Battambang’s Prahok Market Catches Foreigners’ Eyes … and Noses

Battambang's Prahok Market is located in Ek Phnom district’s Prek Norin commune, on the west side of Sangke River. Photo: ThmeyThmey

BATTAMBANG – Despite its strong smell, Battambang’s largest fish processing market, located six kilometers north of Battambang city, has become an attraction for tourists who want to discover the making process of the country’s most famous ingredient, prahok.

While the production of the famous fish paste, used as a condiment in Cambodian cuisine, is in full swing at the beginning of the year, Battambang's prahok market has become a tourist attraction for foreign tourists wishing to discover local gastronomy and new food processing methods.

Located in Ek Phnom district’s Prek Norin commune, on the west side of Sangke River, the market is easy to locate, thanks to its strong odor. In addition to prahok and dried fish, the place is also famous for processing pha’ak, a sour mixture containing fermented fish and rice.

After arriving at the market, in plastic containers of all sizes, the millions of fish – which include snakehead murrel, claiming perch, moonlight gourami, or Siamese mud carp – are mixed with salt and processed. When ready, they are sold all over Cambodia.

Tour guide Bo Sophal and French tourists, Maggy and her husband Sebastien, at the market. Photo: Chhum Chantha

Maggy and her husband Sebastien are two among the other tourists visiting the prahok market. They travel from New Caledonia, a French overseas territory in Oceania.

The couple said the very reason they came to visit the prahok market was because they wanted to see the daily life of the people in Ek Phnom and how to process fish into a paste. They have never seen it in their country.

They said that they were also amazed at how Cambodians keep fish products for a long time without using any preservatives other than salt. Coming from a different culture and lifestyles, and having different eating habits from Cambodia, they both said the smell of prahok was too strong for them to dare taste it. 

Bo Sophea, a French and English-speaking tour guide, said the prahok market is one of the destinations foreigners come to visit in Battambang. While some tourists come with their guide, others make the journey to the market on their own, traveling by tuk-tuks, bicycles or motorbikes.

Sophea said the prahok market is not the only tourist attraction in Ek Phnom district, which is also home to the Ek Phnom pagoda and the Ta Korm lake.

Not far from the market, tourists can also see how Cambodians make Kralan, a sticky rice delicacy stuffed in bamboo, and Naem, which consists of seasoned chopped pork or fish wrapped in banana leaves.

 In addition to prahok and dried fish, the place is also famous for processing pha’ak, a sour mixture containing fermented fish and rice. Photo: ThmeyThmey

Peng Ang, a tuk-tuk driver who has been transporting tourists for about 17 years, said that he always brings foreign visitors to the prahok market. Ang said most of the tourists want to visit the place even though it is very smelly.

“I often drive tourists to the prahok market, mostly foreign tourists. They want to know how to make prahok and fermented fish. The making process really catches the eye of tourists even though the smell might be hard for their nose,” he said.

But Ang added that tour guides should check on their visitors’ health before entering the market as some tourists may be allergic to prahok.

Yim Chi Leang, the owner of one of the many stalls in the market, has been seeing tourists visiting the place for years. But he still doesn’t really understand their intention as most of the activity in the market consists of cleaning the fish and preparing the salt mixture, and not selling final fish products.

“They come to see, take photos, and talk with their guides. Guides explain to them how to produce prahok,” he said, adding that on the good days, around 100 tourists visit the market.

“But most buyers are from other provinces,” he said. “The prahok market is where we clean fish and mix ingredients, such as salt and sugar.”

Visit Battambang’s prahok market is free of charge.


Originally written in Khmer for ThmeyThmey, this article was translated by Nhor Sokhoeurn for Cambodianess.

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