POS ko teuk prahok (tripe with prahok) and sach koang teuk prahok (roast beef with
prahok) are known to every Cambodian.
It is estimated that hundreds of restaurants sell the traditional high-protein fish
paste in Phnom Penh.
In the small, busy restaurants just behind the Phnom Penh municipal court from 5
to 9 every evening prahok lovers arrive and call for sach ko ang teuk prahok. Quickly
the overworked waitresses bring bowls of prahok sauces and full plates of vegetables,
fruits and herbs - cucumber, beans, young banana, water convolvulus, lemongrass,
ground peanuts, chopped chili and lemon.
And the customers never forget to order a bottle of XO (V.S.O.P) filled with sra
tnam (rice herb wine). On the wall packets of tree bark and dried turtle show what
else goes into the drink.
Vutha, aged 45, seated close to the wall under a big dried turtle and pouring a glass
of sra tnam from an XO bottle, put it simply: "I like prahok very much."
Asked why, he said he didn't know. "I find it very hard to tell you exactly
why I like to eat it. I have eaten prahok since I was born."
From 5 to 9pm Yay Barang next to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia is full
of customers enjoying sach ko ang teuk prahok and pos ko teuk prahok. The owner,
whose name the restaurant bears, estimated she had at least 150 customers daily.
She said prahok was Khmer food and they never tired of eating it. "It's yummy."
Yay Barang feared, however, that prahok was becoming too expensive and could disappear
because of illegal fishing. One of the fish species, trey chhkok, from which the
best prahok is made, is currently endangered.
She had read about illegal fishing in the newspapers and accused the fishers of not
thinking about the long term impact.
"They just think about income today. They do not think about long term costs."
Most restaurants use prahok from Siem Reap province, which is renowned for the fish
as much as for Angkor Wat.
Prahok Siem Reap, recognised as the "yummiest" in Cambodia, is made from
freshwater fish from the Tonle Sap.
Every evening in front of Angkor Wat, one can find a few small trucks carrying whole
roast calves, which are served with prahok sauces in a dish known as kow ang touk
Most Cambodian visitors to Siem Reap or Battambang, whether resident or from overseas,
remember to buy prahok for their families.
Nao Thouk, Deputy Director of the Fisheries Department, said he didn't know when
the Khmer people started eating prahok, but there were images of people preparing
the fish paste at Angkor Wat.
He told the Post that now Cambodia needed to produce 35,000 to 40,000 tons of prahok
each year to satisfy local demand. He estimated each person in Cambodia ate on average
6-8kg each year.
He couldn't say how much was currently produced because much was made by individual
Nao Thouk said prahok was basically the national food of Cambodia.
"People who do not eat prahok are not Khmer."