Unexpected food gift from Cambodia
February 25, 2022 9:54 AM   Subscribe

We received a package from Cambodia that we were expecting with some legal documents. It contained an apparent food gift - I’d like to identify what it is.

The sender (a relative) added a big double plastic bag wrapped gift which I assume is a food product (maybe dried seafood). It smells very much like fish to me and kind of looks a little meaty with a slightly red skin but clearly shredded - closeup here. Frankly we are throwing it away as it is mystery unpackaged food from overseas that has been sitting in whatever temperature the box has been in for several weeks. And it smells really bad. But we wanted to respectfully thank them - and it would be helpful to know what it may be / is it a traditional gift etc.

If it helps our dog went absolutely bananas when she smelt the bin it was in…..she knocked the bin over to get to it - which is the first time she has ever done that in the two years we’ve had here. So it must be good whatever it is :-)

We have no reason to think it was a prank - we are helping this relative get passports for another country, and their passport was one of the documents - so we believe this was a sincere gift. We don’t think anything is wrapped in the foodstuff.
posted by inflatablekiwi to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
Response by poster: I should add - the weight and size of the package with the gift added was much more than the documents itself - so they spent a lot more on postage etc then they needed to - again which makes me think this was a thank you gift for helping them - and I do want to be respectful and thank them for it. The relatives live in a small village in Cambodia near a major river so fish would make sense.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 9:58 AM on February 25, 2022

Best answer: It's definitely seafood. Can you check a Cambodian travel forum or Lonely Planet thread online? You can say thanks for the ocean treats and possibly give it to the dog..! Minerals in seafood are often solid for dogs, though try a small amount first.
posted by firstdaffodils at 10:16 AM on February 25, 2022

Best answer: It's probably dried squid, you can eat as it is as a snack. Never seen it used as a ingredient for other dishes. Wiki. It's super good. The salt makes it not go bad fast. Smells "bad" because it's fish. I'd eat it.
posted by plant or animal at 10:42 AM on February 25, 2022 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: My spouse is vegan and I really don't do seafood - so eating it is not going to happen - but it does seem like dry shredded squid is about right after looking at some google image results. It only just occurred to me that the customs declaration on the outside of the box may have had more detail and sure enough when I pulled the box out of the recycling bin, it said "food". I actually feel really bad that they spent what was probably a considerable amount of extra money for them on shipping it. I'll maybe compost it (seems like you can if you have enough carbon sources in with it).
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:58 AM on February 25, 2022

If you aren’t going to eat it, dole it out to your dog as treats. Don’t waste it by composting.
posted by fancyoats at 11:07 AM on February 25, 2022 [22 favorites]

Fish, eel, or squid, dried and shredded. Dried seafood is incredibly common in Cambodia (generally salted and sometimes also fermented). You can fry it and eat it as a snack or use it as a seasoning to top things like papaya salad. I am not aware of it being some sort of traditional gift, but they would probably have felt like it was something that would travel and store easily.
posted by quiet wanderer at 11:48 AM on February 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

I’d definitely dole this out as dog treats!
posted by slateyness at 11:51 AM on February 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

If it has a lot of salt I wouldn't give it to a pet.
posted by Rufous-headed Towhee heehee at 12:39 PM on February 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Well, it looks like it will keep -- could you serve it at a party?

Maybe, at least, try to take a really nice photo of it on a beautiful plate, so you'll have the remembrance of it. Then you could potentially thank your relatives with the photo (while also somehow discouraging them from sending more... maybe because you can't reciprocate due to the high cost of mailing? or something?)
posted by amtho at 1:05 PM on February 25, 2022 [2 favorites]

My Cambodian daughter says it's very likely dried squid, which is a somewhat pricey ingredient. It's likely got salt, sugar and MSG added. If she received it, she would put it in the freezer once opened and then either fry some for snacks or add it to soups and stews as an ingredient.

I would give it as tiny treats to your dog, like a teaspoon every week.

I asked her why someone would send it to an American, and she said probably they thought this is something nice and unusual for Americans to try. I have to say her family occasionally sends very securely packaged food over, and when I was travelling to Cambodia often, I would have dried seafood, beef and fruits, bottles of mysterious homemade seasonings and honey in my suitcase each time.

Cambodian pepper and dried mango are my absolute favourites if they want to send food.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:06 PM on February 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I'll maybe compost it

I don't know where you live, but if we lived near each other, I would come rescue that from your compost bin. It sounds tasty from the descriptions people are giving! My point being, if you aren't interested in it, you might be able to find a happy recipient who would appreciate it.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:03 PM on February 25, 2022 [4 favorites]

Do not compost. It is definitely dried squid which is tasty as a snack and goes great with beer.
posted by jadepearl at 10:11 PM on February 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Looks like backpacking trail-snack protein for somebody who eats seafood!
posted by away for regrooving at 10:32 PM on February 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Definitely dried squid, which is an Asian delicacy. Japanese call it "saki ika", which is the shredded version you see here.
posted by kschang at 12:09 AM on February 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Could the food be meant as a way to throw off customs inspector? Maybe "documents" is suspicious, but "food" is more likely to escape scrutiny? (If so, mabye the sender did not intend this as a gift or to be eaten).

I'm imagining some sort of fantasy reverse transaction in which the recipient is asking "Do I eat the styrofoam peanuts? Do I need to send a thank-you letter?"
posted by soylent00FF00 at 2:36 PM on February 27, 2022

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