that receive a huge amount of rainfall during monsoon season. Inevitably, this makes rice Cambodia’s staple food, and the grain is served with almost every meal. In fact, there are apparently over 2,000 rice varieties that are indigenous to Cambodia.
Besides rice and fish, fruit and vegetables are a huge part of Cambodia cuisine. The country is blessed with a wide variety of both. This means there are plenty of vegetarian-friendly dishes and snacks on offer. If you’re feeling a little more entomotarian (apparently this is the word for someone who is vegetarian but eats insects), you’ll find plenty of crunchy critters on offer as street snacks. You can choose from red ants, water bugs, crickets or the Cambodian speciality: fried tarantulas. Bugs are quite the sustainable protein choice.
Popular Cambodian Vegetarian Dishes
- Green mango salad– This refreshing yet punchy salad features sliced green mango, fresh chilli, sliced tomatoes, shallots, pickled cucumber, onion, peppers and fresh herbs.
- Chive cakes (num kachay)- A popular street snack made of glutinous rice flour that is fried in patties. It is commonly served with a sweet, spicy fish sauce.
- Kralan- Another snack found at street stalls, bamboo tubes are stuffed with sticky rice, red beans, grated coconut and coconut milk and roasted over charcoal.
- Guitiyo- This light, nutty and spicy traditional Khmer soup is made with glass noodles and topped with coriander, spring onion, bean sprouts and lettuce.
- Kho Manor Nung To Hu- This dish exemplifies the sweet savoury balance of Cambodian cuisine. It is made up of caramelised pineapple, fried tofu, garlic, soy sauce and spring onions.
- Amok– Cambodia’s national dish is a curry made with coconut milk and an aromatic curry paste. It is filled with vegetables and traditionally served with fish. However, it is possible to get vegetarian versions of the dish.
Making Kho Manor Nung To Hu
Out of all the vegetarian dishes that Cambodia has to offer, Kho Manor Nung To Hu sounded like the most interesting of the lot. We never would have thought to combine pineapple and tofu in a dish, so we were curious to see how the two worked together in both flavour and texture.
Using pineapple in savoury dishes is a hotly debated topic. Just look at Hawaiian pizza. It may just be the most controversial type of pizza in existence. Although we aren’t team pineapple on pizza, we do believe fruit can be a great addition to a savoury dish (when done right). If anyone knows how to do this, it’s the Cambodians.
They incorporate a lot of tropical fruit into their dishes to achieve a balance of sweet and savoury flavours. Kho Manor Nug To Hu is the perfect example of such a flavour combination, with the sweetness of the caramelised pineapple balanced out by a savoury soy sauce.
How to cook good tofu
If you aren’t a big tofu fan, I understand. Tofu can be really hit or miss. If it isn’t prepared well, it can taste like a big cube of nothing. That is why I always go to the extra effort of giving the tofu a little extra TLC. Normally for this recipe, the tofu is pan-fried or directly cooked in the marinate. However, over our years of tofu preparation, we’ve found that baked tofu tends to yield the most flavoursome and texturally satisfying results. This method takes a little longer, but we promise it is worth the extra time and effort.
Here are a few tips for making your tofu extra tasty:
- Use extra-firm tofu (it will hold its shape far better when baking).
- After draining your tofu, wrap it in a tea towel and put a heavy weight on it for a minimum of 10 minutes (longer is better). This helps absorb the moisture so the tofu gets extra crispy.
- Chop tofu into even, 1 cm cubes. If you cut the cubes too big, they won’t absorb as much flavour.
- Marinate the tofu in sauce for at least 30 minutes to imbued as much flavour as possible into tofu.
- Take pieces of tofu out of marinate and put inside snap-lock bag with arrowroot or corn starch. Toss the bag around until each piece of tofu is evenly coated.
- Spread out on baking tray and bake for 15 minutes. Flip over and bake for another 15 minutes until tofu is crispy and golden on both sides.
How to make Kho Manor Nung To Hu
Aside from the marinating and baking of the tofu, this dish is extremely quick to come together. There is also a short-cut option if you are strapped on time.
- Drain, press and cut the tofu into cubes. If you are making rice, start this now.
- Make the marinate, then pour over tofu and soak for 30 minutes. Remove tofu from marinate and cover in arrowroot or cornflour and bake in oven for 30 minutes, flipping half way.
- Alternatively, skip the above step and just pan-fry the tofu in a bit of oil.
- Caramelise the pineapple by adding it to a saucepan with the remaining marinade and simmering for 5 minutes. Add in tofu (baked or pan-fried)and toss to combine.
- Top with spring onions and coriander and serve with rice.
Ingredient notes for Kho Manor Nung To Hu
- Tofu- Extra-firm tofu is essential for this recipe.
- Pineapple– Highly recommend using fresh if you can get hold of it. If not, drain a tin of pineapple pieces and use this.
- Sweetener– We used maple syrup as a sweetener for our sauce. However, you can sub for normal sugar or a sweetener of your choice.
Serving suggestions for Kho Manor Nung To Hu
Kho Manor Nung To Hu works as either a main dish or as a side dish. It is best served with a bowl of steamed jasmine rice. We also served ours with a Cambodian vermicelli noodle salad, which added a nice element of freshness to the meal.
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp maple syrup
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp lemongrass paste
- 300 g extra firm tofu
- 2 tbsp arrowroot or corn-starch
- 2 cups cubed pineapple
- 2 spring onions, sliced
- 2 tbsp chopped coriander, to garnish
Prepare the tofu:
- Drain tofu from liquid in packet, then press by wrapping with a tea towel and topping with a heavy weight for at least 10 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 205˚C (400˚F) and line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Once pressed, chop tofu up into 1cm cubes and place into a dish.
- Make marinate by combining soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, tomato paste, maple syrup, grated ginger, minced garlic and lemongrass paste in a small bowl.
- Pour marinade on top of tofu and allow to soak for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Take tofu out of marinade and put into zip-lock bag with arrowroot or corn starch. Toss until pieces are evenly coated.
- Spread tofu evenly onto prepared baking tray. Bake for 15 minutes, flip, then bake for another 10-15 minutes, until pieces are golden.
Prepare the rest of the dish:
- Meanwhile, place marinade leftover from tofu and pineapple in saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until pineapple has softened, around 5 minutes.
- Once tofu has finished baking, put into saucepan with pineapple and toss everything together.
- Top with sliced spring onions and chopped coriander and serve with rice.
Other dishes from Asia:
- Layered Mahalabia Chia Pudding – A Bahrain Dessert
- Easy Red Lentil Dal (Bengali Masoor Dal)
- Vegan Dolma with Mince & Bulgur Wheat