To celebrate the oneness of Malaysia also means to fete its delicious diversity. In this series, we take a closer look at the iconic foods of the country's states and territories.
Click the link for all the stories in this series on Great Malaysian dishes
Illustrations: Foo Chern Hwan
Ikan patin masak tempoyak is a dish you can smell from a distance. Like the famous smelly tofu, this too is an acquired taste.
If you can get past the pungent smell, then what awaits you is Pahang’s most favourite way to cook ikan patin (freshwater silver catfish).
The gravy is yellow, slightly watery and very delicious. Ikan patin is soft and gelatinous, and the dish is usually enjoyed with white rice, with sambal belacan and ulam on the side.
One of the most popular places to get ikan patin in Pahang is Temerloh. It’s even dubbed as the “patin fish town” and there are over 70 restaurants selling this dish in that district alone. So can you imagine how many speciality restaurants there are in the entire state?
Sungai Pahang is a popular spot to fish for ikan patin. Over the years, the number of fish has decreased in the river, which is why a kilogramme of wild-caught ikan patin can fetch up to a few hundred ringgit today – it is best to find out the price before you order any ikan patin dish in Pahang!
Many fish farmers rear ikan patin in cages along Sungai Pahang. The caged catfish is not as sweet and fleshy as the wild ones, and are sold at about RM15 per kilo.
Much care goes into preparing the fish before cooking. Ikan patin produces natural mucus and has a strong, muddy smell. One way to get rid of these is by rubbing flour on the fish, though some also leave the fish in air asam jawa (tamarind water) for about five minutes, before rinsing.
The dish also gets its customary strong aroma from tempoyak, or fermented durian paste. Tempoyak was developed as a way to use up lower quality durians and preserve them after durian season.
Salt is added to the durian flesh (less salt equals sour tempoyak) and tempoyak can be stored for up to six months without refrigeration.
Though the traditional recipe for ikan patin masak tempyak calls for daun kunyit, many home cooks are now using daun kesum instead, saying that it helps temper the pungent smell and taste of tempoyak in the dish.
More dishes from Pahang
Laksa kuah putih
Aso known as laksa lemak in Pahang, this is similar to laksam, another popular East Coast dish. The thick sauce gets its creaminess and colour from santan. About 2kg of santan is used for every 1kg of blended fish – preferrably mackerel or sardines. It takes only about seven ingredients to make this – noodles, fish, black pepper, asam keping, onions, salt and sugar. Sambal is served on the side for those looking to add more heat to the dish.
Ikan bakar petai
Any type of fish can be used for this dish, although Pahangites prefer to use ikan patin or mackerel. The fish is marinated for about two hours in a paste made from chilli, ginger and galangal. Petai is scattered onto the fish before it is wrapped with a banana leaf. The fish is then grilled over a charcoal fire for about 15 minutes. Ikan bakar petai is served with air asam made from tamarind juice, cili padi, onions and tomatoes, and is best eaten with white rice.
Jala mas puding diraja
The story is that one of the royal cooks made this sweet treat for the Sultan. This dessert has layers of textures and taste, with caramelised bananas at the base – pisang lemak manis or pisang emas. The jala mas (golden net) is made from beaten egg yolks sieved into boiling sugared water to form a “net”. It is topped with glaced cherries, prunes, and roasted cashewnuts before vanilla custard sauce is poured over.