Cambodian cuisine was all but wiped out under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. All cookery books, which the Khmer Rouge considered to be bourgeois, were destroyed.City populations were forced into the countryside at gunpoint to work in the fields to produce food they were not allowed to eat; instead being given a meagre allowance of 180g of rice which had to last for two days.An estimated two million people were killed to create an agrarian utopian state of peasant farmers.
Pol Pot was overthrown in 1979, but continued to fight the Cambodian government for the next seventeen years.
Only in recent years have traditional Cambodian dishes started to be seen once again in the country, surviving only because of the memories and determination of some of the people to retain the history of their own cuisine.
Cambodia lies on the mighty Mekong river, which along with the Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers and Tonle Sap Lake, provides Cambodia with an abundance of freshwater fish.
In this recipe, any white fish can be used; I used Sea Bass.
What you need
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
5cm fresh root galangal, chopped or 1/2 tsp ground galangal
2 tbs chopped lemon grass or 2 tsp ground lemon grass
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp paprika
2 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs sugar
½ tsp salt
1 x 400gtin coconut milk
450g/1lb white fish fillets
4-8 banana leaves
How to make it
Place the garlic, onion, galangal, lemon grass, turmeric, paprika, fish sauce and sugar in a blender.
Process until all ingredients are well blended then add the coconut milk and blend again.
Transfer the coconut mixture to a saucepan and bring to simmering point, whilst stirring continuously.
Continue to cook gently for about 10 minutes until thickened.
Gently heat the banana leaves, either on a barbeque, or by steaming to make them pliable.
Cut into pieces about 20cm square.
Place the fish fillets in a bowl, season with a little salt, then pour half the hot coconut sauce over the fish and mix well.
Set the remaining sauce aside.
Divide the fish mixture into the same number of portions as you have banana squares.
Place the mixture in the centre of each leaf and fold the edges over to form secure parcels.
Steam the parcels for 1 hour.
Five minutes before the end of the cooking time, gently reheat the remaining sauce.
Make a small opening down the centre of each parcel and spoon the remaining coconut sauce into the opening.
Serve immediately with rice of your choice.