Naem

Neam

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.

Neam

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.

Neam

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?).

8 thoughts on “Naem”

  1. Yum! Is there glutinous rice in naem? It’s what they use for a similar fish preparation in N. Thailand.

    Hey, unwrap the darned thing so we can see naem in the raw! And get yourself out to Stung Treng, so we can see some naem-making photos.
    :-)

  2. Well, having eaten about half my own body weight in Kratie neam over the last 5 days, I can happily not touch another one until next p’chum benn!

    There is a variation using pureed shrimp instead of fish that I have had a couple of times in Battambang when visiting the out-laws, but can not remember off hand what it is called…

  3. Robyn – Yes, there is a bit of glutinous rice flour in there – but not much. I’ll be getting out to Stung Treng either at the end of October, or early next year at the latest, so I can quiz the vendors in person.

    PB – Is the shrimp one done in small transparent plastic bag tubes? They do a similar neam in Battambang in plastic instead of banana leaves. I had a red chili with (possibly) ground dried shrimp one there about two weeks after I got to Cambodia. All that I can really recall about it was that I thought that it might kill me, but it didn’t really leave much of an impression.

  4. Phil:

    Another great post, makes me hungry… though to nitpick, isn’t “naim” or maybe “naem” a better romanization? Or have I been pronouncing it wrong all these years?

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