Spotlight on little-known Lenggong delicacies


Photos By ILI AQILAH

Lenggong is a quiet town located in the north of Perak and is nearly a two-hour drive from Ipoh.

UNLESS you hail from Lenggong in Perak, you’re unlikely to have heard of kebebe.

The “salad” is now regarded as a heritage dish associated exclusively with the northern Perak town.

Likened to som tam which is Thai grated green papaya salad, kebebe is made with ingredients typically found in the kampung and it packs an unusual combination of flavours: sour, sweet, salty, mildly bitter and spicy.

More than five local fruits and vegetables go into making this dish now forgotten by many.

Kiah (centre) with her son Muhd Fadhlin Ahmad Mazlan showing their various ‘pekasam’ products in vacuum-sealed packets.Kiah (centre) with her son Muhd Fadhlin Ahmad Mazlan showing their various ‘pekasam’ products in vacuum-sealed packets.

Having grown up in Lenggong, Mohd Razli Ahmad recalls how his sister used to serve kebebe to guests at their home.

“Kebebe is made from cermai (Phyllanthus acidus), guava, pineapple, bird’s eye chillies, kelempong (Ficus auriculata lour), banana blossom, and jackfruit pistil.

“It is not easy to get these ingredients. Cermai is a seasonal fruit while the kelempong is difficult to find.

“This delicacy used to be a staple tea-time snack and the host and guests would sometimes make the dish together,” he said.

Workers cleaning and slicing fish to make ‘pekasam’.Workers cleaning and slicing fish to make ‘pekasam’.

The making of the salad starts with gathering the ingredients and cutting them into small pieces to be gently ground in a wooden mortar and pestle.

Mohd Razli said the dish had to be made in small batches to ensure all the ingredients were well mixed.

“We will first grind belacan (dried shrimp paste) with dry ingredients such as the jackfruit pistil, sugar and salt before adding the others one by one.”

Ingredients for Kebebe include the yellow Cermai fruit, guava, pineapple, bird-eye chilies, Kelempong, banana blossom and jackfruit pistil.Ingredients for Kebebe include the yellow Cermai fruit, guava, pineapple, bird-eye chilies, Kelempong, banana blossom and jackfruit pistil.

He said it was hard to find people who still made kebebe today.

“I realised that I needed to do something to make sure that people continued to make this dish.

“Along with a few villagers, I have been promoting kebebe.

“We were invited to food festivals to demonstrate how to prepare the dish.

“Since then, we have been receiving invitations to wedding receptions and state events to serve kebebe,” said Mohd Razli.

The Kelempong fruit is increasingly difficult to find.The Kelempong fruit is increasingly difficult to find.

“It takes between two and three days to gather all the ingredients, but it also depends on the season.

“We can buy some of it from Orang Asli or those who are staying near the jungle but the price has been slowly increasing due to the difficulty of finding some of these fruits.

“Despite these difficulties, when we join food festivals, we still sell kebebe between just RM2 and RM5 depending on the size of the portion. Demand is always there and it sells out quickly.

“For me, it is important that we continue to make and promote these traditional Lenggong delicacies so that they don’t disappear.

Fresh ‘kebebe’ is usually served on the outer petals of the banana blossom.Fresh ‘kebebe’ is usually served on the outer petals of the banana blossom.

“While kebebe is best eaten fresh, I saw someone selling a frozen version. The taste will be slightly different but at least there is an effort to create awareness of the dish,” said Mohd Razli.

He said there was another rarely-seen Lenggong dish.

“There is a type of kerabu (herb salad) called Kerabu Umbut Bayas that is even harder to find because bayas (Oncosperma horridum) trees are hard to find.

“It would take us a few weeks just to find the tree.

“We also have Ikan Bakar Sepuh (grilled fish) that is flavoured by an aromatic kerabu sauce,” he added.

Md Razali (right) arranging the ‘kebebe’ ingredients to be cut into small pieces before they are mashed using a wooden mortar and pestle.Md Razali (right) arranging the ‘kebebe’ ingredients to be cut into small pieces before they are mashed using a wooden mortar and pestle.

According to Mohd Razli, there are several restaurants in Lenggong that sell the dish.

“Perhaps in the future, we might have restaurants serving more of these traditional dishes.

“It is my hope that more people, especially the youths, discover all these classic foods that we have in Perak. This is part of our culture – don’t let it disappear.”

He said Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Saarani Mohamad is known to be a fan of kebebe.

“He is the Kota Tampan assemblyman, and Kota Tampan is a few kilometres away from Lenggong.

“Whenever he is in town, he asks if we are making kebebe.

“Each time, he would remind us several times to save him a pack or two for him to take home,” said Mohd Razli.

Fermented fish delicacy

Located about 20 minutes from Bandar Baru Lenggong is an Ikan Pekasam (fermented fish) shop run by Kiah Abdullah and her family.

Kiah started the business out of a need more than 40 years ago and she was the first to sell Ikan Pekasam.

“I have 11 children and only my husband was working at the time. I couldn’t work because I had no one to take care of my children.

“My mother-in-law understood our situation and taught me how to make Ikan Pekasam based on her recipe, which she had refined after much testing.”

Kiah said she devised a variety of fermented fish and beef dishes based on her mother-in-law’s recipe.

“These days, there are many shops selling pekasam.“The process of making pekasam takes a few weeks, from buying and preparing the fish to storing it in salt before mixing it with roasted rice.

“Previously, we had to manually roast the rice but now we have a machine that can roast about 50kg of rice in a few hours.

“We use food-grade containers to ferment the fish in salt.

“Cleaning the fish is one of the tasks that we still do manually because the machines don’t do it well enough,” she elaborated.

Kiah spent nearly RM500,000 about a year ago to build a shop complete with a gallery, toilets and a surau near her house.

“Before this, we operated in the back of my house where we cleaned the fish, fermented it and sold the products.

“We still process the fish at my house as it is next to a river.”

While she is not worried about the continuity of pekasam, she hopes that more can be done by Perak government to promote local delicacies.

“At the shop, we often get busloads of tourists from the east coast, Singapore and even Thailand who purchase our products.

“There are also parents who come to purchase the fish to send to their children living abroad. Our products are vacuum sealed so they can be shipped overseas.

“We also have frozen pekasam beef, frozen Loma fish and Loma fish eggs that can be made into omelets, in addition to pekasam marine and fresh water fish,” Kiah added.

Potential for promotion

A teacher from Terengganu, who wished to be known only as Suhaila, said more Perak dishes should be promoted abroad.

“I was previously only familiar with Perak’s Rendang Tok and white coffee. My husband who’s from Perak introduced me to many lesser-known dishes, which I think should be introduced to the world.

“Take Ikan Pekasam for example. The combination of fish, with the subtle taste of salt and roasted rice, is very appetising.

“Last year, we visited my sister in London. We brought instant white coffee, kacang putih, banana chips and Pekasam fish.

“To our surprise, my sister’s husband who is British and their children loved the taste of pekasam.

“My sister plans to return home for Aidilfitri next year so we will definitely bring her and her family to Lenggong to try all the local delicacies here.

“I would like to see pekasam being sold at high-end restaurants.

“It is time to take pride in our local delicacies,” said Suhaila.Food festivals

Perak Tourism Committee chairman Loh Sze Yee said efforts are being made to promote the state’s traditional cuisines.

“We have many exciting events scheduled for Visit Perak Year 2024, including food festivals to promote our dishes.

“Among them is the annual Loma Fish Festival where the state works closely with Temenggor assemblyman Salbiah Mohamad, who is also the state women, family social welfare and entrepreneur development committee chairman.

“Loma is a famous fish in Perak that goes upstream at the end of every year, which is why we hold the festival in October,” said Loh.

Salbiah said the festival promoted Loma fish and other delicacies that could be found in the northern region of Perak.

“Besides fishing, we usually have a raft race and a competition to cook Loma. We also sell assorted local food including pekasam at the festival.

“This is the third time we have organised the festival and it attracted 5,000 visitors,” she said.

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