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.
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.
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.
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:)
That’s a long title, solely for the purpose of being dramatic:)
Horseshoe crab, nipah fruit and yam are quite common food in this part of the world, with my tropical kampung located in river coast facing South Chinese Sea. I am not a fan of them, but this is what we have here so I thought I would just write about it.
The horseshoe crab (belangkas in Malay, belakas in Melanau) in the picture was caught in nearby creek to my kampung. During some time in a year, plenty of horseshoe crab will come ashore to lay eggs. In my kampung it can also be found in creeks that is connected to the shore and Rejang river. These creeks are also connected to man-made canals flanking alongside a road connecting this kampung to nearby town. Since many people go to work to nearby town using this road, when it is the horseshoe crab laying egg’s season, you can see them slowing down at the side of the road, looking for horseshoe crab. Strangely enough, I have never seen one in my life. I have seen some at the beach, but not in those canals.
This shellfish is not sought after for its meat, but its eggs. (or rather roes?) My uncle and my cousin really like them, but I have never tasted it, so I do not know how it tastes or whether to like it or not. There is something about it that stops me from having some. There is also a popular belief that consuming horseshoe crab’s eggs after or before taking paracetamol will lead to some serious health problem, even death.
The pictures are showing fruit of nipah tree. Nipah is a type of palm tree growing in abundance on either side of the road I was writing about. Its young leaves are very useful for wrapping food, click here to find out more. Its fruit can also be consumed. It is sweet and fleshy like young coconut pulp (is that a right word?). I do not see much of the fruit as much as I see the young leaves as people are not really crazy for this fruit.
Yam (keladi, ubi keladi in Malay, bukau in Melanau) is my sister’s favorite vegetable. Besides boiling the yam, it can also be made into yam in white pepper soup (roughly translated into Melanau: bukau sayur lada. The stalks are also eaten after the thin skin on it which can irritate the skin and throat (if you are not careful) is peeled. As you can see in the picture the stalks and yam are chopped. After sauteing shallots, add water and then the stalks and yam before putting in a considerable amount of ground white pepper enough to make you sweat when sipping the soup. It is normally eaten with white rice and salted fish.
It is amazing how human survive by discovering new food to consume. Back then, there is not much choice on what to eat. People just make do with whatever the nature provides them with. Nowadays, we have french fries, instant noodle and carbonated drinks, we can afford to be choosy or even indifferent towards these really traditional food. Just some thoughts.
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 🙂