I thought it'd be interesting to share how other writers characterize or try to explain what padek is to others.
Here's an excerpt taken from a book entitled Hot Sour Salty Sweet - a culinary journey through southeast Asia by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, Random House, 2009, page 220.
"Fermented fish: Raw foods can be intimidating, scary even, especially if they're soured or fermented, or transformed in a way that's unfamiliar. Those of us who were raised in some blend of European-North American culinary tradition tend to love cheese. The fact that it's a fermented product doesn't bother us - in fact, for many of us, the smellier, the better. But for many Southeast Asians, the first reaction to cheese, or yogurt, is an appalled aversion: "Yuck!" sums it up.
Similarly, when we venture into traditional fermented foods from other cultures, we often have a hard time learning to like them. The Japanese fermented soybeans, natto, sour, slimy, and yes, delicious, come to mind. So does stinky bean curd, zhou doufu, in China.
In Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, the precusor to fish sauce is a very strong tasting fermented fish paste, with bits of fish floating in a briny liquid."