Top Ten Khmer Foods: #9 Beef Lok Lak

9) Beef Lok Lak
This is a dish of Vietnamese origin (see the comments below!) but I first experienced it in Cambodia and didn’t realize where it came from until much later…

The Brits must share my love for this dish because most Khmer restaurant menus have a special entry for Lok Lak English style — with a fried eggs and chips instead of plain old rice. The fried beef cubes are served with tomato and onion slices, generally atop a bed of fresh lettuce. Like with so many dishes here, the make-or-break component of amazing Lok Lak is the dipping sauce, a salt-and-peppery lime-based sauce that makes even the toughest Cambodian cow taste good. I’ve never ordered English style because as much as I love a fried egg, I don’t think chips could come close to the experience of a piece of beef dunked in Lok Lak sauce atop a spoon of white rice.

Unsuspecting cows, pre Lok Lak


1 Gemma { 03.29.12 at 6:04 am }

Beef Lok Lak is actually of Vietnames origin. Vietamese people called it ‘Bo Luc Lac’ which you stated above. ‘Bo Luc Lac’ literally means ‘Shaking Beef’ in Vietnamese. Loc lac/lok lak means absolutely nothing in Khmer. It’s simply the phonetic approximation of luc lac, which does have meaning and gave name to the dish bo luc lac.

According to Phnomenon,
“Loc Lac comes to Cambodia via Vietnam where it is named bo luc lac (literally, “shaking beef” in Vietnamese) and was most likely brought to Cambodia with the French colonisers rather than with the Vietnamese. At some point within the last 50 years, Cambodia has wholly claimed it as part of Khmer cuisine – so much so that it would be literally unimaginable for most Cambodians that the dish was originally Vietnamese.”

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2 Jess { 04.14.12 at 6:57 am }

That’s fascinating Gemma! I learned a few years after writing this that it was a dish of Vietnamese origin (I think from my clever mum), but I didn’t realize that the French brought it over or that the Cambodians had so fully claimed it as their own :) Thanks for sharing!

3 Doing Research { 04.24.12 at 11:59 am }

In Vietnamese restaurants in Australia (Sydney, Melbourne etc) bo loc lac is consistently served with tomato rice, while the beef is usually stir fried in a wok with garlic and black pepper. I am unsure how authentic this is, as each restaurant cooks bo loc lac slightly different – there seems to be no consensus as to how it should be prepared. So stating that Cambodian lok lak is a “version” of Vietnamese loc lac says nothing about how the two are related, except by name, considering that no one seems to know what bo loc lac is supposed to be, how it came to be etc. What is known however, is that the Cambodian rendition (lok lak: lo la in Khmer means to muck about, or to mix things up, or to create a hullabaloo) is distinguished by the absence of tomato rice, rather, a heap of lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber and tomato will be presented, along with plain white rice and sometimes a fried egg, and a dipping sauce made of lime juice, sea salt and black Kampot pepper (tek merec). The dipping sauce is what marks Cambodia’s lok lak with Vietnamese loc lac, whatever that is supposed to be. Any experts on Vietnamese cuisine want to share what defines an authentic Vietnamese bo loc lac?

4 T R { 12.24.14 at 1:27 am }

Your poor wording in portions of your article make it seem like you are implying Lok Lak originated in Cambodia and spread to other Asian countries outwardly from Cambodia. Because you phrased it that way, I must correct you. I am not arguing that Lok Lak is popular in Cambodian cuisine which it is. However, it did not originate there. Here’s a simple fact, the name “Lok Lak” means nothing in Khmer, the Cambodian language. It is an approximation of “Lúc Lác” which is part of the Vietnamese name of the same dish. Bo Lúc Lác
most definitely has a meaning in the Vietnamese language. It translates to “shaking beef” referring to the sizzling of the meat when stir-fried. Bo Lúc Lác is one of many dishes from Viet Nam that have become popular beyond its borders.

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