Cambodian Snakehead Fish Soup with Baby Water Melon

This is one of the first Cambodian dishes I’ve  cooked since I’m here. Almost authentic because I made one slight change to the recipe. You may think that I’m living in Cambodia and it’s taken this long to cook Cambodian. Truth is I didn’t have a kitchen for such a long time (16 months to be exact) during this trip that I could only eat local food where ever I was. Sometimes good and sometimes a downright disaster. Anyone who knows me in Europe will know what a pain in the ass I can be when it comes to eating out.  I can easily walk for  2 hours (on an already empty starving stomach) in a ridiculously foul mood because I refuse to pay money (no matter how little) for crap food. Unfortunately for me most food places in Berlin have substandard food quality. Since travelling I had to give up my high and mighty food standards for eating out. I would’ve starved to death. And the food isn’t all fantastic here like I thought. Whether eating out in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore ,  Thailand or here in Cambodia, the good places have to be found (and I usually refuse to pay western prices to eat out in Asia). Amazing from the zillions of hawker stalls and street food available how much is to my liking. Too oily, little taste, tough meat, not spiced well or made with misery. I believe that food absorbs the energy of the cook and kitchen. If the kitchen is filthy in the nooks and crannies, I won’t be eating from that kitchen for long. And miserable cooks make me miserable when I eat their food. The same goes for anger. I don’t need angry cooks feeding me their anger as I have enough of my own to deal with.

The difference is of course if one get’s invited into a family for a meal. In Bangladesh I ate exclusively with my extended family and occasionally here in Cambodia I was lucky enough to eat with a family. Only then does one eat real food made with love that can be tasted and felt. The difference is amazing. This is the reason I cook. To make food with love and passion….and as healthy as possible so I can dance a jig immediately after dinner. This is how I measure the standard of my cooking. Food should taste and feel good during and after eating.

Anyway, since I live in Cambodia I can eat Cambodian dishes everyday (and did so for months on end), so it wasn’t on my priority list for cooking.

Cambodian snake head fish – you get the same fish in Bangladesh. How on Earth they swam the freshwater distance is beyond me…??

Baby water melon…..?


And once again the snake head fish and baby water melon (you know I’ve made this name up because that’s what I think it is…??)



Baby water melons-I picked these up in the market out of curiosity and cooked them as described without really knowing what it is or ever having cooked it before. The seeds look like water melon seeds and the skin looks like a water melon. But they are the size of a beef tomato and taste watery with a very mild sweetness when ate raw. Cooked I found them delicious in this soup and taste wise I would say very similar to a bottle gourd.

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Cambodian Snakehead Fish Soup


1 small snake head fish (about  1kg) or any other fish of a similar size cut into 1 inch pieces

2 tomatoes quartered

2 baby water melons peeled and quartered (or bottle gourd or zucchini cut into 1 inch pieces-zucchini doesn’t need to be peeled but bottle gourd does)

1-2 lemongrass stalks only the light colored stem, not the green part-cut into ½ inch pieces crushed

3 shallots or 1 medium sized onion-chopped medium

½ bulb of garlic crushed

1 inch piece o turmeric root crushed (optional-original recipe didn’t have any turmeric)

1 inch piece of ginger root crushed in a mortar & pestle

2 thai chillies

5 lime leaves

1 stalk of sweet Thai basil (leaves plucked-stalk not used)

10 saw leaf herb leaves-cut into ½ inch pieces

1 stalk of fresh coriander chopped small

1 fresh mexican type chilli

1 tablespoon of ripe tamarind


½ teaspoon of palm sugar

vegetable oil (only necessary if using fresh turmeric root to fry in)

fish sauce (1-2 table spoon)

1½ cups of light red jasmine rice and ½ cup of dark red jasmine rice cooked in a rice cooker


1. Fill a saucepan with 1 ½ litres of water and heat on a medium high flame.

2. Fry the turmeric root and garlic in a bit of oil in a frying pan ( this is an extra step I did because of using turmeric root. If you leave out the turmeric, you can skip this step and use the garlic not fried)

3. Put the ginger, shallots, garlic and turmeric, chillies, lemongrass, salt, palm sugar and fish sauce into the saucepan with the water.

4. Put the tamarind in a bowl and soak with hot water. Then squeeze the pulp out and add only the juice into the saucepan discarding the pulp and seeds. Tamarind is very sour so better to put less in and taste and add more if necessary-1 tablespoon of tamarind should be enough.

5. Add the fish into the saucepan. Make sure it is descaled and de-gutted. I let the woman in the market do that for me. Makes my life a lot easier.

6. Add the  baby water melon or bottle gourd at this stage. If using zucchini add later after about 8 minutes because it cooks quicker

7. After about 12 minutes add the tomatoes. You want them still in pieces, not melted in the finished soup.

6. Let boil for about 15-20 minutes until the fish is done. Taste and adjust with salt, fish sauce and more tamarind juice as necessary to your liking. It should taste a little sour but fresh and fish soupy.

7. Take saucepan off the heat and add the saw leaf herb, Thai sweet basil leaves, and chopped coriander.

8. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. I prefer this soup with a mixture wholegrain and light red jasmine rice. You can also use white jasmine rice.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4 hungry people

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Unfortunately you can’t see the fish in the pictures of the soup. So I might be lying and it’s not in the soup or it’ still alive and swam to the bottom of the bowl….;-)

I don’t know what this dish is called in Cambodian. I watched a friend cook it once and made it from memory. I will find out at some point and then add the name.

My added turmeric made the soup yellow in colour. The original soup was plain see through.

Categories: Cambodia, Fish, Recipes, Soup | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Cambodian Snakehead Fish Soup with Baby Water Melon

  1. Excellent … nice flavorings and good looking too!

  2. The camera you use must be really expensive in order to take such photos that are do clear and look “HD” quality.

    Great photos in every recipe!

    • Thanks! It’s only a compact consumer (panasonic) lumix with a leica lens. I’ll be investing in a DSLR in the near future. I use Lightroom to adjust the photos. Don’t know how to use photoshop yet.

  3. I never really thought about the food picking up the atmosphere of the cook and the kitchen..obviously I have considered the unfortunate possibility of a stray booger or scab, but never an emotion.

    You have made me think!

    I very much appreciate that.

    • Other cooks and workers in restaurants I’ve worked in have an experience of getting sick of the food at some point. Regardless of how good or even organic the food is. I think the owner/manager plays a big role too because they affect the mood of the staff. Only ‘my’ thoughts, feelings and experiences.

  4. I’ll give it a go, we can buy Snakehead here in China 🙂

    • I know this fish from Bangladesh. There they have big ponds for ablution in front of mosques. Some ponds of special famous mosques are filled with big snakeheads and you’re not allowed to eat them because they are apparently souls or spirits of some holy person from the past…??

  5. Interesting, I did not know that about the snakeheads….learn something new each time I visit this blog.

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