Joie de vivre, French for “joy of living” is often used to describe the Peranakans. They are a jolly people with great exuberance when it comes to the enjoyment of life. Food is prepared with a joyous spirit and eaten with relish. Even simple food tastes great at a Peranakan’s table.
What’s the secret to good food, one may ask. My mum used to say that it’s the Peranakan’s generosity of spirit, and their uncanny ability to turn simple pleasures into lavish enjoyment. So it’s easy to understand why Peranakans, “eat well, laugh often and love abundantly”. So it’s not surprising to find unripe fruits made into delicious stews or curries, or the humble fish stomach, often discarded by most people, to find its way to the table and enjoyed with gusto. Let me introduce “Perut Ikan” meaning “fish stomach” as a Peranakan dish to you.
When a Peranakan family entertains, they entertain generously, and as lavishly as they could afford to. One doesn’t need to be rich to entertain lavishly. A good spread of food is considered lavish, even if the table is bare of a tablecloth or with mismatched bowls and plates. As food is generous in portions, so would be the parts that are meant to be discarded. That’s how Perut Ikan came about when large amounts of fresh fish are used for a feast. As the fish is so fresh, it would be a shame to throw away the parts around the stomach. So these are salted in pure sea salt, bottled and preserved for future use. The bones and heads from the fish are then slowly simmered to extract the stock and reduced to a thick jelly for the fish stock. So, what is PERUT IKAN?
Food savvy Peranakans call it “Nyonya Bouillabaisse” Bouillabaisse is a traditional Provencal fish stew.
Our Perut Ikan can be likened to that, but using local herbs and vegetables in a rich tamarind based fish stock. The fish stock is simmered with finely ground spice paste of shallots, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, chilli and shrimp paste. Then sliced pineapples, eggplants and long beans are added to the stock together with sliced fish stomach and prawns. Lastly, the stock is perfumed with finely sliced ginger flower, pepper leaves, turmeric leaves, kaffir lime leaves and laksa leaves and served.