Clams, a type of fresh-water shellfish, are one of Cambodian’s favourite staples. On hot sunny days, a line of carts loaded with red spicy fresh-water shells can be seen pushed by Cambodian vendors. People do not have them during rainy season since rain can spoil the quality and taste. Cambodians like eating clams that have been boiled, dried and blended with salt or red spice. They also use clams to make other kinds of food—boiled clams or friend clams. Dried clams, however, are preferably eaten. Clams in Cambodia can normally be found at the bottom of a river.
Dried clams made through some steps, tt is, on the other hand, generally believed to have an impact on people‘s health. Faithful eaters disapprove of this impact.
How Dried Clams are Made
Trucks loading clams normally arrive in Phnom Penh at around three o’clock early in the morning nearby 7 Makara market located in Tuol Kok district. As soon as it stops, dried clam sellers have to rush to the scene to buy some kilos each to make dried clams for the upcoming morning. After taken from the truck, clams are poured into freshwater, so they open their shells. After two hours soaked in water, sellers stir by hand to clean the shell and place them in bamboo baskets to rinse off water for fifteen minutes till the shells become a little bit dry.
In her 45, Bin Ya, a clam vendor living in Beong Kak II village, Tuol Kork district, says she has had this business for years, and made some good profit from selling them.
“I put them in the freshwater for those clams to spit mud out from shells,” she says. Before putting those clams on the flat zinc of the cart, she puts the washed clams in boiling water for three minutes till they are half-cooked, and she mixes them with salt, seasoning, sugar, chilly, and minced garlic. Rinsing them in sunlight will complete the cooking process.
Selling along Public Road
A haze of traffic and people swirl around 55-year-old Sam Chet who is sitting under sunlight on a small broken chair at the corner of Neak Vann pagoda along the Russian Boulevard. She has been earning a living by selling clams since the early 1990s.
Asked how hard it is to keep the dried clams clean on the cart while pushing her cart loaded with the food along the dusty road, Sam Chet says that she is used to it. “When I first sold them in the 1990s, other sellers laid them on the ground, so now it is actually more hygienic to have them laid on a cart with a zinc panel below. “It is normal to sell clams along the road… If you go to provinces, you will see clams on the ground,” Chet says.
Some Cambodians think that dried clams have a good taste. They, however, have a negative impact of health. A doctor from Peraing Referral hospital in Preyveng province, says that sold clams are not very clean and still mixed with dirt or dust.
“They are taken from the mud under the river. Even though sellers soak them in clean water for the clams to spit the mud out before boiling, it does not mean all the mud leaves the shell,” says Dr. Seng Chantha, adding that there appear to be kinds of worms in the food.
The medical doctor also recommends that Cambodians should think more of their health before indulging themselves in such a kind of food. “They should not eat those types of food at all… They are boiled for a few minutes and then put on a plate. Who can guarantee if they still consist of some bacteria? They can have a diarrhea or a pain in the stomach,” he adds.
Sry Theany, another 23-year-old student of medical science expresses her feeling toward the hygiene of making dried clams. She says she does not eat them because they consist of invisible bacteria, and people should be more informed before eating. “I ate dried clams before, but not now because I experienced a sheer pain due to worms inside clams,” she says. “They are taken out of mud from the river bottom, so they cannot be unhealthy food unless they are 100% cooked.”
Many fans of dried clams forget about experts’ words on dried clams, and cannot refrain from eating them once they see them. Keo Somaly, 23 years old, has eaten them since she was young. “I heard people saying about having a diarrhea from eating dried clams. I have had a diarrhea a few times, but that is worth it.” She says her favourite way of eating dried clams is eating them with a tamarind sauce with chili.
Another regular dried clam eater knows the bad impact of the food, but he still eats them. Reun Srib, 20, a student of Institute of Technology says, “I know what might go wrong with my health, but that is worth it.The taste cannot be resisted.”
By Tha Piseth & Keo Kounila
(Looking for photos)