Sago larvae – a ‘must try’ delicacy

MUKAH: What you are looking at on this page are sago larvae, people who sell the worms for a living, and people who enjoy eating them in a variety of ways.

The sago worm is a delicacy in Mukah. From the sago palm, the Melanau community has been collecting these high-protein, high-fat grub for food for centuries. It can be dried, smoked, grilled, stir fried with soy sauce, butter, salt and chillies, or for the real connoisseur, eaten alive – still squiggly, warm, and apparently, juicy upon the bite.

For many tourists, holding a live sago worm in the palms of their hands more or less is a “must do” when in the Sarawak coastal town. The adventurous who agree to try a live worm always gain the respect of locals (whom will also kindly tell the unaware that the larva’s head should be peeled off before consuming the body, tail first).

The taste of the live ones has been described as creamy, and even like soft melted toffee, without any of the foulness one might associate with eating larva. Cooked, it tastes of meat, some say chicken, others say pork.

Locals advise, when cooking the live worms, to never overdo the larvae. Leave it in the wok for too long and the creamy texture of the delicacy would be lost. Worse, if the heat is set too high, the bellies would boil from the inside too quickly, causing it to pop.

The delicacy is easy to find at Mukah’s markets and restaurants. A kg of the fresh stuff cost from RM40. They can also be bought in small packets or even individually. Sellers go to the trouble of packaging worms into small individual bags, usually for export.

Elsewhere in Sarawak, the delicacy is harder to come by. In Mukah there are sago-eating competitions organised during festive occasions, where in places like Kuching, sago larvae are only available at specialty food stores.

Mukah Wet Market trader Letu Ramping (right) sells many things including sago larvae, called
Mukah Wet Market trader Letu Ramping (right) sells many things including sago larvae, called ‘pejah siet’ by locals. The larvae is one of the best sellers. Letu herself loves the delicacy, saying it tastes just as good as chicken and beef, if not better.

The sago worm is actually the larva of a beetle. They burrow into palms and are considered pests. The reason why the heads of the larva cannot be eaten is because they include hard and sharp pincers that are used to cut through the sago palms.

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