Capitalising on abundant harvest from the sea

0

Asnani also sells dried shrimps on top of her family’s famous ‘cencaluk’.

MANY can never see themselves mixing more than 50kg of ‘bubuk’ (krill shrimps), 10kg of coarse salt and 5kg of sugar for more than five hours at one sitting.

For Asnani Jaludin, however, she has been doing this daily, in every ‘bubuk’ season throughout the past 30 years.

The season usually arrives in February and lasts until May – a bountiful time for the fishermen and their families in the northern parts of Sarawak, especially those who know how to make ‘belacan’ (shrimp paste) and ‘cencaluk’ (fermented shrimps).

In this regard, Asnani is a ‘cencaluk and belacan master’, having inherited the skills from her family, which have been producing these products since the early 1980s.

Throughout the ‘bubuk’ season, Asnani would get up at around 4am and do the work until 6pm every day.

“We are known for our ‘cencaluk’, which I would say is different from the rest because of the methods in its processing,” said the Kampung Batu 1 villager, now well into her 50s.

“The ‘bubuk’ are washed using tapwater, and not saltwater. Using saltwater would discolour the shrimps and affect the taste and quality of the ‘cencaluk’.

“Washing the shrimps is the most essential part in producing ‘cencaluk’.

“The myth about not washing the shrimps before making the ‘cencaluk’ to ensure the finest quality is exactly what it is – a myth,” she told thesundaypost when met at her village ‘tamu’ (farmers and jungle produce market) in Kuala Baram, touted as the most famous in Miri Division for its ‘belacan’ and ‘cencaluk’.

One of Asnani’s workers fry some ‘bubuk’ fritters at the stall in Tamu Batu 1, Kuala Baram.

Asnani said she had been helping out since she was seven, but her serious involvement in the family business began when she was in her late 20s.

“Producing ‘cencaluk’ and ‘belacan’ is like investing in gold.

“A kilogramme of ‘belacan’ goes for around RM60 – rarely the price goes down. A jar of ‘cencaluk’ is from RM20 to RM30.

“A kilogramme of dried ‘bubuk’ is about RM80. We can actually earn up to RM500 a day,” she smiled.

“It is a lucrative business, but it is one that requires patience, hard work, and many sacrifices,” she was quick to add.

Another trader met at the ‘tamu’, Zaliha Hassan, said she switched careers around 2010.

In 1993 when she was 25, she entered journalism – a field that she had stayed on for 17 years.

Zaliha’s family is well known for their ‘belacan’, with many people from outside of Miri willing to go to Kampung Batu 1 just to get their hands on the prized delicacy.

Zaliha packs some of her customers’ orders.

“I knew I always had an inclination towards the sea and its offerings. So after 17 years of writing other people’s tales and facing the hustle and bustle in the newsroom, I took a leap of faith right into the sea – literally.

“I wanted to have this freedom; deep inside, I knew it was my calling,” she said.

However, Zaliha said not all was bad during her journalism days.

“Meeting people as a journalist, I would say that it’s rather similar to dealing with customers, who have different tastes and preferences.

“Some say our ‘belacan’ is their favourite, and some say otherwise.

“It is how you deal with them – that’s important.

“Of course, we must always ensure that the quality of our products are top-notch, in order to survive in this business.”

Just like Asnani and her ‘cencaluk’, Zaliha also regarded her family’s ‘belacan’ as unique.

“It has always been the traditional pestle and mortar over the past 40 years – that’s what makes our ‘belacan’ unique.

“We don’t rely on machines. The ‘belacan’ made from ingredients that have been processed by a machine, definitely tastes much more different – and more inferior – than the ‘belacan’ produced using the traditional method,” she added.

Zaliha held a strong belief that the tradition of producing ‘belacan’ in her family would ‘never die’.

“I also believe that producing ‘belacan’ and ‘cencaluk’ is not a declining industry.

“As long as the quality is good, customers would continue to buy them.

“For me, this is now what I do for a living,” she said.

Zaliha Hassan

Asnani and Zaliha are among the proud members of the Kampung Batu 1 community, well-known for offering ‘the plentiful harvests from the sea’.

There are many fishermen families in the village, ensuring that the ‘tamu’ would receive good daily supply of catch, barring bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances.

However, the village becomes a much more bustling place during the early part of the year, when the favourable sea conditions help bring out tons of ‘bubuk’ that even after a massive portion has been set aside to be sold fresh, the remaining supply is still enough to fill hundreds of packs of dried shrimps and ‘belacan’, and hundreds of jars of ‘cencaluk’.

Capitalising on this, the Miri City Council had, in 2018, established the ‘Pesta Bubuk’.

Since then, this annual festival has been showcasing and highlighting ‘bubuk’-based products that go beyond ‘belacan’ and ‘cencaluk’, and gradually, it has become one of Miri’s most anticipated events.