Our Karen teacher, Lavender, taught us how to make fish paste yesterday. It’s a very common item in Karen and Burmese culture. You can easily find it in the market, but apparently it’s difficult to find someone who makes it well. It takes a good deal of patience. We thought we just couldn’t leave you out on such knowledge of how to make such a delicacy, so here goes:
First, you need fish. Any kind of fish and any size. For the big ones, take the scales off; for the little ones–no problem. Also, you must take out their crap–she used other words, but we’re pretty sure it’s because she’s unaware of what she was saying; thankfully it’s not a word she’ll use too often–because it’s bitter, you see. And add a lot of salt (pah doh, as they say in Karen).
Then, you put all the fish in a basket, place a cloth over them, and a large stone. And let them sit for about three to five days. The water will be drained out of them and out of the holes in the basket.
Third, you leave the basket of drying-out fish in the sun for another two or three days. (I’m very confident it’s smelling lovely at this point.)
Once the fish is dry, you ground it all together. Every bit of it, ground up.
And last, you let it sit. For one year. This is where many people go wrong, she was saying. They get impatient and try to sell it; but it smells bad if it’s too early. To be honest, I’m not sure it ever smells good to a Western nose, but perhaps better?
Two other funny things she shared with us:
“We make a funny…” followed by a joke that neither of us understood, really. I love this phrasing; something I’ve heard before from Karen, meaning they will tell a joke or have told a joke in the past. Very well put.
And, supposedly there are many things from China for sale in Rangoon, but she told us in Karen that “maybe things from China break, 2 or 3 day…” We laughed.