Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dried Prawns or Ha Kang

Ha Kang or dried prawns are important in Foochow cuisine. However it is not like salt which is used in every dish. It can be optioned out by choice and taste by the cook or a family member who does not like its taste. One can be allergic to dried prawns too. However, it is also a common knoweldge that too much dried prawns may not be good for our skin.

Dried prawns are of course made from fresh prawns, specifically those from the sea. It is indeed a multi million ringgit business for Sarawak and it involves a big chain of personnel, from the harvesting of sea prawns to the cleaning and sun drying of the product.

It used to be poor man's food according to my Malay friends in Kampong Nangka ,Sibu. But she said that nowadays, a kilo of the best, straight dried prawns can be as much as 100 ringgit!! such a delicacy can only be appreciated by aficiandoes.

In Mukah or Belawai, or even Kabong, fresh prawns are de-shelled by the dainty hands of women and then sun dried carefully. So this makes it very expensive. The bigger the prawns the better the dried prawns. The best dried prawns are made from the freshest of the prawns, not just any left overs, as some people have previously believed.

Foochows use dried prawns in several signature dishes.

The Lunar Fifth Month festival which commemorates Chu Yuan's death, sends Chinese and most Foochows on a frenzied day of dumpling wrapping. We Foochows have a meaty dumpling which requires dried prawns, two slices of soy bean sauce soaked belly pork, a big slice of dried mushrooms,and chestnut, all marinated in sesame oil and sometimes oyster sauce.

Dried prawns, soaked and pounded fine, will enhance any dish like leafy vegetables, the bean family and soups. whenever a recipe calls for fresh prawns, dried prawns can be used as a substitute.

The Foochows are not fond of sambals which require a lot of dried prawns. But dried prawns are important in the making of Foochow Yam or Taro Cakes, and spring rolls.

We Foochows have a Foochow Vermicelli dish which calls for dried prawns. The dish is very much improved when there are dried prawns in it. Besides, dried prawns also improve Bak Kui, the Foochow rice sticks.

We used to watch very carefully the check points at airports. Most Sibu mothers when visiting their children overseas, if foreign customs permits,they would secretly put a huge packet of well sealed dried prawns in their suitcases. An understanding smile would be exchanged with another mother who is also from Sibu and also bringing a huge packet of dried prawns. Once the check point is cleared, the two mothers would heave a sigh of relief and perhaps become friends after that!

Foochow mothers have been known to go to great extent to bring or even smuggle huge packets of dried prawns to the UK or Canada. But foreign customs are getting smarter and any way, dried prawns (although dark with age and exposure) can be bought in most supermarkets overseas so these mothers need not risk their lives to bring dried prawns for their beloved children.

This write up only shows how much mothers love their children. Don't get me wrong.

5 memories:

Gaharuman said...


I once rejoice on finding frozen prawns sold at a China town shop in London with the words "Product of Malaysia......Lanang Road...."label on them. Somewhere at Camden!!!

sarawakiana said...

It is very interesting and exciting to find such things. I saw in Harrods one durian on display. And then after a few months, even Paku was part of its special exotic display.

I could find most of the dried goods in China town like ikan bilis. But I could not find Chou chai or ang chow (lees)

A friend who was supposed to be having confinement did not have the "proper" food. We made do with lots of ginger and wine. That was too many years ago. And I was too young.

Gaharuman said...


Sorry to hear that you couldn't find the ang chow. Nowadays, I am not sure about uk but in the united states, ang chow is a controlled item because the presence of statin - the drgs to reduce colesterol. But yors was in those days befire such control measure happens

sarawakiana said...

I am not sure about ang chow in Australia or New Zealand. But I understand that the red "kuk" may be available in some China town shops in the UK and some Foochow ladies have been able to make Foochow red wine. Please let me know where foochow red wine is available overseas.

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