More than 40 years ago, one of the fish which used to appear on our family dinner table was terubuk or pa lik. This was the time when my father was still with us and he would be the one to buy all the fresh food early in the morning for my mum to cook. The evening meal I remember was always the best as she would prepare nice food as we eagerly waited for him to come home.
When he came home we could hear the metal gate's grinding noise and it was such a comfortable sound, "Papa's home!"
One of his favourite preparation was to place the marinated fish on the metal plate he designed in the Foochow stove that we had. This to me was the forerunner of ikan pangang. He would have the fish well salted and then placed on top of the well oiled,very hot plate. The wood fire would really heat up the fish and make the skin so crispy that our small teeth crush the fish skin easily.
He did not use any curry or any prawn sauce. Just plain salt and pepper and the terubuk came out wonderful as fish in those days were always freshly caught and fish mongers in Sibu were very honest folks.
He would also steam the terubuk with lots of beancurd and salted vegetables and the Amoy Canned pickled vegetables. I particularly liked the pickled vegetables then. Catching a whiff of the steaming fish would make my mouth water immediately. Today whenever I see a bottle of pickled vegetables from China the image of my father would float by. It is something that is in me always.
And finally the simplest of the cooking he did was plain deep frying of terubuk. The fish would come out tasty,crispy and golden. He would normally buy two terubuk for the family. A feast of love one might say.
Eating fish at dinner with the whole family was always a very loving and caring activity. Sometimes he would make sure that the fish bones were carefully picked out by all of us. Because he was a strict father and a disciplinarian, we children behaved well at the table and we were very careful with our food and especially fish. In this way, none of us ever had a fish bone stuck in our mouth or throat.
Once ,in recent years, when my son had a fish bone stuck in his throat, we were thoroughly petrified. I was away from home on a course overseas, his dad was travelling and he had only the amah to look after him. Phone calls were made, a family friend who was a doctor was asked to standby,prayers went around, and finally a devout Christian friend in Brunei prayed over the phone for him. A miracle happened. The fish bone disappeared and the whole immediate family and extended family too felt an elation - a spiritual freedom had descended upon us. A fish bone stuck in the throat could be a very frightening event.
Eating fish together thus should be more than just eating. It should be a warm spiritual ritual - care, love and tenderness, just like those simple folks on the hill a long time ago with their Shephred and sharing five fishes and loaves.
Having written so much, what then is this famous ikan terubuk?
"The clupeiods, ikan terubuk being the more famous one, is one of the top five species of fish in the marine fish-catch market. As an important food source to the people of Sarawak, ikan terubok has always received prominent attention as a delicacy, be it by the locals or visitors to the state. And to further increase demand for the fish, the roes of the terubok and salted ikan puput (also a clupeiod species) fetches premium price in the markets. (Philip Wong)
Ikan terubuk has been overfished and because of the local demand for its roe, it is no wonder that the price of this fish has gone sky high.
But it is good to know that the state government has promised several programs to monitor and ensure the sustainability of the species. These include R&D, proper management of the species as well as Community Education and Public Awareness (CEPA).
Much emphasis has also been put on the habitat restoration of the breeding location of the species and several micro-credit schemes have also been introduced.
But I am sure that the most successful programme would be the one which protects the breeding areas with " No Fishing " signs.
The Sabahan Tagal System should prove a great boost to reinstate the ikan terubuk population in Sarawak waters.
(Source : Borneo Post)