We pull in from the Lay Myo River and lunch at a sun-bleached stilted shack, under which hoglets and puppies rootle and flop about. Fish, kippered to bloaters, slashed and threaded on bamboo sticks, are gently warmed over a fire, and taste of delicious hut. Fat river prawns, as big as lobster tails, are fried with smashed green ginger and salt, then plopped into a bubbler of a curry. Heads are sucked of their glories by those who know - and are happy to do. So, keep the prawn heads on, but snip off the ends (all the whiskery bits), so the goodness works into the curry.
Peel the prawns, leaving on the heads and tail bits - and keep the shells. Slit the backs of the prawns, pull out the dark tract and chuck it. This is not necessary on smaller prawns. Toss the prawns with the fish sauce and a shredded lime leaf, and tip over any collected ginger juice from the grated ginger. Toss through, cover, and leave on one side. Crush the shells up a bit - in a mortar or with a knife. In a frying pan or wok, gently heat the oil with the paprika, chilli flakes and chilli, and allow to stew for a few minutes, or until the oil has developed a good red colour, then chuck in the shells and gently fry for about 5 minutes. Sieve the flavoured oil into a wok, discarding all the bits and pieces.
Pound together the shrimp paste, ginger, garlic, shallots and turmeric to make a coarse paste - or blast together in a processor. Fry the paste in the flavoured oil until softened and lightly browned, then stir in the prawns and fry these too for about a minute. Lift out the prawns, leaving the paste in the wok, and keep on a plate on one side. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, whole lime leaves and a touch of salt (if it needs it), and bubble up, adding a dash of water. Rapidly cook, with a bit of a splutter, for about 10 minutes - adding more water if things start to look at all dry. It should end up paste-like, rich and unctuous. Tip in the prawns with any collected juices, bed down in the sauce and gently cook for about 8 minutes or so. You may want to scoop off excess oil. Serve scattered with the remaining shredded lime leaves, and eat with rice.
© 2004 Alastair Hendy. All rights reserved.