Fish Dish 1

It’s another post about fish. This time, it is a post about how we typically cook our fish in my kampung. Only a few full time fishermen are left to supply us with fresh seafood, compared to the time before an industrial/port town was opened 10 kilometer away from my kampung. Most of them have jobs at the town and catching fish is just a way to add to their income or just for their own consumption. Luckily, my uncle is still an active fisherman, so my house has always enjoyed fresh supply of fish. Although not constantly, we are very thankful that we still get to eat fresh seafood from time to time.

By the way, in Melanau and Malay, fish is ikan.

isam putik, white soup

Isam putik, white soup

This is the simplest soup we make out of ikan kilat in Melanau (Sarawakian Malay calls it ikan cermin, which literally means ‘mirror fish’). Boil ikan kilat with salt, MSG and asam keping or as we commonly call it here asam gelugur, a type of sliced and then sun-dried and very sour fruit that is used to add sourness to food. And there you go; you have isam putik (white soup). If you add crush turmeric and chili in it, you get isam kunyit (turmeric soup). Our version of isam kunyit does not have shallot in it, or garlic, which strikes as odd to some people. Addition of such ingredient will change the dish name to isam tumis (sauté soup), because it involves sautéing shallot before all other ingredients are put in. However, we use other fish in turmeric and sauté soup, like ikan malang (if pronounced with Malay pronunciation, this fish’s name means ‘unfortunate fish’), ikan beletut (link here) and ikan bekurung (a type of catfish I think). I am quite sure that they belong to the same family, since they look a lot like catfish. I shall upload a picture later. You can guess the taste of this dish, it is quite bland.

Fish curry, kari ikan

Kari ikan, fish curry

Ikan limbai, a limbai fish

Ikan limbai, a limbai fish
Main ingredient of the curry

Curry! This is very common; everyone knows what a curry is. That fish head in the picture belonged to an ikan limbai as shown below it. We cook curry whenever there is a fish that is big enough, in special occasion and on festive days.

Dry soup, isam muang

Isam muang, dry soup
Sour and spicy smoked fish soup with lemongrass

This is called isam muang (dry soup). The main ingredient is smoked fish. Sometimes the catch is plenty we have to preserve them to avoid wastage, like by making them into salted fish or smoking them. Normally we smoke ikan beletut (link here) and a variety of fish from catfish family called ikan bekurung, ikan jan, and tegalan (a very big type of catfish that is caught in the ocean, not near the shore, that shares its name with tegalan, a ghost that resembles a flying human head with its internal organ hanging below as it flies. Malay calls it hantu penanggal (detached ghost) and Sabahan calls it balan-balan I think). As you can see, the smoked fish is boiled with slices of chili, pounded lemongrass and asam gelugur.  The smoky flavor of the fish really compliments the spiciness and sourness of the soup. The lemongrass adds much flavor and smell to the soup as well with its citrusy and refreshing smell.

That’s it for Part 1, stay curios:)


2 Comments on “Fish Dish 1”

  1. Nimi says:

    Hi,
    Just to let u know I enjoyed reading ur blog as I am able to see through the life of a Melanau from ur writing, without actually living it. Lots of information of which is not easy to find elsewhere.

    I am compiling sarawak ethnic cuisine since 2008 and ur blog will be very helpful. Pls continue to write so we can learn more abt Melanau.

    • Fitrah says:

      Hi Nimi.
      Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad my humble blog can be of help to you. I’ve been very busy, so this blog is kind of abandoned now. However, I do have a plan to write more. Boy, is this reply late or what?


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