Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kang Ngii Kian or Ikan Bilis or Anchovies

This is a traditional way of selling and displaying ikan bilis in Malaysia - along the five foot way. In well appointed shops the ikan bilis is packed nicely and sold by the grams. Most road side stalls also stock these dried fish in gunny sacks or thick paper boxes. Ikan Bilis is also sold in tamu or the open market. They are either from Sabah or Langkawi.

At the moment the price is around 20 ringgit per kilo more or less. The exorbitant price tag is due to fuel price increase. I am wondering if the price of petrol per barrel is now at USD $51 whether our ikan bilis would be priced lower. When I was a child the price was just 10 cents per kati.

The ikan bilis was so sneezed at that it was in the referred to metaphorically in local Foochow vocabulary to mean "a nobody". Thus an ikan bilis or "kang Ngii Kian" meant no one could respect you. Some girls I knew were married to small guys considered "kang ngii kian". Fortunately after many years of hardship they have grown into big fish or rather pomfret!!

The tides do turn. Have no fear. There is a Foochow saying " 10 years the river flows east and 10 years later the river flows west."

And on the other hand ikan bilis used to be considered poor man's food sometime ago. But 50 years later they are excellent gifts for the tourists and the rich and famous. Poor people can no longer afford a lot of it. How the proverbial table has turned. Shrinking of earthly riches?

I remember in the 1950's these little fish were the staple on the tables of the Foochows , the Hokkiens and all the other humble people of Sibu. They were served fried , in sambal and in porridge for the healthy children. And every one could enjoy a nice meal with it.

They are also made into famous Maggi Fish Powder and Fish Stock today.

The anchovies are a family (Engraulidae) of small, common salt-water fish. The anchovy is a small green fish with blue reflections due to a silver longitudinal stripe that runs from the base of the caudal fin. It is a maximum of nine inches (~23 cm) in length and body shape is variable with more slender fish in northern populations. The snout is blunt with small, sharp teeth in both jaws. The mouth is larger than that of herrings and silversides, two fish which anchovies closely resemble. The anchovy eats plankton and fry (recently-hatched fish).

They are found in scattered areas throughout the world's oceans, but are concentrated in temperate waters, and are rare or absent in very cold or very warm seas. It is generally very accepting of a wide range of temperatures and salinity. Large schools can be found in shallow, brackish areas with muddy bottoms, as in estuaries and bays. Anchovies are abundant in the Mediterranean, and are regularly caught on the coasts of Sicily, Italy, France, and Spain. They are also found on the coast of northern Africa. The range of the species also extends along the Atlantic coast of Europe to the south of Norway. Spawning occurs between October and March, but not in water colder than 12° C (53.6° F). The anchovy appears to spawn at least 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the shore, near the surface of the water.

Overfishing of anchovies has been a problem. Since the 1980s, large mechanized anchovy fishing vessels based in France have caught the fish in fine-mesh dragnets.

Interestingly in our world history in Roman times, they were the base for the fermented fish sauce called garum that was a staple of cuisine and an item of long-distance commerce produced in industrial quantities. Today they are used in small quantities to flavour many dishes. Because of the strong flavor they are also an ingredient in several sauces, including Worcestershire sauce and many fish sauces, and in some versions of Café de Paris butter. For domestic use, anchovy fillets are packed in oil or salt in small tins or jars, sometimes rolled around capers. Anchovy paste is also available. Fishermen also use anchovies as bait for larger fish such as tuna and sea bass.

The strong taste that people associate with anchovies is due to the curing process. Fresh anchovies, known in Italy as alici, have a much milder flavor.

In South East Asian countries, "ikan bilis", "setipinna taty", or in Indonesia "ikan teri", with "ikan" being the Indonesian word for fish, or "dilis" in the Philippines. In Malaysia, Indonesia, and to a certain extent Singapore, anchovies are used to make fish stock, sambal, or deep fried and served with Nasi Lemak. Ikan Bilis is normally used in a similar way to dried shrimp in Malaysian cuisine. Anchovy is also used to produce budu, by a fermentation process. In Vietnam, anchovy is the main ingredient to make fish sauce- nước mắm- the unofficial national sauce of Vietnam. In other parts of Asia such as Korea and Japan sun-dried anchovies are used to produce a rich soup similar to "setipinna taty". These anchovy stocks are usually used as a base for noodle soups or traditional Korean soups. There are many other variations on how anchovy is used, especially in Korea.

Foochow Ikan Bilis and Peanuts (What I grew up with)

2 bowls of peanuts - deep fried
2 bowls of ikan bilis - deep fried in peanut oil and drain the oil

Drain the oil from the ikan bilis and add in two tablespoons of sugar. wait until the sugar is a little caramelised. Add chopped chillies,chopped onions and garlic. Stir for a while. Finally add the peanuts.

Serve with porridge or rice.

Sambal or Spice paste (pounded or blended):
10 dried chillies
10 shallots
4 cashew nuts
2 tbs belacan (dried shrimp paste)
Other ingredients:
1 tbs tamarind pulp
1/2 cup water
4 tbs oil
100 g raw peanuts with skin intact
1 cup oil for deep frying ikan bilis
1/2 cup coconut milk mixed with 1/4 cup water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
100 g ikan bilis (heads removed), rinsed and drained well.
Mix tamarind with water then strain over fine sieve, discard pulp.
Heat 2 tbs of oil over medium fire, stir fry peanuts till golden.
Remove and drain on paper towels.
In the same pan, add oil for deep frying. Heat oil over high fire and deep fry ikan bilis till crispy. Drain ikan bilis on paper towel.

Discard oil from the pan.
Using a clean pan and new oil for saute, heat 2 tbs of oil and fry spice paste for two minutes.
Add half the coconut milk and fry another 2 minutes until fragrant.
Add tamarind extract, sugar and salt.
Lower fire and simmer until thicken, about 2 more minutes.

Add ikan bilis and peanuts to the sambal paste. Stir to mix well.

Ikan Bilis Fried Rice

You will 5-10 minutes for ingredient prep, and have everything ready when you stand in front of your wok:).

You will need:
1/4 cup peanut/vegetable/grape seed oil, divided use
1/2 cup dried anchovies (rinse a little to get rid of salt and shop dust)
4-5 cups cooked rice (leftover from the night before is wonderful), broken up with a fork or with your hands if rice is hard/in clumps
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (the more the better)
1/2 cup diced chicken breast, skin discarded if desired
1/2 cup peeled and deveined shrimps (optional)
a small piece of belacan - toasted and mashed ( 1/2 inch will do)
1 tablespoon thin soy sauce, or to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup mung bean sprouts(optional) replaced with corn kernels or peas
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions or big bombay onions
some chinese parsley chopped
some thin cubes of carrots (for colour)

Heat some parts of the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add anchovies and stir-fry until anchovies are cooked and golden. Remove with slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate. Set aside. Discard oil from wok and wipe clean with paper towel. Return to heat and add the rest of the oil. Over high heat add the garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds until JUST beginning to turn golden, then add the shrimp and chicken, continuing to stir-fry, just until shrimp turns opaque. Add rice, soy sauce and salt and pepper and stir-fry 3 minutes. Add bean sprouts and scallions and continue stir-frying a few minutes more. Return the anchovies to the wok and stir-fry until evenly distributed. Your meal-in-a-wok is ready — serve hot!

adapted recipe source : wikipedia.

7 memories:

The Observer said...

Rice porridge and anchovies alone also very nice....

Kai Grey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kai Grey said...

haha.. of course ms pennylane loves rice porridge and anchovies. i used to hate that stuff.. but nowadays, i find myself missing it alot and trying to cook it myself..

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Ms Penny Lane....porridge and anchovies are a good combination. I remember one young mother used to dry the anchovies again herself and then clean all the bones out and then pound them ....those were the days before Maggie ikan bilis powder. But her original ikan bilis powder was really good. Very inspiring.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Arani Jantok

Can you get ikan bilis easily? You must always rinse and dry the bilis in the sun.

But of course if you soak it for a while in hot water it will also do.

Deep fried ikan bilis is always such a comfort food especially with a lot of Sarawak pepper.

Yan said...

I just learnt from my GB friends that it's cheaper in KK, to be exact from the Philippines market. And of course, bargaining needed!

Well, I am making a trip there and the orders are many. But, I have not agreed - I like to travel light lah, and stuffing many kilos of kang ngii kian in my luggage? Think again, think again. For good friends' sake? Still a little difficult to say yes. He...he..

For one thing, I really do not fancy kang ngii kian! Not because it sounds "small", but for the smell.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Hi....but good kang ngii kian should not be chor!! Need to dry them really well...and then wash again too if they still smell. :?)\)

Nice to know that you are back and then going again!!

All the best to your GB activities. God bless.


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