Doing Fieldwork on Fermented Foods in the World

(Mar.22-Sep.24, 2022, Nagoya University Museum)

Part 2. Fermented foods as essential food items

Pickled vegetables, natto and shiokara are all fermented foods used as side dishes on a daily basis by the Japanese.

In the humid regions of Asia, where rice is the staple food, fermented seafood such as shiokara, which is quite salty, serves as a side dish. On the other hand, in arid regions, where bread is the staple, the people consume fermented foods such as cheese, which is processed from the milk of livestock. Let us consider the differences between food cultures in various parts of the world in light of the fermented foods that are used as side dishes.

Chapter 4. Inter-ethnic contact and acceptance of fermented fish foods: A case study on the peripheral region of Cambodia

The Khmer people make up 90% or more of Cambodia’s population, but there are many Mon-Khmer native people and Laotians who relocated along the Mekong River from Champasak Province in southern Laos during the 16th century and now live in the provinces of Ratanakiri and Stung Treng along the Laotian border. The Laotians build villages along rivers, growing rice and vegetables in fields, and catching freshwater fish in the rivers and marshes. They lead a dietary life based on rice and fish.

■ Fermented padaek from freshwater fish

A huge volume of fish are caught from May to June each year in this region. Those that cannot be eaten right away are processed in various ways and stored. Among those is a fermented food called “padaek,” produced by adding salt and rice bran to the fish and aging it. It is an indispensable food to the farmers during the busy farming season.

Prahok is not delicious?

The Khmers also produce a fermented food product called “prahok” from salted, aged fish. It resembles padaek at first glance, but according to the Lao, “They put so much salt in it that it becomes hard and salty. They don’t pound the fish, either, but dry it in the sun, so the fish meat becomes harder and harder,” and therefore they rate it unfavorably as “not delicious.”

Comparing the ways these are actually made, for padaek the fish is pounded until it ruptures, but for prahok, the fish is not pounded in most cases. In addition, for prahok, the fish is also sun-dried and in not a few cases, a lot of salt is added to it.

■ Enjoyment of padaek surpasses ethnic boundaries

The padaek in Stung Treng Province is enjoyed by non-Lao ethnic groups as well. For example, the Khmer people who were relocated from the suburbs of the capital to live with villagers in the Siem Pang District under the Pol Pot regime are said to have considered the padaek better tasting than the prahok where they came from, and they learned how to make it.

One ethnic Chinese woman whose parents immigrated from China has married a Khmer man and is living in a Lao village in Ratanakiri Province. It is said that generally the Chinese find the smell of padaek too strong and cannot eat it, but her mother liked it and began copying the Lao and producing padaek herself.

The Kroeung people of the Mon Khmer ethnic group also lacked a fermented fish food culture, but influenced by the Lao people, they began to eat padaek, and some of them even began producing it themselves. Thus, a trend can be seen that through immigration and other chances, different ethnicities have encountered each other, and in seeing and hearing about each other’s food cultures or sharing food, padaek has come to be actively taken up by different peoples’ food cultures.