More Than Fermented Fish

I like it so much.

It’s the culture of Cambodia.

When I was young, I used to eat it as my daily dish, along with other food and at any time.

Sometimes I just feel like I need it, I really need it; I want to eat Prahok.” These are Cambodians veracious feelings about Prahok, a staple food and essential ingredient in the Cambodian cuisine.

Prahok is fermented fish paste that is used in a variety of Cambodian dishes for over thousands of years.  It was initially used as a way to preserve food for when there is a lack of fish in the rivers and lakes.

Mainly, Cambodians use the river fish to make Prahok because they’re cheaper and abundant. They would cut the fish’s heads off and clean them. When it is done, they would let the fish sit until they are swollen. Then, they would crush it to get rid of the fat to maximize the quality of Prahok. After that, they clean it again. The next step is they would use salt to ferment the fish and dry it for a day. This step would be done twice and at last, the fermented fish is placed in a jar and can be used after 20 days to 30 days of fermentation. The longer the fermentation time is, the better flavor Prahok will have.

Unsurprisingly, soup is very popular in Cambodia and prahok can be added to almost any of it, from Curry to Ko Kor and from Prahok K’tiss to Teuk Kreung. The food is typically served with white rice and the delicious combo set will bring power and energy to the people. Normally, food can be eaten without Prahok, but the fishy and salty flavor brings the food its real and pure flavor, as they say, “no Prahok, no salt.

In addition, what really makes Prahok special to Cambodians is its connection to our people throughout all situations. Prahok is cheap but immensely valuable. For those families who can’t afford to buy fresh fish, instead, they can buy Prahok and that would save them money but still provide enough food for their family; it’s a gift for them.  It’s not just regular food, it is a treasure and most importantly, it is our culture.

It is true that Prahok smells spoiled and that foreigners don’t really like it. There have been lots of complaints about the strong smell that has created some negative representation on Prahok. But, that spoiled smell is what makes Prahok unique. That spoiled fish is what a lot of us eat. That salty flavored fish is what we consume. It is all about us, our culture and who we truly are. Food is a big part of everyone’s lives and their culture, and for the Cambodian people, Prahok is part of their life and identity; we are very proud of this traditional dish. there is nothing to be ashamed, embarrassed or hidden about it.

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