Tag Archives: banana leaf

Trey Chamhoi/Cambodian Steamed Fish

 

floating village of tonle sap

IMG_0870

 

The Tonle Sap is one of the most critical freshwater ecosystems in the Mekong River Basin. It is the largest lake in South East Asia, home to a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a Ramsar site, and the most important inland fishery in Cambodia.http://www.mekongriver.info/tonle-sap

 

Having completed 13 months in Cambodia, I have started learning a few khmer dishes. Thanks to my helper and a good friend ‘D’, we not only relish the local cuisine but additionally enjoy it making at home – just a short commutation of the dish from kitchen to dining table.

In the Kingdom of Cambodia, Fish is a staple, and it can unambiguously be said that “Fish enjoys almost the royal status of Rice.” A true convert that I am, I do not miss the country flavor of the local fishes.

 

The staple diet of Khmer is fresh water fish. With the abundant supply of fish (said to be 600 different species in the Tonle Sap lake), it is not surprising that the Khmer love to eat fish!

If you are in Cambodia during November to February, there is a week per month where you may be able to see lots of fishing activity along the riverfront in Phnom Penh. Here the Mekhong and Sap rivers come together and the fish is very plentiful during this season. The Khmer make use of this season and not only eat the fish fresh but dry, smoke, ferment and make it into fish sauce so they can use it during lean times as their main source of proteinhttp://www.cambodiauncovered.com/cambodia/fishing.html

 

A glance of the varieties of fish available at the market –

medium and small

IMG_5483

 

and bigger

IMG_5484

 

variety

IMG_5486

 

the favorite among Cambodians – fish head

IMG_5488

 

shrimps and seafood too

IMG_5490

I am also a picky eater when it comes to fish – lesser the bones easier for me and I suppose for most of those who are reading this post too. But, with the very little knowledge that I have gained within these years about fishes, I keep one thing in mind – smaller the fish , lesser the fat. Certain varieties of smaller fish may be less in Omega 3 but  are certainly less in the mercury content and hence safer.

So, I get any fish with a maximum weight of 1 kg and mostly 2 fishes at 1.75 kgs put together. This is for my Meen Kuzhambu (fish curry), Varutha Meen (fish fry), steamed fish cambodian style or a cambodian fish soup. I also buy the somewhat look-alike neththili of Chiriya Meen (very small fish) – (https://dosaikal.com/2013/04/05/varutha-meen-varutha-kathirikkai-with-thaalicha-paruppu-pan-fried-fish-and-pan-fried-eggplant-with-seasoned-lentil) – fishes as small as half your index finger, which also make the best healthy crispy chips on earth, while grilled in the oven.

 

meen kuzhambu – fish curry

IMG_2422

 

small fish – crisply fried

IMG_0429

I find some fishes have a distinct smell or flavor of the soil. Yes, the fish when cooked has a muddy flavor. Yet, I am not competent enough to identify the differences in taste of river or sea varieties.

I know there are genetically marine souls over there who feel those tiny fishes make wonderful kuzhambus/curries and thokkus/thick curries. That’s not for lazy, fearful converts like me- the very thought of removing bones or chewing with the bones threatens me!

Above all, there is also the attached mistrust of the younger lady of the house aka daughter, who prefers appa when it comes to removing bones from cooked fish. “Amma always keeps a few bones and it is so risky you know…” she says – Good for me and one job less in my pocket!
Trey Chamhoy –  Steamed Fish 

 

IMG_5414

Trey is Fish in Khmer. This one is the version of my Khmer friend who also cooks good Indian food. So, please let me know of the changes you make in your Cambodian steamed fish!

Yet, I promise I did not make any Indianised Cambodian Fish..

 

Cambodia’s preferred source of protein is freshwater fish, caught mainly from the Tonle Sap and from the Tonle Sab, the Mekong, and the Basak rivers. Cambodians eat it fresh, salted, smoked, or made into fish sauce and paste. http://countrystudies.us/cambodia/65.htm

 

This one has the flavor of raw mangoes and is steamed in banana leaf.
Facts about how I use the Fish

 

IMG_4060

  1. I use two fishes 1.75 kgs put together.
  2. I do not use the head of the fish.
  3. Each fish is cut into two halves.
  4. So, I get 4 medium size pieces.
  5. How many fishes to be used, depends on how many pieces each member would need.

I. Needed most – Any kind of Steamer

 

II. Ingredients (serves two to four)

 

IMG_4048

 

  • fish (any variety) – 2 no.s cut into 4 pieces
  • shallots – 4 no.s finely sliced
  • green chillies – 3 no.s
  • fresh red chillies – 3 no.s
  • spring onions – 2 or 3 bunches cut to the length of other juliennes
  • garlic – 6 cloves
  • ginger – 1 inch piece
  • carrot – 1 medium
  • raw mango – 1/2
  • radish – 1 small
  • salt – to taste
  • pepper powder – 1/2 tsp or as preferred

All vegetables finely julienned.
Instead of the above vegetables – can also use
1. capsicum in various colors – red, yellow and green
2. no vegetables and only mint and coriander leaves with ginger juliennes
3. any preferred vegetable of one’s choice but I’d avoid those which let out water like cucumber or guards.
III. To wrap up in the steamer

  • aluminum foil to wrap up the steaming vessel first, so that the soup/broth that cooks with the fish doesn’t fall in the water below
  • fresh banana leaf to cover the steaming vessel

 

steamer vessel with holes

IMG_4065

Method of Preparation
1. Steamer

 

  1. Make the steamer ready by wrapping first with aluminum foil
  2. Then place the banana leaves to cover the base

 

aluminum foil

IMG_4063

 

banana leaf

IMG_4070
2. Fish

  1. Cut and wash fish into two halves each
  2. Rub salt and pepper powder on the fishes

3. Vegetables

Cut, slice and julienne the vegetables and mix together

 

4. To steam
1. Spread half of the vegetables on the banana leaf randomly

IMG_4071

2. Place the fish pieces on the vegetable layer

IMG_4077

3. Cover the fish with the remaining vegetables

IMG_4082

4. Close the veggie-fish combination with a layer of banana leaves and place the vessel inside the steamer

IMG_4088

 

5. Close the lid of the steamer
6. Steam for 15-20 minutes
7. Serve with the vegetables and soup/broth that lies beneath
8. Serve with hot rice.

Ready!

IMG_5424

 

awesome twosome

IMG_5416

Thamizhar Virundhu/ Feast of the Tamils

Rice being the staple food of the southern part of India, is consumed with various gravies or kuzhambus to go with it. Idlis, dosais, uppumas, idiyappam, aappam, pongal are some of the breakfast and dinner preparations. But, lunch is always rice. Some or many households might have rice for dinner too.

The traditional tamil meal is called ‘Sappadu’. Sappadu means a complete minimim three course meal with rice and curries. ‘Virundhu’ is a feast on special occasions laid for guests, many years ago on the floor but nowadays on tables and chairs but always on Vaazhai Ilai/banana leaf. Vaazhai is Banana. Ilai means leaf in tamil and hence the virundhu sappadu or the feast meal is also called ‘ilai sappadu’. Most of the houses in villages and towns and some in the city would have banana plant in the garden. Before every meal, the suitable leaves are cut, washed and laid for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Steel plates are also commonly used.

Vaazhai Maram/Banana Tree

A lavish feast would have the five main courses below in part I, accompanied by one or more of the part II varieties.

Part I

  1. Rice with Thaalicha Paruppu or Seasoned lentil with ghee
  2. Rice with Sambar with ghee
  3. Rice with Kuzhambu with ghee
  4. Rice with Rasam
  5. Rice with Thayir/yoghurt or an option of more/buttermilk

Part II

  1. Kootu – a stew of vegetables
  2. Poriyal/Thuvaran – dry vegetable curry
  3. Pachadi – combination of yogurt and vegetables or raita in hindi
  4. Fruit Pachadi – generally fruit salad with honey or a fresh fruit jam
  5. Appalam – Pappad
  6. Pickles
  7. More milagai

When the banana leaf is laid, the first item to go on it after wash is salt. Salt symbolises gratitude. ‘uppittavarai ullalavum ninai’ is a very old tamil saying- which means – always remember the person who offered you food.

The order at which each of the vegetable items are placed on the leaf after salt is a ritual in itself – mostly unfamiliar to the younger generation.

After salt and vegetables, Paruppu or Dal is already served on the leaf before rice arrives.

Rice is first had with Thaalicha Paruppu which is seasoned lentil – generally thuvar dal/red gram/pigeon pea seasoned with mustard seeds, urad dal, cumin seeds and green chillies.

Sambar – is a combination of lentil and vegetables prepared with a special curry powder prepared traditionally by evey household.

Kuzhambu – can be any gravy. Even sambar is a kuzhambu. But on a feast platter – generally a spicy, tangy tamarind based curry with specially ground spices called puli kuzhambu, vatral kuzhambu or kara kuzhambu is served.

Rasam is a thin soup not used as an appetiser as popularized outside the south of India and abroad, but is a digestive soup.

After Rasam comes the dessert. There is already a sweet – for example poli, laddu or badushah kept initially on the banana leaf; payasam or the sweet pudding/kheer comes after rasam and before curds/yoghurt. Nowadays, payasams are often kept in a small pudding bowl, so that one can have it anytime inbetween the meal to counter the spices or generally at the end.

Traditionally, payasam is poured on the banana leaf.. In tirunelveli feasts, I have enjoyed payasam with a sprinkle of sweet boondhi and appalam. This is a rare but different combination, stimulating the taste buds with mildly sweet payasam, very sweet boondhi and salted appalam! Rolling your hands in the banana leaf to pick up enough payasam to send inside the mouth is an intricate, complicated task but a very interesting one. One would have already had this practice with rice and rasam – which comes before payasam – trying to hold the edge of the banana leaf so that the liquidy rasam doesn’t flow on the lap!!

Last comes rice and thayir – curds or buttermilk. Curds or yoghurt rice is had with pickle and another exclusive combination for curd rice – more milagai. ‘More’ in tamil means buttermilk. Green chillies soaked in buttermilk, then dried in the sun and stored in bottles. More milagai is prepared by a long process, but available in super markets easily.  To serve more milagai, it is fried in oil and made crisp and these are had with curd rice.

In a normal household, every lunch meal would constitute rice with sambar, rasam and curds with a minimum of one kootu and one poriyal, appalam to go with sambar and rasam, oorukai/pickle mostly a must for curd rice. Appalam and oorukai have become restricted due to health factors. But due to dietary and practical reasons – lesser intake of food, lesser intake of rice products and lesser time to spend in kitchen – the spread varies with each family.

I read an interesting article of a banana leaf meal or ilai sappadu experience in http://agelessbonding.blogspot.com/2010/06/elai-saapadu-experience.html.