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The secrets of Cambodian ’cheese’

Or how to make prahoc, Cambodia’s favourite…

semi-overcast 32 °C

Suasardei everyone!

It’s late Thursday morning and looking like it’ll be another very hot day. For the last weeks, the temperature has been rising gradually again and with quite a bit of humidity, it feels almost as hot as it was when I arrived in Cambodia almost a year ago now. The same sticky heat where sweat breaks out at every form of physical activity outside, sometimes even while just sitting in a chair. But luckily I’m sitting in an air conditioned-room today and for most of the week. We’ve organised a 5-day technical training on fish processing for our NGO people and some of the village producer groups they work with. As my colleagues and me know nothing about this and wouldn’t even eat most of these things, we’ve hired some technical experts from the fisheries ministry in Phnom Penh. So me and my colleagues are in the back, listening with great amazement to the secrets of making proper (meaning mainly clean, bacteria- pesticide – parasite – virus- free!) fermented fish paste (called prahoc) and fish sauce. I wrote about this stuff before – the other key Cambodian staple food apart from rice, used by everyone in moderate amounts in almost every meal. In English, Cambodians also often call it ‘cheese’, which sounded weird at first. But I guess for them it is a similar thing to how we eat cheese in the west – which is also not much more than fermented milk, involving bacteria and sometimes even mould… its all as disgusting for them as prahoc is for us.

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During one of the fish processing training sessions

It’s amazing to see how this stuff is produced and how passionately people discuss the different techniques they use. As if it is their lifeblood. Most of the village people we have here, have been producing it on a small scale for family consumption for many years, so they know a lot about it. They wouldn’t buy it from large processors as the quality and hygiene are very poor they say, so they make their own when fish prices are low. Now they want to work together in small groups to produce more and go commercial with it but the need to realise that hygiene and quality will become more important and challenging as they start producing more. At the same time they will still be small scale producers with a lot less capital and turnover than the bigger guys and therefore not always enough resources to set up something that lives 100% up to the standards. So the groups will hopefully learn about a few new techniques here to help them make better products.

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Field visit to large prahoc processing company with appauling hyiene conditions

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Field visit to another large processing company with slightly better hygiene

You see, I’m really getting into this rotten fish stuff now… a year ago I didn’t even know it existed and would have thought anybody producing such stuff must be mad, I now organise training on it. But even though I learn a lot about it as well, I don’t think it would be a great success back in Europe – so no need to worry before coming round to dinner to mine next time!

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Fish beheading before processing in the prahoc market

Now only 3 more weeks to go – the clock is really ticking and it feels quite strange to finish so soon. The year has really flown by with so many new impressions, people and tasks out here. Before I left it all felt a little mad, like a big journey into the unknown and a new world that now has become so familiar. It has been very exciting and fun but I think that is also because I always knew that it’s only for a limited time. Staying long-term would probably drive me mad.

Anyway, after I finish here in BTB, I’ll pack up and go off to northern Thailand, then across to Laos and down south and then north to south through Vietnam as well. Just can’t leave this end of the world without seeing all these beautiful countries. I guess it’ll take me about 2 months to do this and then I’ll get on my way back west – maybe with a small stopover in India – another amazing place I haven’t seen, yet, and since I have an Indian colleague now, I can get first hand travel advice!

At the same time as studying different travel guides to work out my route, I started looking for jobs in development programmes or similar – in Germany, in Europe, wherever. If anybody sees any good ones – please do email them to me (will need a proper salary again at some point…).

Hope you’re all happy where you are and are getting ready for spring - finally. Take care and stay in touch. And if you get too depressed with the European winter, just come and join me somewhere down here on my travels!

So long,
Britta

Posted by Brizie 01:30 Archived in Cambodia Tagged volunteer

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