May 14, 2010

Fish Traps and Eels of Pingnan

The Foochows have always been expert cooks of seafood. Min Cuisine is acknowledged for several world famous dishes made from fresh oysters and sea eels (muang ngii) and fresh water eels (lou chiang).

This post is dedicated to my mother who has always been thrifty in her cooking. We do not necessarily remember the sharks' fin we occasionaly had but we remember the tasty home cooked soups and stir fries using very simple traditional ingredients like salted eel bones and old cucumber especially.

Growing up in Sibu in particular my siblings and I loved salted muang ngii (eel) and we would buy them from our very own relatives (Clement Tiong  Tung Ung's father) who were salt fishmongers - this helped to keep our family budget down and we saved for our education. How grateful we are to our self sacrificing mother who was already a widow at 40 years of age.

Salted muang ngii and especially the bones make a very good stock for old cucumber soup amongst others. During the wet season  we would have lots of old cucumber and muang ngii bone soup. It was often just that one dish with rice for our family and it was  a really feel good dinner. Today this soup is almost forgotten by the Foochows of Sarawak  but not by me.

It was in Pingnan that I came face to face with the fish traps my maternal grandmother used to talk about. These are small rattan (now plastic) fish traps very similar to the Sarawak Iban's bubu. The small fresh water eels (lou chiang) will swim into the traps and won't be able to come out again.

This is similar to the Sarawak Bubu (fish trap) and it is specifically  used to catch the padi field "lau chiang" or swampland eel.

This is Min Cuisine (fujian cuisine). This sea eel(or muang ngii) is filleted and all the bones taken out. Marinated in red wine lees (ang chow) for many hours the eel is then fried crispy . At home we also do it this style. Sea eels are easily available in Miri and Sibu.

Smoked unagi - is the Japanese way of preparing eels. I like Japanese unagi too. The Foochows call them muang ngii (if caught in the sea) or lou chiang (if caught in the padi fields) Lou chiang are slippery and hard to clean. It takes a good cook to prepare it well. A real delicacy!! I understand from some sources that today one can buy tinned lou chiang from Fujian.

These are ugly looking eels still in their rattan traps.

Fresh water eels are sliced and cooked quickly in a bowl of soup with noodles. Many Foochows in Sarawak have forgotten this dish.

The Taiwanese also love eels. Steamed herbal eels are very delicious and delicate. They are considered medicinal to many Chinese not only the Foochows.

(P/s when my children come home next I will cook the old cucumber with muang ngii bones so that we would all remember our grandmothers....stay tuned!!)


Sarawakiana@2 said...

I went to your blog this morning...cannot put a comment...and the black background is too difficult for my eyes...please ask your friends to check your blog again!!

Lovely pasta...I want to eat also...thanks for your mother's day wishes...

Bengbeng said...

oh i forgot to wish u happy mother's day

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Bengbeng
Thanks...hope you are not over tired by all the excitement in Sibu!!

It must have been a lot of hardwork for all who took part in the various activities.

God bless.

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakania, I'll take a pass on the 'Eels' dish, whether cooked Sarawak style or Japanese....we have it here too sold in the Asian supermarkets....but I'll stick to fish or shrimps, ha ha.
Very interesting your pics, and the fish traps. I have seen them before used in some of the rivers of Sarawak when I was there.

You sure know your food and culture there very well. Like I mentioned before, I have always been fascinated with Sarawak, Sabah.
And surprisingly, lots of Malaysians have been to China, Alaska, even Canada, but never Sarawak. Pity as they sure miss a great country.

I was fortunate old days meeting Ibans, Dusuns, Bidayus, Orang Ulus, etc and I must admit, I was glad my business trips there did not allow me stay longer....or else sure get sangkut with the exotic women there.

Presently, one of the most beautiful women having diplomatic relations with me is from Sarawak, she an Orang Ulu princess.
You have a nice day, see you in Singapore, *wink*, Lee.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Uncle Lee
Nice of you to drop by. A near cousin of the eel is the Ikan Keli which tastes almost the same if well dressed and cooked. It is very popular and is now part of the school children's diet.
Yeah the fish trap is very similar to the bubu which can be much bigger to catch bigger fish.
Nice to hear about your Orang Ulu Princess. I am sure like many others she is a great beauty...understandably you also have a good eye for beauty.... you in Singapore under a good moon. wink....Haven't been to East Coast for a long long time.

Have a great day.

Ah Ngao said...

eels one of my favourites.most eel taste sweet.over in Sechinkan(west M'sia),they fish the eels from the sawah padi or paddy fields.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao

There are many ways of preparing both marine and fresh water eels...

Padi field eels can be excellent....

Sibu Tales : Liver in the Noodles and other stories

I grew up in Sibu where the butchers' corner was the most significant "part" of the old market. It was where many people wo...