'What are we having for dinner tonight grandma?"
'Ikan goreng dengan sayur cemperai. Su Cikgu beri ikan kelisa pagi tadi."
Wow! Deep fried Arowana! Can you imagine having a few thousand ringgit fish for lunch!
Yes, that was true way back in the sixties. Arowanas were just like any other river fish. They were caught either by line fishing or usng fish traps.
I remember fishing for them in Sungai Ibok using 'umbut kelapa' as bait. All you had to was to throw the line with the bait and slowly pulled it. In no time you would catch a few arowanas.
While fishing I witnessed a sight that I would never forget. You might not believe this.
A baby short-taile macaque (beruk) was playing on a small branch very close to the surface of the river. Suddenly a huge arowana, with its silvery scales clearly seen, surfaced and jumped towards the baby monkey.
In a few seconds, the baby monkey was in its huge mouth and as fast it surfaced, it disappeared in the plain-tea-coloured river.
That was how voracious an arowana was then. But now, arowanas are kept as good-luck bringung pets in houses of the rich and super-rich. Nobody in his or her right mind uses them as food!
Back to the day where arowanas were eaten almost daily by the folks near rivers where they were abound. When deep fried, their scales were crispy and had that distinct plain flavour.
I still remember how they were hunted down by many when they fetched very good price, was it in the eighties?
People, small and big, young and old thronged the then shallow Ibok river looking for arowanas. At the time a two-inch aroawans could easily be sold for RM100!
As always, due to their over hunting, now they are almost extinct from many rivers in Terengganu.
A little bit about cemperai. It is a herb gathered from the secondary forest. Its shoot were delicious when made into soups or cooked with coconut milk. I rarely see them sold in markets nowadays.