The first phase of the fishing season ended on Saturday with prices twice as high as last year’s. But those intending to make prahok, pha’ak and dried fish for daily consumption can wait for the second phase, which will come during mid-January next year.
Motorists travelling along National Road 5 in Phnom Penh can pick up the aromas of prahok processing areas, but some foreigners who are not used to the smell get headaches and nausea and usually close their windows.
The capital’s six prahok processing compounds have become a little quiet as many of the prahok producers, coming from far areas such as Kampong Speu, Takeo, Svay Rieng and Kandal provinces, have returned to their homes with some of the prahok, which they claim is not enough due to the spike in fish prices.
A prahok producer from Takeo province’s Tram Kak district, Hong Kimlay, 45, said she reserved six million riel ($1,500) for fish to make two tonnes of prahok, and to cover her accommodation and food in Phnom Penh for three days.
However, due to the rising fish prices, she could not buy the necessary amount to make the volume she expected.
She said one tonne of fresh fish can yield a mere 300 to 400kg of prahok. So her funds which she reserved to buy five to six tonnes of fish to make two tonnes of prahok turned out to be insufficient as fish prices rose to between 2,500 and 3,000 riel per kg.
“Take a look at this year! I can only make one tonne of prahok because the prices of fish and salt are too high,” said Kimlay.
Keo Thorn, 67, said prahok is easily spoiled if it is not made following technical standards. She says it is not very easy to make prahok.
Thorn, who learned the prahok-making method from her mother, who was a skilful prahok producer in Battambang province, said the right type of fish must be selected and it must be fresh.
She said riel fish (Siamese or lesser silver mud carp) is the best for making prahok, though others can be used as well. After the trimming and scaling, the fish must be covered with a net for two to three days so no flies get in contact with it.
When the fish is fully strained of water, it needs to be salted and exposed to sunlight before being packaged in jars.
“If we do not salt the fish well enough and we do not pack them well in the jars, prahok will smell foul or sour and rotten like a horse’s flatulence and cannot be consumed,” she said, adding that 3kg of fish requires one to 1.5kg of salt.
She said pha’ak instead needs big fish such as chhkok (Cyclocheilichthys enoplos), pruol (smallscale mud carp), krum (Osteochilus melanopleurus), ka’ek (black sharkminnow), but the tastiest fish is bra (Pangasius djambal).
However, sour pha’ak can only last a short time and only a few types of fish can be used to make it, such as changvar sloek russey (Paralaubuca riveroi) or changvar moul (Rasbora hobelmani) or kanhchrouk (sun loach).
Thorn said preparation methods for pha’ak and prahok are different. Pha’ak does not require the fish to be strained for two to three days. The fish is just cleaned, salted and packed in jars. The sour pha’ak needs to be smothered with fried rice powder and kept for three to four days before cooking.