June 4, 2010

Banana Stem Wrapped Whole Fish

What would an Iban family do when by chance they caught a huge river fish when travelling along the river?

They would stop at a ford or a river bank and find a wild banana tree (which is quite common in Ulu Medamit) and start cooking the fish even if they had no pot!! An Iban man would always travel with a parang tied to his waist to this day especially when travelling in the jungle.

This year we got a sea fish (from Jerudong) which was too big for any cooking pot as we wanted to eat it whole. So my sister- in -law suggested the traditional method of roasting the fish wrapped in layers of banana stems.

Here are the steps:
This is a great way of doing a special fish for celebration. And the fish was cooked in its juices. Season the fish for a short while. Cut a banana tree and a good length of it. Slice the trunk into two and use several layers to wrap the fish. Tie with a banana twine or small wire.

The huge fish head peeking out of the layers of banana stem.

The "Iban Oven" made from an oil drum. I always feel comfortable whenever the men chop wood early in the morning. The chop chop sounds bring a lot of security and family emotions.

At the end of about two hours...the fish does not smell of smoke at all. All the juices of the fish are still in the fish and the fish tastes good in its original "skin". The marinade is simple - salt and pepper with a bit of fresh chillies and lots of lemon grass.

The fish never gets burnt cooked  this way because when the stems are brown the fish is cooked. This is really ingenious of the Ibans for cooking a fish like this...give them a fire and a fish and they can find a banana trunk...wallah....a fish fit for a king!!

Advantages: slow cooking (while the women folk wash clothes by the riverside) and the fire can keep the sandflies away. No cooking oil is needed. (Cooking oil is getting too expensive). It is a healthy way of cooking and the part of the  fish can be wrapped up in banana leaves and taken home. Picnicking by the river side is romantic and provides bonding time for the family...feasting over a well cooked fish meal like this....No need to take care of the fish while it is cooking over a smouldering fire.

Hope you like this way of traditional trekkers' kind of cooking in the jungle.......

(P/s if young banana shoots are well treated in a special way they are actually very tasty - another time...stay tune)


Ann said...

You and my sis make a great pair. Your husbands can catch the fish, chop the banana tree or bamboo . Then you two gals can BANGAN the fish.

In Singapore, my banana leaves were often stolen by people too lazy to grow their own. Lucky for them the little bananas were not to the liking of my fussy family. So i didn't kick a big fuss about people taking my banana leaves.

When the fruits are ripe, I go round my neighbourhood offering my bananas. Then I inform my Burmese friend that she can come and take the trunk. She cooked the banana trunk soup for me to try. Sorry I was fussy again, I didn't like them. Texture like bamboo shoot.

You eat the trunk?

Anonymous said...

looks good, living in the city makes me crave for things like this. natural and fresh. Big cities try to do without msg and all that to come close to the same thing, but ends up tasting awful.

fish like thisn no wait cooking like this... precious

The Observer said...

this is good stuff, the picture of the oven can be a reference for "end of days" film-makers, when there's no luxury in the world left it's the back to basics type of scene hehe.

as for the fish, it's a good way to cook it. all the natural flavours. better than city food that swears "no MSG" even my uncle cringes when he talks about the overated food claims in the city he lives in.

do write more about the different ways of cooking. it's interesting. it's like watching a documentary and a very good way to educate people about traditional and native cooking.

I am native. I am proud of the things you write... but somehow i sound very uneducated calling it "native food" is there a better way of putting it? pray tell

Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakiana, I was fortunate to have experienced eating fish done this way back in the '80s. And I agree with you....but will add my exclaimation here, Holy Smoke! The scent of the fish when cooked this way is out of this World!
Add lovely Iban women in sarongs and eating that fish becomes more fun, ha ha.

Always enjoy your postings as not only brings back memories to me but learning and understand your side of the World.
You have fun and stay young, Lee.

Ah Ngao said...

i have tasted fish wrapped in another type of leave( bigger size than the ginger plant's leaves) grilled over charcoal - best lah..!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

How nice to have neighbours like you!! I have been wondering what my neighbours (now) would be like if things happen to a family down the road...the individual houses have such high fences you never see any one!! Except their big cars at the gate when you chance by.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

When in the Ulu cooking is really great - wood fire and even gas (now that cars can reach the longhouse) and cooking on the rocky river bed at low tide.
Only imagination limits the scope.
Fish cooked wrapped up in banana leaves and any of the bigger leaves taste wonderful. Use just salt and a little bit of pepper. Old style cooking is in again....
I have not done a sweet and sour dish for more than 10 years!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Observer
I think it does not really matter..Native or First People or Indigenous or Iban or Kenyah or Mainland Chinese or Minority...sounds good as long as we mean well. We just have to avoid the derogative terms (world wide) like L or N words...
Using the correct terms is an education in itself.

We all need to be sensitive to the feelings of people from difference cultural backgrounds. The more educated people are the kinder/respectful they become.

So in terms of language one uses to communicate one becomes more politically correct .

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Dear Uncle Lee
Holy Smoke Surely!! The aroma from the fish cooking in the banana stems is fantastic...Nowadays your Sarong Clad Iban ladies would be wearing their top range designer T-shirts made in Thailand (sarong below). The younger ones prefer well cut capri length jeans.
But they remain as gracious as before.
I am glad you had experience this...so it is not just our innovation eh?

thanks for dropping by.... When next you visit Sabah or Sarawak you can request your host to do the same...it is easy...Oliver Twist would say...easy peasy.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ah Ngao

Kuching would have lots of different big leaves to use to wrap up....Try cooking this way : fish wrapped with layers of banana leaves with/without aluminium foil and bury in hot sand and charcoals....wonderful. Very innovative.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Can you give me your sis' contact no? Where is she now? Is your BIL still running a school?

Anonymous said...

Hi Madam
Nice of you to show this. My grandmother used to do this when we had big fish from the river...now over five years we have not got fish like this!!

Wow...really good Gawai for you and your family!!

God bless.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Justin

It is good to eat organic food...and will call up Dublin to get one of his suckling pigs...

Free Bird said...

The fish looks very very delicious. There must be a way for me to cook it in a modern and "cook-indoors" way.

I have a few banana trees around the condo compound. Don't think anyone would be bothered if I took some stems.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Free Bird

You must always experiment with cooking and then only could your culinary skills evolve....you will never know what research and experiments can do for you!!

Next Anthony Bourdain or Emmanuel...the Chef in Black!

Cheers....what could be better than some Cinzano with some spicy beef cooked in banana leaves!!

sarawaklens said...

that looks really good, never tried this one before!!!

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