Kapi from the sea

Kapi from the sea
Kapi from the sea

Local fishers are wading in with fine nets to join weekend beachgoers along Takiab and Suan Son beaches on this fine mid-November morning. More fisher helpers sit under umbrellas on the beach, washing in buckets a pink bonanza from the sea. What’s in their nets? For only about a week at this time of year millions of little krill-like pink Acetes shrimps swim with bathers in pale pink clouds in waves close to shore.

For the local fishers these Kung Keoy shrimps point to one word: Kapi! Kapi, the strong-smelling fermented shrimp paste, essential in Thai cuisine used in sauces and soups, is made from these Acetes shrimps. An older woman fisher has just been long up to her neck in the sea, dragging a net behind her.

She pulls up to the sand about five kilos of the kapi shrimps at the bottom of her net. Her helpers on the beach are cleaning more shrimps in seawater. Then this sea bounty goes first to be salted and dried in the sun for a week or so, then fermented to make the gourmet salty and aromatic fishy paste sold in the markets. To find it in the market, just follow your nose.

You need good kapi for Nam Prik Kapi, the dark spicy sauce that is served well-garnished with Prik Kee Noo, the tiny colourful very hot chillies that many foreign eaters unfortunately have had exploding in their mouths, sending smoke out of their ears. Poor Anna Forbes, wife of British naturalist Henry Ogg Forbes, was visiting Ambon in Indonesia in the 1880s and wrote in her diary that she had accused her cook of trying to poison her with Terasi, the Indonesian Kapi, and threw away that “horrible rotten package”.

Fortunately nowadays assorted fresh and steamed vegetables are dipped in this delicious sauce that is eaten with rice and small fried Pla Tu tuna fish. A real Thai delicacy to be sampled. Acetes shrimps, that do not grow larger than this krill size, are fished around Asia and the world with about half a million tonnes being netted each year.