Prahok is a big part of Cambodian cuisine and one which often intrigues visitors. It's basically a fermented fish paste which is left for many months to "season". The smell can be overpowering and not quite like anything many westerners have experienced. It's often referred to as "Cambodian Cheese" because of the strong odour, but that is where the similarities end. The smell can be so strong, that many wonder how Cambodians can even digest it.
Due to it's strong smell, most Cambodians will use it as an ingredient in soups and sauces. Prahok is also sometimes eaten as a main course with rice and vegetables.
How to make Prahok?
Prahok is made with fish, usually mudfish. The fish are descaled, gutted and cleaned. They are when crushed underfoot or processed by machines. After it has been crushed it is left in the sun for a full day and then salted. It is then fermented in large clay jars with woven bamboo lids. After twenty days, the Prahok can be eaten. But if it is left for longer periods of up to three years, then it's said to be of a better quality.
Where is it eaten?
Prahok is eaten all over Cambodia and each province has their own unique flavours. It's also produced in neighbouring Veitnam and Thailand although it's not as popular as it is in Cambodia. Laos also enjoy prahok and have their own style called Prahok Kanthara. It's often imported into western countries for the small minorities of Cambodians living there. However, it's rarely consumed by westerners and isn't often eaten anywhere else in the world.
Will we use it in our Cooking Class?
Prahok has a unique taste which isn't to everyone's palette. It's a little like Marmite, insomuch that you either love it or you hate it. Therefore, we've decided to keep such a divisive ingredient off the list and cook some traditional dishes which don't include Prahok. Even some Cambodians find it an acquired taste, so it's not used in all Cambodian dishes.
What dishes is it used in?
Many soups and sauces include Prahok including sour soup, and other popular soups. It's also often found in tables in a small bowl which is used for dipping vegetables.
Are there different varieties?
There are two main varieties of prahok. They are called prahok ch'oeung which is made with small fish and prahok sach is made with larger fish.