March 7, 2018

Nang Chong Tales : Padi Field Eels

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Padi field eels are going out of fashion in Sarawak. People don't seem to be able to catch them any more. Perhaps they are really getting extinct.

My late Grandmother, Ngie Mah, used to talk about her days in Minqing. She came from Kay Tou Buoh and was sold to become my maternal grandfather's child bride at the age of 5. However, although she came to Sarawak a little later when she was about 10, she could remember many things from my great grand parents' village in Minqing's Luk Du where Wong Nai Siong also come from.

One of her favourite stories was how she and her friends would go to the paddy fields to look for eels. Those were slippery  fish which she had no fear of. Although she was not the one to clean the fish, she would always remember how sweet the eel tasted. She would describe how tasty the dishes were and how they were cooked. Ern Chow or red wine lees was a favourite addition to the preparation of fried eels, or braised eels.

There was no shortage of food if one was creative and willing to forage for them according to her. Her other skill was to look for pangee (or the red crabs ) to make crab sauce.

In Nang Chong she told us that as she raised her children, she and my uncles would try their best to look for different padi field eels )between the first world war and second world war.) She left Nang Chong for Fujian just before the Second World War broke out, in order to build a family house there with the wealth the family garnered from rubber, but unfortunately she lost it when the Japanese came to destroy everything. She was quite broke as she made her way back to Sarawak with my second Uncle and his bride. She also accompanied several young children of relatives from Fujian to Sarawak. God was faithful as He blessed her and all those people who came with her.

I really think that whenever she remembered the food of Fujian, like Hu Liu, she would have some sadness in her heart.

In 2011 I had a chance to visit Pingnan and Minqing where I found eels in the market and also had a taste of several dishes of eels (cooked in different ways).

The eel is easy to clean and is done in the market. The hawker would take the eel out of the basin and push the head of the fish through a nail. He would then slit the throat, down to the tail, clean the eel and then put the cleaned eel into a plastic bag. One KATI of eels would be only a few RMB. A good meal would be made up of about 2 katis accordhng to my hostess. I would not have liked to forage for my own eels in Minqing.

From where my paternal grandfather came from, Wun Chieh, near King Sar, Fuzhou Province, there was no eel as Wun Chieh was in the mountains. My great grandfather and his father were bamboo growers, herbal foragers and vegetable growers. They did hunt for rabbits and wild animals for game. Chickens and pigs would have been their main protein source.

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