Friday, June 1, 2012

The World's Best Grilled Fish

If you ever happen to want to taste the best grilled fish in the world, there is one place in the world which produces exactly that- Cambodia. Seriously, once you eat this, you will not want to eat fish made any other way (which may or may not be a good thing). Again, I found this in Kep, Cambodia, and as promised in my previous post, I will post the recipe today. I have not made this myself (yet), but I did manage to get the recipe from the ladies who grilled the fish for me, since they seemed to share my enthusiasm for the Cambodian grilled fish. It just keeps you coming back for more. Someone should franchise it- CGF, Cambodian Grilled Fish, available at every street corner... (this is why I am not a successful entrepreneur with my own chain of restaurants).
Grilled 'Bird Fish" at Kep, Cambodia with Angkor beer

The fish is delicious for two reasons. The outside is crusty, sweet, chillie, salty, a heavenly fusion of taste for the tongue. The inside is moist, white flesh, not overcooked, but perfectly done. It had thin small bones though, so be careful when swallowing. I had a bone get stuck in my throat (in such a situation, just make a ball of the accompanying plain steamed rice, and swallow. It generally takes the bone along with it. If that doesn't work, go see a doctor. Though if you are in Kep, Cambodia, you might want to try more rice, and then perhaps drinking a huge gulp of water etc. before you decide to visit the local doctor. Just say'n).

It is best accompanied by a can of ice cold Angkor beer (as pictured), steamed rice and perhaps pepper crab, eaten in a restaurant which offers a thatched roof above, and a swishing ocean beneath the floor boards. This can be found in Kep, Cambodia. If Kep is too far away, I suppose you can substitute with your local beer and your kitchen table, but I'm telling you, atmosphere is everything. 

The preparation is simple. Too simple, in my opinion, for fish tasting that good. In fact I'm sure they have some secret that is as yet, hidden from me. But conspiracy theories aside, if you follow the steps in the right order, you should be presented with a fish as depicted in the picture.
  1. Descale a "bird fish". When I asked the grilling ladies what fish they used, they translated the khmer words, and said "bird fish". Any help identifying the genus and species of this fish from any of the pictures, would be greatly appreciated. 
  2. Split a bamboo stick, and insert fish, fins upwards (so that the stick reaches almost up to the head), into the stick. It should be firmly held by the stick on both sides so that it will be firm while grilling. 
  3. Liberally brush both sides of fish with a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, a little bit of sugar to taste, chopped garlic, red chillie flakes, salt (to taste, be careful with salt since soy sauce is generally salted as well).
  4. Place over grill, and turn, brushing it again with the mixture ever so often, until done.

Ladies at work grilling squid, and one of them enjoying a cool splash of fresh sugar cane juice at Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

I have seen this grilled bird fish both in Kep and Phnom Penh. They usually have squid prepared the same way, but I didn't taste that since I couldn't move on from the fish. Unfortunately I have not seen it in Siem Reap, possible because of a lack of access to ocean fish? I don't know. But Siem Reap has other wonders to keep you occupied, both culinary and otherwise, so the lack of bird fish should not trouble you.

Oh, and if ever you do go to Central Market, in Phnom Penh, just after the grilling ladies, in a corner of the food area, you will find a lady with a sugar cane juice extracting machine. HAVE IT. It is the best thing in the world to sip while you wander through that heady world of consumer goods. I know people who go to Central Market just for the sugar cane juice with ice. It is DELICIOUS. I wonder why we don't have it in Sri Lanka. We certainly grow our own sugar cane. Hmmm, now thats an idea. 
Grilled fish and squid on a stick, displayed in Kep, Cambodia

1 comment:

  1. Just back for Cambodia and all I can say is "Amen" to your comments on the fish...and I don't really like fish!! I came home and looked this up asap. I want to try it out this weekend and share with my family!