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The Salted Fish Pickle

LAST night I started pickle-loading again. Apparently it's a bad habit to stick a spoon into a pickle jar and eat it as if it was crunchy peanut butter spoon after spoon. My dad would be terribly upset and my mother would keep me in her prayers if they found out about this relapse (I had stopped this habit for a coupla months). They say too much of it is unkind to the tummy but what can I say. I love my dad's salted fish pickle so much I salivate by just thinking about it. Tried putting the jars away in the high cabinets but when I'm jerked awake by nightmares in the early mornings, nothing calms me better than the pleasant zing of vinegar and familiar mix of spices in a sweet, sour and spicy curry of salted fish chunks. A dose of that and the nasty gargoyles that had chased me or the sea that had threatened to swallow me fades into a quicksand of amnesia, and I return to sleep, feeling safe again.

The thing is however, before I discovered and tasted my first salted fish pickle, I never knew that dad could make them. I was having dinner at a restaurant in Petaling Jaya with Goose and Jasmine when a man went from table to table, coaxing customers to buy some jars. When he came over to us, I bought a bottle without a fuss upon learning it was what it was. Salted fish pickle. Never tried it before but when I did, I was delighted by the layers of flavours in it. For my own good, months later I discovered that dad made them too - one of his grandmother's recipes. Homemade by dad is way nicer of course, and I could eat as much as I want, whenever, to fuel my new-found addiction. My mother swears that my constant anaemic state is due to pickle overdose, but I think I'll be fine if I ate more red meat and drank lesser of red wine (not that I'm an alcoholic ). 

Now the salted fish pickle goes beyond me as friends and colleagues ring me for extra jars to take home. It's made using Ikan Yu (shark, pics above), which dad gets from an Ikan Masin shop near home. I've never been to the little store, but from what I hear, it's a haven for all creatures salted. Sea creatures I mean. The air in the shop must be arid, with different species of anchovies and shrimps lined up front and back in huge bags, while dried molluscs like Sotong (squids) and the bigger fishes hang on the ceiling. Dad chooses Yu because Kuraus (treadfins) are a lot more pricey. It also doesn't retain its shape once it's pickled, whereas Yu allows for some chewiness, and it sits well in a jar for a long time. Well, I love the pickled version of both fishes anyhow.

How one eats it is totally up to the individual (although I haven't met anyone who eats it like I do). Most people just have it as a condiment to main meal of rice, porridge or bread, but a few friends told me the best way to have it is simply with warm, fragnant, white rice. Only that. The steam from the rice is supposed to evoke the flavours of the salted fish and the curry bits that it's in.

"Use your fingers to eat but just be sure to wash your hands with lotsa soap to rid of the smell. Otherwise you'd be hungry again smelling your fingers," said one friend.


  1. You're eating this pickle raw from the jar? Are you sure you're not pregnant? I wonder why it's made from shark. Is there a special sharky flavour?

  2. It's cooked pickle, yes I eat it from the jar. No, not preggers. There are many kinds of salted fish to choose from but dad picks shark cuz it's got tougher meat n when pickled it doesn't get mushy over time. Sharky flavour? I guess u hv to try it out GB!

  3. Kristin A26 May, 2011

    At first when I heard of salted fish pickles, I'm like...huh? but after I've tried it, it became my fav. I only tried it after my Brinjal pickles almost finish. Brinjal pickles use to be my fav, cuz generally I like brinjal.

  4. I'd like to try some one day

  5. Er, Fish Pickle? I though we English were slightly odd with onions and eggs but.... Nevertheless, you make it sounds delicious. x


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