The prime season for harvesting the fishes used for making Cambodia’s emblematic fermented fish Prahok has just passed, which means that now is the best time to tuck into one of the nation’s favourite dishes: Prahok Ktis, a rich, earthy combination of ground pork, crisp vegetables, tangy kroeung, sweet coconut milk and umami-packed Prahok, this is an excellent meal for any time of day, and an absolute must for anyone who is wavering about how to take their first step into the pungent world of Prahok.
But if, on arriving in Cambodia, you concluded that Prahok is a strange and exotic concoction, you would be wrong. Many Western cultures have their own versions of Prahok, including the ancient Roman garum, or pissalat in Southern France. And if you’ve ever had a properly made Bloody Mary, then it should have included several dashes of the famous British Worcestershire sauce, made from fermented anchovies.
And like Worcestershire sauce, Prahok’s primary role is to serve as a flavour enhancer for other ingredients. If you’ve ever added anchovies to a beef ragout in order to intensify and deepen the flavours, then the principles are exactly the same. Prahok has a place in all Cambodian kitchens where it is regularly employed to flavour soups or make dipping sauces. It is rarely eaten raw or on its own but can be enjoyed wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled. But its most widely known iteration is the iconic Prahok Ktis.
Long recognised as a vital source of protein for a large part of the nation’s population Prahok, in common with other fermented fish products, offers other health benefits too. The fermentation process increases the bioavailability of the minerals, nutrients and vitamins that are already found in the fish, while concentrating levels of antioxidants that may reduce hypertension, bacterial infection and blood clotting, and boost immunity.
In Cambodia, recognising Prahok’s potential appeal abroad among the diaspora and more widely, the government has taken steps to impose strict standards across the industry. So there’s really no excuse for not giving it a try! Why not start with one of our signature Prahok Ktis at Malis?