If there is one Nyonya dish that I wish I could make in the United States but couldn’t, this rempah fish or fried fish stuffed with sambal would probably be it.
Why? Because a true and authentic Nyonya rempah fish (‘Hu Chee Rempah” in Penang Hokkien) can only be made with hardtail mackerel, a fish that is not available in the waters here. If you don’t have hardtail mackerel (or “Ngeh Buey” in Hokkien), you simply don’t make rempah fish because other fish will do no justice to this dish and will not deliver the essence, texture, and authentic flavor. Yes, Nyonya will not compromise when it comes to ingredients used in Nyonya food…
So words can’t even begin to recite how I’ve missed my late mother’s rempah fish, a recipe she had perfected. Her rempah fish was always sublime, with aromatic and moist sambal plus perfect balance of flavors, and let’s not forget about the charred sambal paste oozing out of the fish. But consider ourselves lucky, my sister-in-law did cook side-by-side with my mother and helped her make rempah fish on countless occasions. I asked her to recreate the dish for this blog and she nailed it.
Here is our recipe for rempah fish—a Penang Nyonya specialty that is well-loved by many Peranakan/Nyonya-Baba families. If you go to Penang, you might find it at economy rice stalls if you are lucky!