WTF: What the Fish! ‘Pirang’, ‘Beletut’ and other fishesPosted: 10 July 2012
I remember reading in a book regarding which plural forms is right for the word ‘fish’. The book outlined that if the fish is of different kind of fish then the plural form is ‘fishes’. If it is many fish of only one kind, then the plural form remains as ‘fish’. Then the fish in the basin in the photo is called ‘a basinful of fishes’, I guess. They are the kind of fishes typically found in the water around Kuala Rejang.
This particular fish is called ‘pirang’. Sarawakian Malay calls them ’empirang’. It has many fine bones in its body, much like ‘terubuk’. Great when fried till very dry with chilli, shallot and turmeric. The bones become less problematic when it is fried this way, as its bones become crunchy when fried. It is also ideal for ‘umai’, a Melanau raw fish delicacy. Again the bones are not a problem since only small pirangs are chosen, the bones are smaller in addition to being slice thinly. This in turn makes the task of cutting the meat off from the main bone an ordeal, an unskilled person will often hurt his finger. Another problem is the scales, if it gets into the ‘umai’ as a result of unskilled chef losing his nerve over the preparation of the fish, it will be unpleasant to eat the ‘umai’ since you will always spit out the plastic-like scales while eating it. Read a post about ‘umai’ here.
These are baby sharks. Its length is about 30cm. To prepare it, pound chili, turmeric and shallot and then saute (‘tumis’) it. Put in skinned baby sharks that have been cut into equals pieces and there you go, a dish called ‘gureng kisiw’ as we call it here, or literally it means ‘fried sharks’. The dish has a dominating turmeric and shallot taste and smell to cover up the fishiness of the sharks. But still, the smell of sharks is still very strong and I dislike this dish. Particularly because I can not get the carnivorous image of sharks out my head. Some people use shark in ‘umai’, which is a big no-no for me. However, shark is the go-to bait when setting a crab trap or when netting (‘menjala’) for prawns. Its smell is strong enough to attract crab and prawns and its meat is tough, it does not tear and dissolve easily in water.
This fish is called ‘beletut’ in my language, and ‘popot’ by Sarawakian Malay. This is like the best fish here in my opinion because it is very good on its own. Just put it on smoldering coal, no need to scale, no need to gut them and there you have it. The ‘beletut’ meat is fatty and moist. Some eat it just like that, some people like it with sago and some like eat it with rice, dipping it in blended chili, soy sauce and vinegar. If fried it kind of taste like fried chicken (to me). Other ways to enjoy this fish is to make soup out of them. Whether a plain soup with just ‘beletut’, salt, water and asam payak or a trumeric soup with addition to the said ingredient turmeric and chili. This fish is like ‘pirang’, it has many fine bones but trust me it is worth it. Currently it is RM8 per kilogram if you waited the fishermen to come back at the beach and it becomes more pricey once it reaches towns.
The ones with the unhinged jaws and pinkish in color is called ‘lumek’. Be careful when grabbing this fish because it is very slippery, I do not think it has scales and its teeth is very sharp. When it slips through your finger, make sure not to get them caught in the teeth. Most common way to enjoy it is to smoke and sundry them until it is very dry and then deep fried. You can also cook it by sauteing shallot before adding salt, MSG, and water and let it boil until the meat is become mushy and dissolved like some sort of porridge.
There are other fihes, but these are the most common ones. I wonder if these fishes are available in other parts of the world and what are their names and how are they prepared. I wish there is some kind of search engine where you the search criteria is a photo, not words. TinEye reverse Image Search is the closest I can get now.
Stay curious 🙂