A small community in Siem Reap province’s Chong Kneas commune is adamant about getting global recognition for their unique fermented fish paste, or prahoc, after the government endorsed a national standard for the most distinctive ingredient in Khmer cooking.
The push for Siem Reap prahoc fish paste to get geographical indication (GI) status came soon after the Association of Prahoc Fish Paste in Chong Kneas commune was established with 10 members drawn from prahoc producers. The association was formed early this year with funds from the Asian Development Bank in a project to support small communities in producing prahoc for local markets.
Prahoc, or crushed, salted, fermented fish paste, usually made from mud fish and gourami fish, has a distinct pungent taste and is added to almost all Cambodian dishes to give it the strong flavour it is known for.
Kao Sochivy, deputy director-general of the fisheries department at the Agriculture Ministry, said: “We hope we will get GI status soon because now we have obtained a certificate from the ministry to make the prahoc fish paste in Siem Reap that conforms to the national standard.”
“We want our prahoc fish paste to have GI status so that it can be recognised in international markets,” Ms Sochivy said.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 2015 submitted the national prahoc standard to the Institute of Standards for Cambodia, which later was approved by the government.
Oeun Sophoan, a former fisherwoman, is one of the 10 members of the association in Chong Kneas commune, currently being trained by the fisheries department to produce prahoc that conforms to the national standard.
“Previously we used to produce prahoc the traditional way. Fish, which was cleaned and descaled would be crushed under foot in a basket and then fermented with salt,” said Ms Sophoan.
“During this training we’re learning to produce prahoc that is of quality, following the national standard that makes it safe for consumption and also which can be sold overseas,” she added.
According to Yin Samnang, chairperson of the Khmer Prahoc Standard Association, all the 10 members of the Chong Kneas association have to pool their capital to buy river fish to be used for making prahoc.
“We buy fish from contracted fishermen who fish in the Tonle Sap lake. If supplies are low, we also get them from fish farms, provided they are of the quality that conforms to the national standard,” said Mr Samnang.
According to Mr Samnang, about 1.5 tonnes of prahoc produced by the Chong Kneas association have been sold in local markets, since they started production in early 2017.
“Khmer Prahoc and Prahoc Siem Reap, in particular, fetches around $10 per kilo in local markets,” he said.
There are three types of Khmer Prahoc, such as boney prahoc produced from small white fish, which is the cheapest in the market because of its abundant supply, boneless prahoc, produced from moonlight gourami (kampleanh fish), and boneless prahoc which is produced from larger snakehead fish.
“These two types of boneless prahoc can obtain the highest price in the market,” said Mr Samnang.
According to the fisheries department’s Ms Sochivy prahoc from Siem Reap needs to have geographical indication status so that it can be recognised in international markets.
She added that the GI status would also help prevent the proliferation of fake Siem Reap prahoc fish paste.
“Because of the demand for prahoc fish paste in markets such as in Thailand and the United States, we are worried about fake products. So we are seeking an international standard through the GI status to protect our products,” Ms Sochivy said.