- Category: News
- Published: Wednesday, 30 October 2019 08:47
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THE engine strains, propelling the fiberglass longboat I am in against the current. Looking down one side of the boat’s low hull I can see tea brown waters churning; waters that are rich in organics and nutrients that nourish the lands and people nearby. This is Sungai Pahang, a mighty overflow that runs through the heart of the state. I am on the Pahang river near the town of Temerloh, 110 km from Kuantan, the state capital. I am somewhere near the riverbanks of Pahang’s second-largest town heading towards one of Temerloh’s many floating fish farms to visit what is arguably its most famous product: freshwater ikan patin or silver catfish.
Named Ikan Patin Madu, the farm is a roadside shop and series of floating cages tethered along the river bank. Here in the cages, juvenile patin or fry are fed and kept until they mature, which takes six months. The nature of Sungai Pahang itself also sustains the fish, which is said to impart a unique flavor to it. Speaking of flavors, no visit to Temerloh is complete without tasting the varied ikan patin dishes here. Temerloh is known as the capital for ikan patin not merely because of its fish farms but also its restaurants offering savory ikan patin dishes, including the ubiquitous ikan patin masak tempoyak (silver catfish cooked in fermented durian gravy).
Along with other group members on a local cuisine discovery trip called Authentic Pahang Exploration organized by the Tourism Malaysia Eastern Region, we stop at Restoran Ikan Patin Bangau, a popular eatery secluded in the small village of Kampung Bangau. The restaurant operates from a family home and is less than a few hundred meters away from the roadside shop of the fish farm, which of course means it can offer the freshest catch. The dishes served here are traditional Temerloh delicacies, and the place is packed with diners coming from all over the country every weekend and public holidays. Also tucked away within the quiet village of Kampung Bangau is Ina Kraf, owned by the soft-spoken and humble Muhaimin Hasbollah. Visiting his serene-looking woodshop after a hearty lunch of ikan patin and fresh traditional Malay salads of ulam, I am surprised and quite proud to learn that Muhaimin is an internationally acclaimed master wood craftsman. Quietly and unassumingly, Muhaimin has been keeping the traditional Malay wood craftsmanship alive at his shop here in Temerloh. His dedication to his craft and skill has garnered many recognitions, among them the winner of the best craftsmanship award at the International Live Wood Carving Show and Competition 2012, China. Crafting items that range from small wooden boxes to traditional mancala or congkak boards and even large display pieces, each item is aesthetically mesmerizing and detailed. What also makes his creations unique and makes for collector pieces is the meaning behind each element of his carvings, such as how the flower stems intertwine without touching each other which signifies the respect youths have for elders in Malay society.
KAMPUNG DESA MURNI
From the village of Kampung Bangau. we then head towards the village of Kampung Desa Murni, some 10km away. It is here that visitors looking for a modern resort stay with a village atmosphere will be pleased to discover Kampungstay Desa Murni, a resort that highlights the traditions and cultures of the surrounding villages. Although the establishment markets itself as a village homestay experience, I can only describe it as a resort since I have never seen a Malay village with a swimming pool. Kampungstay Desa Murni is a collection of modern and comfortable houses with traditional Malay village design, such as wooden balconies and wooden window shutters. In line with the local cuisine discovery aspect of the trip, it is here that the group members discover traditional Pahang desserts such as kuih pena and dodol kukus. Demonstrated by the villagers from nearby the Kampungstay, group members not only get to see the step by step preparations of these increasingly rare and hard to find desserts but also taste their unique flavours that made them popular in the villages of Pahang in times of festivals or celebrations in yesteryears. Interestingly, many of the group members invited to the Authentic Pahang Exploration are resort and hotel chefs, since Tourism Malaysia Eastern Regions hopes that they will be able to reproduce the recipes and highlight them at their own establishments as part of promoting the traditional cuisine of Pahang in conjunction with Visit Malaysia Year 2020.
At 459km in length, Pahang River is the longest river in Peninsular Malaysia and the country’s third longest. The mighty river begins with the meeting of two rivers, Sungai Tembeling and Jelai at the confluence of Kuala Tembeling. I find myself at Kampung Labu, one of many small villages found on the riverbanks of the Tembeling river before it reaches and meets Jelai river. Here, along the river and separated by time and distance, a unique dish was created and had evolved through the years. Perhaps out of necessity to use whatever ingredients available around them, the inhabitants of the district of Jerantut had created a unique sour tasting dish using the fermented seeds of the perah tree. The seeds of the perah tree are poisonous, and can only be consumed after proper preparations through peeling, drying and pounding. The resulting ingredient is then used to prepare Gulai Asam Rong, a sour and nutty tasting soup made with freshwater fish and vegetables such as eggplants. What is also interesting is how the villagers had adapted the dish to also supplement the perah seeds with the much easily found rubber tree seeds, due to the sometimes scarcity of the perah tree which can only be found in the jungles. Kampung Labu village elder Mak Wan tells me that many villagers now prepare the dish using rubber tree seeds instead of the perah tree seeds, reminding me of the adaptability of these small communities. Situated halfway by the main road that connects the town of Jerantut to the iconic national park of Taman Negara, Kampung Labu has also become a transport hub for tourists who want to take the scenic boat rides upriver towards the national park. Built in 2013, the Labu Sentral terminal cuts the boat journey to almost half, since a boat ride from Kuala Tembeling may take up to four hours and even longer of the river’s water level is low.
KAMPUNG KUALA MEDANG
In contrast to Kampung Labu that sits along the banks of the Tembeling river, Kampung Kuala Medang sits on the river bank of the Jelai river as it flows down to form the Pahang river. Located 51km away from the historic town of Lipis, the former capital of Pahang, Kampung Kuala Medang is perhaps one of the best examples of the state’s rustic and endearing hinterlands. So much so, the homestay programme of Kuala Medang that began in 2002 has even won numerous awards and recognitions for its homestay experience, offering activities with villagers such as tapping rubber trees, oil palm harvesting, bamboo raft-making as well as cultural demonstrations of traditional games, dances and cooking. It is at the cooking demonstration here in Kuala Medang that I learn about Nasi Kebuli, a rice dish said to originate from the royal palace of Pahang. Looking at the women of the village prepare the dish, I see that it is a tedious task, with them boiling the chicken in a richly spiced broth before deep frying it and then using the frying oil to fry the rice before finally simmering it in the broth. Although I am no cook and would be challenged to even cook rice in a rice cooker, even to my untrained eyes I realise this is indeed a dish reserved for special occasions and celebrations, and it would make perfectly good sense if it indeed originated from the kitchen of a royal palace.Another unique dish found here is Lemang Tepung, a sweet dessert of flour, palm sugar and coconut milk cooked in bamboo. Having only seen the more popular savoury type of lemang made with glutinous rice, it’s a reminder of how prevalent the use of bamboo once was in the rural communities of Pahang as well as around the country. Not only was bamboo used for food and construction, it was also extensively used for making tools, cooking utensils and cultural uses. Another interesting fact about the bamboo used here in Kuala Medang for preparing the Lemang Tepung is that it is of the Semeliang species, the same species of bamboo used by the nearby Semai Orang Asli tribe to make their hunting blowpipes.
Steeped in history and tradition, the hinterlands of Pahang are home to some of the nation’s most fascinating food, crafts and culture a visitor can experience. Although far from being a food connoisseur or foodie, even a person such as myself is able to appreciate the unique identities of the local delicacies discovered here along my journey. The varied landscapes of Pahang with its hills and valleys and rapid flowing rivers have shaped and enriched not only its cuisine but almost every aspect of the daily lives of the rural communities here. The Authentic Pahang Exploration is perhaps one of the best initiatives taken by Tourism Malaysia Eastern Region in its efforts to promote the state for Visit Malaysia Year 2020. Source : NST