The "Prahok" or fermented fish is a crucial ingredient in Cambodian cuisine. The "prahok" is made from "trey riel", very small fishes which have the same name as our currency ! January is the season to prepare it.
For my very first day of year 2012, we went for a ride to Oudong, the ancient royal capital of the Kindgom. I love going to Oudong, on the way, we pass by a disappearing beautiful village, the kind of places that seems to exist only in dreams, traditional houses, ricefields just harvested, old ladies in white blouses and black pants going to the pagodas...and no plastic bags and dump sites for rubbish !! It is the season of the prahok so we went to Kompong Luang on the way back. See my trip in images... sometimes, you don't want to eat prahok anymore :)
Fishermen live on the river. They go in these small boats which come back full of "trey riel", the small fishes. This community on the photo is of Vietnamese origin. People come to the boat to choose for the fishes. Can you see? the boat is filled up ... there is a man under the hat working hard to take the fishes out ! The net they use enable to catch the fishes. And one can also buy from the wholesalers. Really fresh fish, shiny, just out from the river! Some are taking the fishes to a truck to send them somewhere else. On the truck, the workers try to put as much fishes as they can ...Yeap... it is a foot ! So what ? the French do their wine in crushing the grapes with their feet also !! ah ah! Ah!
The surprising part for me. I thought that with all the modernism (look at Sihanouk boulevard with all the fashion shops and supermarkets!), we would have improved the processes of making prahok (fish paste) to make it cleaner, with tables, running water to clean, cold storage. It looks like it is the same practice as one hundred years ago ! The villagers still continue to prepare tons of fishes under their houses, fishes spread on the ground, sometimes a plastic sheet but most of the time, filled with the dirt. They cut the head and the tail. The heads and the tails are sold to factories which make animal feedstuff. The fishes are left to dry under the sun, then put in a jar with salt (about 7-8 kgs for 10 kg of fishes) and after 2 months, the prahok is ready.
The village of Kompong Luang is a Cham (muslim) village, that's why women and girls wear the scarf on their head. Children also help their families. There are just so many fishes this year. The sellers told us that this is because the illegal fishing lots in Siem Reap have been shut down and all the fishes have been released.
Seeing all this has not deterred us from buying the fresh fishes from the boats, 7000 riels (1.75 US$) per kilo, we bought 4 kgs, about 17 pieces (Dad is always buying too much, we are only 4 at our home !) and they are so huge, about 30 cm long (12 inches).This is our new year feast, grilled fish direct from the Mekong river, with rock salt. Happy new year to all of you,be healthy and take well care of yourself and your family ! Bosba