floating village of tonle sap
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
the favorite among Cambodians – fish head
shrimps and seafood too
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
small fish – crisply fried
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
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
- I use two fishes 1.75 kgs put together.
- I do not use the head of the fish.
- Each fish is cut into two halves.
- So, I get 4 medium size pieces.
- 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)
- 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
Method of Preparation
- Make the steamer ready by wrapping first with aluminum foil
- Then place the banana leaves to cover the base
- Cut and wash fish into two halves each
- Rub salt and pepper powder on the fishes
Cut, slice and julienne the vegetables and mix together
4. To steam
1. Spread half of the vegetables on the banana leaf randomly
2. Place the fish pieces on the vegetable layer
3. Cover the fish with the remaining vegetables
4. Close the veggie-fish combination with a layer of banana leaves and place the vessel inside the steamer
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.