Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A melting pot of regional variances




A melting pot of regional variances

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A plump and tasty paseh-y fish, the star of the culinary show in Steung Treng province. Photo supplied

A melting pot of regional variances

From its rolling hills in the east to the fertile plains of the west and the pristine coastline of its southern flank, Cambodia’s topography is as varied as its cuisine. Regional specialties highlight locally available ingredients, and recipes have been passed down from generation to generation.

Hailing from the agricultural heartland of Cambodia’s northwestern provinces is m’chu kroeung pong ang krong, a spicy sour soup made with red ant eggs. But not just any ant will do. The original recipe calls for the eggs of a particular species of tree-dwelling ant.

The soup is prepared by boiling the ant eggs in a meat stock, and packed with flavour by adding a medley of crushed herbs and spices that include aromatic kantraub leaves, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, garlic and kaffir lime leaves – as well as a dollop of prahok (fermented fish paste).

“The people in my village usually only prepare this soup for ceremonies and special occasions during the harvest season or Khmer New Year,” says Ly Saluy, a resident of Phnom Srok district in Banteay Meanchey province. “It requires elaborate preparation and can be very difficult to cook.”

Cambodian cuisine is largely centred on fish, though beef makes an occasional appearance as the star of national dishes such as lok lak (stir-fried beef salad with rice) and plea sach ko (spicy beef salad). In the rustic northeastern province of Ratanakkiri the local indigenous Khmer and Lao tribes tend to use more red meat in their cooking – though fish still manages to find its way into most recipes.

One local specialty is maphea, a hearty dish made from the meat and innards of young cows, and cooked with prahok and wild vegetables.

“Maphea is very popular here and the signature dish of the province,” says Nget Vitou, head of the province’s tourism department.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

Chut Chhengleang, owner of Punlea Pich restaurant near Banlung, explains that maphea is prepared using the cow’s internal organs – its stomach, kidneys, bladder and small intestines – which are boiled then thinly sliced. Prahok and vegetables are mixed in and the pungent stew is allowed simmer in a pot, then given a measure of cow bile for some bitter kick.

“People in the countryside say the hint of bitterness is what makes maphea especially delicious,” says Chhengleang.

A regional specialty in Steung Treng province, where life revolves around the mighty Mekong River, is trey paseh-y dot, made from a bottom-feeding river fish known in Khmer as paseh-y.

Retired chef Tha Vy says the dish is usually prepared when the fattened paseh-y move downriver after spawning.

“To prepare paseh-y, we slit the fish’s stomach and remove all the organs then clean it out with water,” she explains.

“After that we pack it thick with banana leaves or the outer husk of a banana tree and grill it on hot coals until it’s fully cooked.”

Most chefs will add salt, fish sauce, sugar, roasted peanuts, red garlic, ripe chillies, lemon juice and some shredded carrots. But like many Cambodian recipes, it is all up to the individual chef.

“You just mix the ingredients together until you achieve the taste you desire,” Vy says.

MOST VIEWED

  • School reopening to be postponed until November

    Minister of Education Hang Chuon Naron on Tuesday wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen requesting a delay of school reopening across the Kingdom until November, when the new academic year begins. In his letter, Chuon Naron said the postponement is warranted to avoid the new

  • Foreigners in Kingdom must now register in FPCS system

    The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Immigration (GDI) announced that it would not grant visa extensions to foreigners staying in Cambodia if their names are not listed on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) by July 1. Foreign nationals can register in the

  • Covid-19 at ‘alarming rate’, health ministry says

    The Covid-19 risk level for individual transmission is at an “alarming rate” in the Kingdom and its probability is “not low”, warned Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine. “Cambodia’s coronavirus scenario is classified as being at an early stage of the pandemic because of ongoing

  • Mandatory quarantine for 30,000 workers begins

    Some of the roughly 30,000 workers from factories and enterprises across the Kingdom who went on leave during Khmer New Year began their government-imposed 14-day quarantine on Monday. Speaking at a press conference while visiting workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone on Monday, Ministry

  • Unemployed to get $40 per month

    The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training has instructed enterprises, business owners and travel agencies in five provinces to prepare the proper forms for the suspension of employment contracts. This, it said, will make it easier for the ministry to transfer $40 a month to workers

  • Gov’t travel ban flouted

    While the majority of Cambodians have paid heed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order to stay put and not travel during the Khmer New Year – the holidays of which were also postponed – several hundred have left Phnom Penh nonetheless. They have allegedly breached provincial

  • G20 energy ministers struggle to finalise oil output cuts

    Top oil producers struggled to finalise production cuts during a virtual summit held by Group of 20 (G20) energy ministers on Friday, despite US President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts to end a standoff with Mexico. The final G20 communique appeared to gloss over simmering divisions

  • Kingdom revises travel restriction order

    The government on Friday eased the district and provincial border restrictions issued on Thursday. People are now allowed to cross districts within their provinces. Phnom Penh and Kandal province are to be treated as a single region where people are allowed to travel freely. In

  • Private schools struggling

    The Cambodian Higher Education Association has claimed that 113 private educational establishments are facing bankruptcy because of their inability to pay rent and staff salaries in light of nationwide school closures caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. It said the financial trouble started when the Ministry of

  • Khmer New Year holidays postponed

    In an effort to halt Covid-19 infections in the Kingdom, Prime Minister Hun Sen has postponed the Khmer New Year holidays scheduled from April 13 to 16. While the people will not have their usual break, nor will there be any public celebrations or gatherings at pagodas,