Thursday, October 18, 2007

Umai: Local Sashimi Salad

As we started blogging, we realised that they are many things we used to take for granted. Sarawakian food being one of them.

I began to believe in my theory that not many food franchises even bother with Sarawak, because Sarawakians are basically too addicted to our own local food. The kopitiam culture has always been flourishing. New shops are opening everywhere even though they basically serve about the same food. Kolo Mee, Laksa, Chicken Rice, Kueh Chap, Porridge are the usual suspects. And yet these shops are still always packed.

Besides our Laksa, we have this very local dish called Umai. This is a Melanau dish, which for some reason is not easily found in Kuching City except for hotels. Melanaus are native Sarawakians who are the fisher people and Umai is very much their daily staple. It is their no fuss lunch.

We tried finding a nice place that serves this but were unsuccessful - anyone know any place for this?! Mukah Seafood Restaurant (they made nice ones) had closed down. So, please dont tell us to go to Mukah. Mukah town by the way is in the central region of Sarawak, accessible by road and boat. By road, you would have to go to Sibu first and then take a 2-3 hours drive to Mukah.

Umai is a dish which comprises of fresh raw fish with some sour juices like lemon or lime or limau and assam payak, salt, chillis, sugar, onions. You can basically used any fish but fresh water fish are seldom used. So fish like black and white pompret, white snappers and some of local fish are good especially if it does not have too many bones to clean and the flesh is fine and can be easily filleted. The key is it must FRESH. It would not only be stinky, it would give a almighty tummy upset if you compromise. I used NZ Salmon for my recipe this time. Indulgence.

Another important ingredients that is very localised is the assam payak.

This fruit is rather seasonal to city folks like us because you get it sometimes and sometimes you don't. The skin can be darker or redder depending on the season. The market folks said it is usually in abundance from June or July onwards and it gets lesser towards November or December. By the way, please dont eat this fruit raw in any big quantity cause they are highly acidic. I dont think you want to bleach your tummy. If you are overseas, too bad, you have to use just lemons.

400gm of fresh salmon or one medium size black pompret
5-6 pcs of assam payak
1/2 lemon or 4-5 pcs of limau kasturi (our local limau)
1 teasp of salt
1 tbsp of sugar
2 medium chillis, clean and rid the seeds and thinly sliced
Some msg if you want

1) Clean fish. Fillet the fish from bottom upwards, sticking as close to the centre bone. Then fillet off the skin. Tip: Use a good knife for fillet and do it with one straight stroke. Try not to 'saw' as you fillet. Pick out any fish bones. Hold your knife at 30 deg and slice the fish thinly against the grain.

2) Grate the assam payak with a small grater, let the juice flow into a dish. Sift to get the pure juice.

3) Combine all ingredients and marinade for at least half an hour in fridge. Once the assam payak touches the fish slices, it will turn slightly whitish like acid is cooking the fish.

Side ingredients:
25gm of dried prawns, chopped up
4 pcs of red onions, thinly sliced
1 small pc of ginger (like the size of your thumbs), thinly sliced to fine strips
1 small stalk of local celery (kim Chai) as Greg and I both hates this, I put only put like one thin stalk. You can put a stalk of two more.
2 pcs of red chillis, seed cleaned out and thinly sliced.

4) With a table spoon of oil, fry the dried prawns til fragrant and slightly crispy. Dish out and add to fish mixture
5) Prepare and add rest of ingredients. Mix well. Chill it and serve it cold. Hot umai is hmmm weird. Add seasoning like salt, sugar and msg to your taste.

YUM! YUM! I can eat the whole lot by myself. Umai is truly a gourmet delight!

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