Sunday 17 April 2022

Belacan, Politicians and 'Otak Udang'



I was quite upset when I read the above headline yesterday.  It's not fair and it's tantamount to being racist.  In the first place,  using otak belacan  to denigrate the brain of PAP's P Ramasamy is not applicable.  After all,  he is a Malaysian Indian and certainly belacan is not his staple food seasoning.  It certainly can be applied to  a Malay like the author of this article,  unless he is of the elite Jawi Peranakan extraction, but now registered as Malay.

Secondly it is an insult to a staple Malay condiment like belacan.

In Indonesia the equivalent is trasi , mentioned in the ancient Sundanese scriptures.

 So as not to confuse the origin of trasi/belacan :

Zheng He (or Cheng Ho)  (1371 - 1433), diplomat-admiral from the Ming Dynasty even brought back this condiment to his homeland!   Although today, most of the producers and distributors of belacan in Malaysia are Chinese and the popularity of Chinese Peranakan Cuisine has elevated the status and glamour surrounding the humble belacan.  Growing up in the 50s, 60s and 70s, I recall how people turn up their noses (in more ways than one) at the taste, odour and purchase of belacan.  

In the early books on Malay/Indonesian/Southeast Asian cooking, there seemed to be a bit of 'shyness' in using the word belacan, instead it was described as shrimp paste.

As for the udang geragau, (Singapore Malays called it geragur), my Emak loved to make fritters, a mixture of the shrimps, flour, egg, onions and chillies.  It was not only tasty, but it was cheap and muai, which means just a little bit or expenditure goes a long way.

Nowadays you can't buy geragur for love or money.  But this Melayu belacan (Maznoor Hamid that is) stores a good stock of belacan in her larder to titillate the appetite of both herself and her Anglo-Scottish spouse who cannot get enough of sambal blacan and sambal pedas petai/ikan bilis.  

Ash's stock of belacan

It all started with my Emak's feeding of her skinny Mat Salleh son-in-law because she thinks her daughter is not cooking enough for him, like a typical loving and dutiful wife should.

The source of the addiction to chillie and belacan - my mother!

That is my paean to belacan, a traditional ingredient for traditional Malay cooking and should never ever be used to describe the cerebral failings of anyone, especially politicians - whatever shade of ethnicity - in Malaysia.  There are many other words to choose from, words like  dull, doltish, dim, idiotic, ignorant, asinine etc etc.

Whenever as children, we acted and said something stupid to Emak, she would just exclaim "Bodoh! Kepala Otak Udang!" (Stupid. Prawn-head brains!).  That is because the prawn's excreta is in the head.  That is the only asinine connection to belacan which is made from fermented prawns .  Still the Malays do have a refined alternative to the obscene use of the word "shit-head"!!!!!  

Here is the author of that article in Malaysia Today.

What is PEJUANG?

 May Allah keep our Tanah Air in excellent physical and spiritual health this Ramadan.