Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sauce from Small Crabs (Kamat)

Photo courtesy of Daniel Yiek, Sarikei-Time Capsule. Follow the link below to read his article on the same topic.During the Japanese occupation life was very tough for most of the Foochows living in the Rejang Basin. The Brooke Government had more or less abandon the state, trade was naturally at a standstill, the Japanese soldiers were every where, mainly rampaging the countryside. There was a small but almost helpless anti Japanese underground movement. Sarawak was thus a very "conquered" state.

My mother and her sister, Aunty Yung and brothers, Pang Ping, Pang Sing and Pang Teck had to do everything in order to keep the family together. My grand father passed away just before the Allied Forces arrived because there was no medication available for him. And also partly because there was no money to really get a good doctor who might have prescribed something good. But according to a kind relative, his ulcer was beyond cure any way and perhaps only today with new technology he could have lived longer. Thus they mourned the passing of a good and considerate father.

Like the Melanaus and the Malays who had belacan, the Foochows had their crab sauce as their condiment. This peculiar sauce was made from the small mud crabs or Kamat,found in the padi fields during the harvesting season. The small crabs would breed in the fallen stalks of the padi plants and small children and women would flip over the straws to find the creatures. As they were only about 2 inches wide, it was difficult to clean them.

My mother used to collect a pail of them and clean them up. By the time she finished cleaning them, she would already have a painful back. It was really back breaking and eye straining. But the sauce from it made a delightful change in the sparse diet that they were having at that time.

The crabs would then be boiled in salt water and then strained. When that was done, the crabs would be put into an urn for fermentation to take place. After about three or four days, the crabs would be taken out and ground by the stone mill. The sauce which came out was reddish and saltish. It was really good to go with hot rice.

In those difficult days, when no food was available, the Foochows only had this with their rice. And they would live on it for days and weeks. Rice grown could be taken by the Japanese, sweet potatoes and vegetables were available if planted but many were scared to be seen planting or harvesting too much because the soldiers were every where. So the Foochows would stealthfully creep to the riverside to look for crabs,snails, fish a little, and pluck wild vegetables whenever the coast was clear. But it was all too dangerous for lone women to be any where. Rape and pillage was just too common.

Many older Foochows have told stories that they do lose their appetite today whenever they see this sauce because it would remind them of those horrible lean days during the Japanese Occupation. But those younger ones just think that this is a wonderful sauce. My mum still likes the sauce a lot because it is indeed delicious and hard to get to day. My aunts and I think that it is a Foochow delicacy and should not be forgotten as a thing of the past.
Today this red crab sauce, which is usually homemade can be purchased in bottles. Fuzhou City,China, still manufactures this sauce in great amounts.

I once heard that if one had lots of boils, a spoonful of this sauce every now and then can cure the ailment. This cure is known as "using poison to overcome another poison".

It is really up to you to believe it or not.

6 memories:

Greg Wee said...

Hi Sarawakiana. You write very good stories. I think it's very important to tell these stories to younger generation readers like us. I've always been intrigued by how life was during the Japanese occupation. My two grandfathers both had their encounter with the Japanese soldiers. One was imprisoned & tortured. The other was falsely accused. Both were innocent. And I alwasy love to hear stories from my mom & dad about their childhood days. I've always thought that it would be wondeful to be able to recreate all this in a film, animation or illustrated book or something. Maybe I'll get to that one day. Who knows.

sarawakiana said...

Yes indeed your ideas are similar to mind. We can work together for a future dream. My daughter is a video editor with Spa Asia, KL. And in fact I am also very much into writing about wellness and spa.

Let's make a movie on Japanese times in Sarawak...more positive than that Japan and China are trying to make up... I am not a pro Japanese person, but there should be some healing after all these years..... My father's life was definitely shortened because of the torture he suffered during the Japanese times.

Let's swap stories.... Next year I will pay a short visit to see my mum...

FrancisN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sarawakiana said...

Hi Greg and Nee,

A few days' ago, I had an excellent dish of baked belly pork in oyster sauce in Kuching. It was served with the crab sauce.

My mother was given half a bottle of this precious sauce, home made by a village lady from Paradom. Occasionally some of the shop keepers in Sibu know that she sells this powerful sauce and buys a bottle off her. Each bottle is!! Memories just come back when you get a whiff of the fragrance.

Daniel Yiek said...

Nice post. I'm going to link my blog post on this crab sauce to your post.

sarawakiana said...

Yes Daniel, thank you for your excellent photos.

Greg and Nee, go to Daniel's site and you will read more about local food, with great photos.

Daniel, a few of my friends are now very interested in getting the crab sauce and having a taste. when there is a will, there is a way. I am sure in no time, they will be able to buy some. Now I am sure Sarikei is the place for them to find the sauce.

Some times I feel good (self praise) that we are a sort of link between the old life style (past) and the new life style (present).

Thanks for your support again.


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