Moan Sngao Ngam Nov: Cambodian chicken & pickled lime soup

Moan sngao ngam ngov highlights Cambodia's skill at pickling every fruit under the sun. Chicken soup never tasted so interesting. It's another delicious example of Cambodian food's ability to balance flavours. It's got it all. There's a bit of salty from the fish sauce, sweet from palm sugar, fragrant from coriander (cilantro) roots, and moreish from the garlic cloves. But what brings it all together are the pickled limes.

They're sour, of course, but the pickling brings forward a slight astringency. That might sound like something you'd rather have in your toner than your soup, but hear me out. The astringency creates a clean feeling on your tongue. In my opinion, that makes way for more soup!

Like many Cambodians, my husband Tonga's family are also of Teochew Chinese background. Though they speak Khmer and have been in Cambodia for generations, they also speak Teochew - mostly to babies and little children in the family - and celebrate Chinese holidays. Teochew Cambodians have influenced Cambodian culture just as they have been influenced by it. That I say from observing my in-laws both in Australia and in Cambodia. Moan sngao ngam ngov is a beautiful example of this exchange. "Moan sngao" is Khmer, but "ngam ngov" is Teochew and refers to the limes.

Our recipe is inspired by the wonderful Chef Nak, and her first cookbook, "Nhum."

Moan Sngao Ngam Ngov is one of Chef Nak's recipes in her cookbook "Nhum."
Our version of Moan Sngao Ngam Ngov, Cambodian chicken & pickled lime soup.

Kitchen Notes

  • We use meaty chicken frames because, let's face it, inflation hit us all. Our first choice, though, would be to use a whole chicken cut into pieces. If you go that route you'll need to double the seasonings, add 1-2 more limes, and 2-3 more galangal slices.
  • Using just enough oil prevents this soup from getting overly greasy. Whether frames or whole, the chicken will also provide some of its own oil from the skin.
  • Coriander (cilantro) roots are easiest to find if you buy your coriander at green grocers or Asian grocery stores.
  • Serve for lunch with a cup of steamed rice and a dipping sauce of fish sauce and freshly cut red chilis.

Moan Sngao Ngam Ngov - Chicken & pickled lime soup

Chicken soup meets its new best friend, the delightfully sour pickled lime
Prep Time15 minutes
Active Time40 minutes
Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: Cambodian
Keyword: Cambodian food, chicken soup, lunch recipe, pickled limes
Yield: 4 serves
Author: Emily Troeung


  • 2 meaty chicken frames
  • 4 pickled limes
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 3 slices galangal
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • .5 tablespoon palm sugar
  • .5 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 3.5 cups water
  • 3 coriander (cilantro) roots
  • 2 spring onions for serving
  • coriander leaves for serving
  • cooking oil as needed


  • Cut the chicken frames into medium-sized pieces.
  • Wash and cut the spring onion into small pieces or your preferred length for garnish. Do the same with the coriander leaves.
  • Wash coriander roots thoroughly, and lightly smash.
  • Peel garlic. Wash and thinly slice the galangal.
  • Cut the pickled limes into halves.
  • Using a heavy soup pot, fry the chicken pieces in just enough oil to keep them from sticking. When they're beginning to brown, remove and drain the oil.
  • In the residual oil, fry the garlic, coriander roots, and galangal until you begin to smell their fragrance.
  • Add the water and bring to a boil.
  • Add chicken pieces back in, as well as the salt, palm sugar, and fish sauce.
  • Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and leave for 20-25 minutes.
  • Remove the cover, add pickled limes, and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  • Sprinkle with coriander leaves and spring onions. Serve with a side of steamed rice and a dipping sauce (see Kitchen Notes).

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