Prahok (ប្រហុក) is a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste (usually of mud fish) that is used in Cambodian cuisine as a seasoning or a condiment. It originated as a way of preserving fish during the longer months when fresh fish was not available in abundant supply. Because of its saltiness and strong flavor, it was used as an addition to many meals in Cambodian cuisine, such as soups. Prahok has a strong and distinct smell, earning the nickname Cambodian Cheese. Prahok is usually eaten with rice in the countryside or poorer regions.
Because it is easily stored and preserved, Prahok is sometimes distributed as a donation to victims of flood or drought by charities and other organizations. It can be eaten cooked or fried, but is usually not eaten raw because of health issues (raw Prahok cannot be stored long due to spoilage if not consumed in a short period) and the unpleasant smell it makes.
Although a uniquely Khmer food, a condiment similar to Prahok, Garum, was used in ancient Rome. Garum was also made from fermented fish and used as a seasoning. There are other versions of similar foods such as Pissalat from France.
Prahok is prepared using fresh fish (both large and small). Typically, the larger the fish, the more valuable the Prahok made from it. Some types are rarer than others and the rarest, considered delicacies, are more expensive. One of the pricier types is made from the gourami fish.
Prahok is obtained by crushing or grinding fresh fish after de-scaling, gutting and cleaning them. They can be crushed underfoot, like wine grapes, or processed by machine. After the fish is crushed, it is left in the sun for a full day, then salted and sealed in jars full of salt.
Prahok can be eaten after just 20 days of fermentation, but better quality Prahok is left to ferment longer, up to three years.
Prahok can be prepared and served in several different ways.
Prahok jien (ប្រហុកជៀន) It is usually mixed with meat (usually beef or pork) and chilli. It can also be eaten as a dip, accompanied by vegetables like cucumbers or eggplants, and rice.
Prahok gop or Prahok ang (ប្រហុកកប់) or (ប្រហុកអាំង) This type of prahok is covered with banana leaves and left to cook under pieces of rock beneath a fire or over the coals.
Prahok chao (ប្រហុកឆៅ) This type of prahok can be used to make a paste with lemon grass, lime juice, fresh peppers, and Thai eggplant eaten with (usually cooked rare) beef steak. Also this is the type of prahok preferably used as a dipping paste for vegetables and fruits.
- LeisureCambodia.com - The Story of Prahok article.
- ThingsAsian.com - Got fish? It's Prahok season in Cambodia article.