Delicious Cambodian fish salami. If there are four words that I could never have foreseen myself using, it would be those. These cubes of banana leaf open up to reveal a smaller cube of uncooked white fish paste, lime and chili mix, protected by a neam leaf. Scrap the banana leaves, eat the rest, neam leaf inclusive.
They can be snacked on immediately, but when left to mature in the refrigerator for two or three days, the naem improve by taking on a slightly sourer edge. The flavour compares well to a decent salami.
It’s like a Khmer Kinder Surprise, only filled with cerviche. Surprise!
These fishy cubes constitute one of the primary reasons for my desire to travel to Stung Treng, the halfway point on the way to Cambodia’s far northeastern province of Ratanakiri. One of my friends who occasionally passes through Stung Treng has a special relationship with a naem manufacturer who will increase the chili content for both himself and his crazy chili junky friends back in Phnom Penh.There is some debate as to whether Stung Treng or Kratie produces the better naem, and after eating my way through this most recent batch, I’m willing to pin the gold on Stung Treng’s lapel.
Addendum (13 October 2006): I’ve changed the Romanisation from “neam” to “naem”, which is better phonetically. “Neam leaf” remains because it refers to the leaf from the Neam tree (Azadirachta indica?).