The crushed prahok is then packed into airtight containers. After another layer of salt is added, the lid is tightly shut and left at room temperature for about one month. The result is ripe prahok to be used in Cambodia's kitchens until next year's season arrives.
In the countryside, plain prahok is mostly eaten alongside rice, providing a vital nutritional supplement to farmers' predominantly rice diet. However, it is a common ingredient in soups, such as samlor kakou (a spicy fish-and-vegetable soup) whose flavoursome broth is made of fish, pork or chicken, vegetables, prahok and kroeung (curry paste). Prahok also stars in the national dish of fish amok, a fragrant fish curry steamed in banana leaves, and it doubles as a dipping sauce, such as prahok ktis and the fish-based, seasonal vegetable-accompanying teuk kreung.
According to Rotanak, prahok is also used in many innovative ways. Like Meng, she scoured the country in search of age-old recipes to preserve in her cookbook, Nhum. In Tropiang Prei village in Siem Reap province, she discovered the rich dish of duck lemongrass sour soup with palm fruit (samlor mchou thnaut sach tea). Here, prahok adds a sharp contrast to the sweet duck and bitter bite of palm fruit.
"Every mum has a different recipe, and each one thinks theirs is the best," said Meng, adding that prahok is evolving alongside Cambodia's rapid development. "Now, there are new recipes for marinating and preserving the fish. There's a lot more choice using different salts and spices, and this is a great advancement."