Perut ikan—literally means fish stomach—is a signature Nyonya specialty that I love very much. The thought of it often sets my stomach rumbling and mouth watering. As unappetizing as it sounds and perhaps a tad weird to many, Perut ikan is a curry-like dish of various vegetables, aromatic herbs, and fermented fish stomach in the bath of rich, savory, sweet, sour, and spicy goodness. My pictures do no justice to this wonderful dish…
During my recent trip home to Penang, I learned the preparation of perut ikan and other Nyonya delicacies from my aunt. (My aunt’s perut ikan is the best; you just can’t get the same quality at Nyonya restaurants.) For once, I was the chef in her kitchen, cooking up a storm while she patiently narrated the step-by-step of making Nyonya dishes.
“Tumis (sauté) your spice paste until fragrant and add in the fermented fish stomach. This is a very important step as it rids the fishy smell from the fish stomach…that’s why coriander seeds are a must in the spice paste, without them, it’s not perut ikan…”
“Now, add in some water and bring it to boil before you toss in the pineapples, green beans, and eggplants…”
“What about these daun kaduk (leaves) and aromatic leaves, can I add them in now?”
“No. You have to wait. You need to imbue the curry with the sourness of the pineapples first. Add those aromatic leaves towards the end or they will turn too mushy. It’s about balancing the taste and the texture of the ingredients…and don’t forget the santan (coconut milk).”
I was enlightened and nodded my head in agreement.
And so I listened carefully. I memorized. I learned.
Nyonya cooking is not to be taken lightly; a misstep in the cooking process or mishandling of the ingredients will render the dish unsuccessful.
No longer was I the child standing beside my aunt who watched curiously as she was cooking her dishes. Over the years, my aunt has aged physically but her skills in making Nyonya food has only gotten better. And now, I must be taught and become skilled at all these nostalgic foods of my childhood…
Excerpt from Wikipedia:
Nyonya food is the food of Peranakan people of Malaysia and Singapore. It uses mainly Chinese ingredients but blends them with Southeast Asian spices such as coconut milk, lemon grass, turmeric, screwpine leaves, chillies and sambal. It can be considered as a blend of Chinese and Malay cooking.