Fisherman Mr Vouthy, 37, harvests fish ready for smoking.
Above, threading fish onto skewers. Below, tending the fire is a smoky task.
Steady flames and smoke preserve the fish and lend a special flavour.
FRESH, smoked, raw, dried and fermented fish of all kinds lends a special type of power to Cambodian cuisine. Fish in one of these forms can be found in most of the nation’s dishes.
This is the prime fishing season for communities living along the Tonle Sap river and lake. Families skewer the fish then lay them out on bamboo grills, to be smoked by a fire built beneath.
Fish stocks have declined over the past 10 years in his area, according to fisherman Sok Bros of Prek Khmeng village in Lvea Em district, downstream from Phnom Penh in Kandal province.
He blames shallower water, an increasing number of fishermen and higher costs for raw materials. However, his family is still busy between October and April, the prime fishing season, he says.
“We do not harvest as much as previously, we are not so busy, only from April to June, in low-water season. Most fish that my villagers can afford are small, priced from 1,200 riel to 1,500 riel per kilogramme,” says the fisherman.
He spreads his nets at midday and hauls them in to retrieve his catch around midnight, even through heavy rainstorms, he says.
Once the fish are gutted, the family threads them by the dozen on to skewers, then smokes them over an open fire – a task requiring all eight family members, says Sok Bros.
“We put the skewers on a bamboo frame over a low fire to dry out the fish. In the fishing season, my family can smoke about 200 or 300 fish a day, weighing about 30 kilogrammes,” he explains.
He sells most of his smoked fish to middlemen who buy skewers to sell to villages and markets. They sell for between 23,000 riel and 30,000 riel for 100 skewers of fish, he says.
Village Chief Soun Som Ouern says that 80 percent of villagers in Prek Khmeng are fishermen, while about 20 percent work as farmers.