Of all fish smoked and salted at Lachau bazaar
By Patricia Hului
Smoking and salting are two food preservation methods widely used around the world, way before we had refrigerators to store food for longer period of time.
Here in Sarawak, the food our forefathers made like ikan salai (smoked fish), ikan kasam (preserved fish) and ikan masin (salted fish) for survival have become much sought-after delicacies due to the enhanced flavours that come with these preservation methods.
A trip to Lachau town about 140km from Kuching is definitely a must to see the wide variety of preserved fish available.
It is also a famous stop-over for those coming from Kuching since it has basic public amenities such as public toilets, a petrol kiosk and a playground.
Named after a small lizard which can be found in the area, the town comprises about 40 shophouses of mostly sundry stores and coffeeshops.
Petty traders line the five-foot way selling jungle produce such as ferns, fungi and vegetable shoots.
But for those who frequent the town, the Pasar Harian Lachau (Lachau Daily Market) is the hub for all these fish smoked and salted.
Among the products were salai keli (smoked catfish), salai lajung (smoked lajung fish), salai lemuk (smoked lemuk fish), ikan masin pari (salted stingray), ikan masin buntal (salted puffer fish), kasam tapah (preserved tapah fish) and rumpong (smoked prawn).
According to Lima Asan, smoked fish has been a part of the Iban community diet as long as she could remember.
“Some people love to eat their fish fresh, others prefer them smoked and salted,” she shared.
Lima, who has been trading in Lachau bazaar for more than ten years pointed out most of the sellers in Lachau do not make their own preserved fish, buying them from suppliers instead.
These smoked and salted fish have travelled from many different places before making it to Lachau market.
The 49-year-old mother of six said that all of these items were made in places like Spaoh, Sarikei, Kabong, Saratok and Sebuyau.
“Every now and then, the suppliers will come and bring the smoked and salted fish. All we do is weigh and pack them.”
Besides selling preserved fish, most traders in the market also sell traditional Iban costumes which, according to Lima, are delivered from Lubok Antu.
Before Pasar Harian Lachau was built, she used to sell vegetables at the five foot way of the Lachau shophouses.
“I used to sell midin and other jungle produce; anything to get by,” she stated.
Lima started her business from six in the morning to six in the evening every day, only taking an off day when it was necessary.
As both tourists and locals love to stop at Lachau, business in the market was brisk.
Another trader, Magdalen Nanang, 45, from Rumah Lachau Engkabang Baru, said Sunday was Lachau’s peak day.
Located conveniently along the Kuching-Sri Aman road, the Iban traders in Lachau town cannot afford to lose one business day.
She said, “When I need to take a day off, I would ask my relatives to sit in.”
Like most traders in town, she acquired her products from the suppliers, except for ‘balur jelawat’.
“I have a supplier delivering fresh jelawat fish from Batang Ai to me. To make ‘balur jelawat’, I cure the fish in salted water for two days,” she stated.
Those who are not familiar with these items would assume ‘balur jelawat’ would be similar to ‘kasam jelawat’ as both of them are jelawat fish soaked in salted water.
Angela Usin, 32. explained the difference between ‘balur jelawat’ and ‘kasam jelawat’.
“Kasam jelawat is preserved together with rice and kepayang leaves while balur jelawat is simply preserved in salted water.”
She picked balur jelawat as her personal favourite among all of the preserved fish.
“It is less salty and if it is freshly made, you can simply steam it before you eat it.”
Since she started to sell in Lachau market just two years ago, she is considered a newcomer.
“I saw the business opportunity here in then decided to set up my stall,” she said.
Angela observed that perhaps the scrumptiousness and the variety of Lachau’s smoked, salted and preserved fish make people come back for more.