Citizens – Cambodian (Khmer) cuisine is a great favorite of TFD, having the flavor complexity of Thai food but with a more subtle hand when it comes to the incendiary spicing that is endemic to most Thai recipes. That said, a very common ingredient – almost a national institution – in Khmer cooking is an extremely pungent type of fermented fish paste, a potent flavoring known as prahok (Central Khmer: ប្រហុក).
Specifically, Prahok is a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste (usually of mud fish) that is used in Cambodian cuisine as a seasoning or a condiment. It originated as a way of preserving fish during the longer months when fresh fish was not available in abundant supply.
Due to its saltiness and strong flavor, it was used as an addition to many meals in Cambodian cuisine, such as soups and sauces. A Cambodian saying goes, “No prahok, no salt”, referring to a dish that is of poor flavor or bland thus highlighting its essentiality in Cambodian cuisine. Prahok has a strong and distinct smell, earning the nickname “Cambodian cheese” among food writers. Prahok is usually eaten as a main course with white rice and vegetable such as yardlong bean, cucumbers, and Thai eggplant.
Because it is easily stored and preserved, Prahok is sometimes distributed as a donation to victims of flood or drought by charities and other organizations. It can be eaten cooked or fried, but is usually not eaten raw because of health issues (raw Prahok cannot be stored long due to spoilage if not consumed in a short period) and the unpleasant smell it makes.
It’s very much an acquired taste for most Westerners but it is an integral part of Khmer cuisine. It is included in many dishes or used as a dipping sauce. The liberal use of prahok, which adds a salty tang to many dishes, is a characteristic which distinguishes Khmer recipes from those of its neighboring countries.
Prahok can be prepared many ways, but it is Prahok jien (ប្រហុកចៀន) that is the recipe for today. It is fried and usually mixed with meat (beef or pork) and chili. It can be eaten with dips, vegetables like cucumbers or eggplants, and rice.
When prahok is not used, kapǐ (Central Khmer: កាពិ), a kind of fermented shrimp paste, is used instead and since Prahok is virtually impossible to find in Western countries, it is the substitute TFD recommends in this recipe. Regardless of which you use, the smell will be strong, be resolute, don’t let the olfactory overload stop you and you will be rewarded with a delicious meal, I promise! You can buy the shrimp paste here.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
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