Traditional Khmer Food – AMOK!
AMOK is known as the most traditional dish of Cambodia. It is also known as “Steamed Curry Fish” or “AMOK Trei”. It is very famous for local people and for foreigners who want to taste Cambodian traditional cuisine. If you visit Cambodian restaurants, you may ask for a recommendation from the waitress or waiter. Almost ninety percent of them will recommend you to order AMOK since it is one of the most famous dishes in Cambodia. The ways that Cambodian people cook AMOK are not always the same. They have different ways to cook it in term of how they wrap the banana leaves with it. Normally, we use fish to cook Amok, however, we can use other meats like chicken, beef, and seafood (shrimp). Another secret ingredient is the aromatic mixture of Khmer Yellow Kroeung. Most people want to know why AMOK became so famous for foreigners. The reason is that AMOK is represented as Cambodian main dish. First, AMOK uses banana leaves instead of using plate; and banana is the Cambodian fruit. Cambodian people use a lot of banana leaves in many other food like for dessert (Khmer Sticky Rice-use banana leaves to wrap). Moreover, they even use the banana tree to make soup as well like Khmer sour soup “Morju Derm Jeck”. On the other hand, we have another ways to wrap AMOK. We can use coconut, snail shell, and plate instead of using banana leaves. Secondly, AMOK’s main ingredient is Cambodian freshwater fish. Cambodia has a large lake in the middle of the country and because of this enormous lake, Cambodian people have a ton of fish to eat and sell in both rainy and dry season. Moreover, Cambodian fish is tasty. In AMOK, we use Snakehead fish “Trei Ros”. When people see this fish, they know that it is from Cambodia. Lastly, AMOK uses the fresh and tasty ingredients. Those ingredients represent as Cambodian cuisine as well. In short, AMOK is the famous national dish of Cambodia because of its rich spicy combination of freshwater fish and fresh ingredients, it makes this dish become the soul of Khmer cuisine. Normally, Cambodian people usually cook Amok when they have a family party. The reason is that it has a lot of fun when we cook it; and to cook this dish, it demands the help from all family members. Apart from this, AMOK is also the main dish during Cambodian festivals like Water Festival, which celebrates to thank to Mekong River for providing Cambodian people with fertilized land and abundant fish.
Firstly, we need to prepare those fresh ingredients including meat “Snakehead fish”, coconut milk, dried red chilies, Kaffir lime skin, lemongrass, garlic, egg, roasted crushed peanuts, shrimp paste, banana leaves, shallots, galangal, Krachai, turmeric, cilantro, Noni leaves, and red pepper. Secondly, it takes time to cook. We need to clean the fish first by using lemon and salt because they help to reduce the fishy smell and make the fish look fresh and clean. Cut the banana leaves into circles and make them look like a boat or box by folding the sides in and securing them with toothpicks. Mix dried red chilies, Kaffir lime skin, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, galangal, Krachai, turmeric together and put a little amount of shrimp paste into it; this is called Yellow Kroeung. Next cut red pepper into a flower shape, which we use to decorate the top of the AMOK. Then put the coconut milk and powder into a hotpot and mix them together. After, put the fish, Yellow Kroeung, egg, roasted crushed peanuts into the pot. Add a little bit of fish sauce, salt, sugar palm, chicken powder and then mix them together for fifteen minutes. Next, put Noni leaves on the bottom of banana leaves that has a shape like a boat. Put the AMOK into it and steam it. When the AMOK is cooked, we put the coconut milk on top of it, and put some cilantro and red pepper on top. Lastly, prepare the rice and we are ready to eat.