Amok Trei (Fish Amok), part 2

Jo, one of my readers, is much more hardcore about fish amok than me. Frankly, I respect that.

She writes:

Dear Phil

Please just allow me to be a French bad surrender monkey and give you a lecture about Amok by correcting a few things. If I agree that there is about one recipe of amok per cook in Cambodia there are some rules so you can call your dish amok.

First of all the krachai (in Thai, ktchey in Khmer, Kaempferia pandatura in Latin, zedoary in English) is the most important spice in amok. You shouldn’t advice not to use it or you amok won’t taste much different than Samla kti (and that we don’t want, damned no)

Amok paste is nothing but Khmer yellow curry paste mixed with krachai.

Here is a recipe:
Yellow paste
1 small piece of fresh turmeric
1 small piece of galangal
2 stem of lemongrass (no green on)
4 shallots
2 garlic cloves
2 kaffir leafs
To turn it as amok paste, just add 3 pieces of krachai.

Second weird thing, shrimp paste: ask any Khmer female cook and you’ll see that you should use prahok (I recommend some good prahok trey compliegn 10000 riel/kg if it’s from the year). A small spoon will do, thinly chopped before being used. Kapi! And why not barbecue sauce too???

Chili? Some people use it for amok. Others don’t. What is sure is that is shouldn’t be fresh chili but always dried (fresh chili is only for salad or Thai curry paste.) Just soak them and chop them thinly, using a bit of palm sugar to make a paste.

Amok is always sweet. So trust me, palm sugar, palm sugar, palm sugar…

Amok is amok because it is made with slok gno (a leaf from a tree that doesn’t seem to have a good name in English or French. Morinda Citrifolia in Latin.) It’s available on every local market. The fruit of the tree once ripe has an interesting smell of old spoiled French cheese. The leaf brings a little bit of bitterness and the characteristic taste of Amok. When I go home I usually replace it with Swiss chard green (or spinach at least)

How is your amok going to hold without eggs once you steamed it? If steamed amok is quite popular among expatriated and tourists I would believe that among Khmers the liquid version is the most cooked and ate. The steamed one is originally made to be taken away when people go the rice field.

One last thing. Could we stop decorating amok or soup or whatever with kaffir leafs and chili julienne? Khmer food is delicate and complex enough so it doesn’t have to be ruined with that kind of things. Let’s just leave it to the Thai.

Sorry for that. It had to come out. Have a good day.

(Addendum, 13/03/06, Mid-morning: Jo is a man. Sorry.)

10 thoughts on “Amok Trei (Fish Amok), part 2”

  1. One mistake though, krachai isn’t called zedoary in English but lesser ginger (zedoary is Curcuma zedoaria)

    Sorry mate. I’m a man.

    There is a really cool book called dictionnary of plants used in Cambodia by Doctor DY PHON Pauline. It’s normally available at Mekong Libris (in front of the post office). It’ written in Khmer, English and French and give you all kind of informations about plants and spices used here. You can find copies but I recommend buying the original since it represents such an amount of work (38 $ for 12 years of research, not even 1 cent a day…)

    Good day.

  2. I’ll definitely take a look at that dictionary: my tactic at the moment is mostly asking the the vendors at the market whether the greenery is meant to be cooked or smoked. Their Latin is also pretty dodgy. This guy’s site is OK for spice translation:

    Do you know any of any Khmer recipe books apart from “The Cuisine of Cambodia” by a thai journalist, and the Elephant Walk cookbook?

  3. From my own experience asking vendors about ingredients can sometime be frustrating since quiet often things to end up in soup. There are a few very efficient method:

    Falling in love with a girl from the country side (I recommand Kompong Thom or Kompong Speu province, if you like fishes go for Kampot)

    Learning all the vocabulary regarding food (and then being stuck with that and not being able to speak about anything else in Khmer)

    Trying to get invited at your neighbours house and not losing face eating raw pounded prahok or dried eels.

    There is another book but it’s in French.

  4. Hi!

    I’m a fan of Amok trei, My mom use curry leaves in her amok, which is almost impossible to find in Montreal.
    She told me to replace the curry leaves for chinese brocoli leaves, which taste pretty good too.

    have a good day !

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