The Cambodian immigrant eats fish about three times a week. The habit stretches back to his homeland, where fish was plentiful in the rice fields - and free.
The affinity for fish made the journey with him and other Southeast Asians to the Philadelphia region. Now, poverty makes wild fish from the Delaware River a popular supplement to immigrants' diets, community workers said.
"It's our culture that we've been eating fish for so long," Mak said. "There's no reason why we have to change here."
But researchers at the Pennsylvania Sea Grant, a project to improve economic and environmental health along the state's waterways, think there is a very good reason that the pattern ought to change: Fish from the Delaware, the Schuylkill and their tributaries contain high levels of mercury and PCBs.
"We found that most in the community were not aware" of the dangers, said Ann Faulds, associate director of the Pennsylvania Sea Grant.
One-third of recreational anglers or their families who eat fish from the Delaware estuary are Vietnamese and Cambodians, according to a survey by the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary in 2003. And two-thirds of them have eaten more wild fish than recommended by state health officials.
But many Southeast Asian immigrants are unaware of the recommendations because most public-health advisories are in English or Spanish.
So the Sea Grant, the Partnership and Temple University have spent the last six months educating the Southeast Asian community about the dangers of eating too much wild fish. They have spread the word through articles in ethnic newspapers, brochures, cooking demonstrations, and public-health sessions like yesterday's, all conducted in Vietnamese, Khmer and English.
The session at Hung Vuong included practical advice about how best to prepare wild fish (steam, grill or bake it - don't fry it), which canned tuna is safest (solid white, not light or albacore), and how often to eat wild fish (for instance, don't eat carp caught from the Schuylkill south of the Black Rock Dam; from north of the dam, six servings a year is OK).
"The catfish has more mercury. That's why I'll pick the other one," said Youeta Yi, 36, pointing to a picture of another fish in a Khmer-language brochure. Yi is seven months' pregnant.
Tran Trinh Thoa, 73, also took away some valuable tips.
"In the future, I will remove the skin and the head and the black meat," she said.
Contact staff writer Gaiutra Bahadur at 215-854-2601 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Tom Avril contributed to this article.