Prawn sambal

One of the advantages of of living near the beach is the easy availability of fresh seafood. Five days a week, at about 8.30 in the morning, a group of fisherwomen land up on the pavement of one of the roads near my home. The only thing on their agenda is to sell as much seafood as they can and then take the unsold stock to the main fish market located on the ECR. The group usually consists of about 20 women and a couple of men. On Saturdays, Sundays and school holidays, some of their children tag along.

One group of women own the stuff in the baskets, presumably their husbands are the ones who have caught the fish. A second group buys from the first group. They are the ones who have their stalls on the main road and are buying the morning's stock. A third group, some of them still brushing their teeth, tag along to watch the sales; their homes are very close by so they feel they can take this liberty! One woman maintains the accounts. No money is exchanged at this point of time, but this woman makes a note of every transaction and I guess that at the end of the day, when sales are over, accounts are tallied and justified. Then there are the local buyers like yours truly, who find the seafood at this impromptu market very fresh. The only problem is that weighing scales don't exist. One has to trust one's judgement and ensure the quantity and price are reasonable.

I have never seen any of the larger fish varieties being sold here. Lots of shankara,  mullets, sardines, mackerel and of course, prawns. And for a small cost, the women will clean the fish or prawns for you.
My Tamil is not very good, so the children step in to translate for me. And the men? They are the drivers of the autos who ferry women and baskets to the main road. And an hour later, by 9.30am, baskets and women get into the waiting autos, the place is cleaned up, onlookers and kids go back to their homes and customers too melt away. If you were to come by the area, you wouldn't even know that a fish  market had happened, except for a faint smell of the sea...

My catch for the day was a kilo of big prawns. The day's menu was prawn sambal and rice. For the authentic taste of sambal, you have to use belachan which is prawn paste in a cake form. Wrap the piece in a little foil and pop it under a grill for a few minutes. Prawn paste powder is also available at Amma Nana.

1 kilo fresh prawns, shelled and deveined
3 big onions
6 pips garlic
1/2 " ginger
3 tomatoes
1 tsp chilli powder, more if you like it hotter
1/2 tsp belachan or prawn paste
1 stalk lemon grass
1/2 tsp tamarind paste
Salt to taste
Coriander leaves for garnish

Wash prawns well and put in a colander.
Cut half an onion into thin slices.
Place remaining onions, garlic, ginger, chilli powder and belachan in a blender and process into a fine paste.
Bruise the bulb of the lemon grass.
Heat oil in a pot, put in the lemon grass and onion slices and saute till onions turn glassy.
Add in the ground paste,stirring now and then till the oil separates.
Grind the tomatoes and add them into the pot.
Cook the tomato till it is thick, add in a quarter cup of water, tamarind paste, salt to taste and bring to a boil with the lid on for about 5 minutes.
Add in prawns, stir and bring it back to the boil and cook it for another 3 minutes.
Check seasoning and serve with steamed rice, nasi lemak or coconut rice.

Prawn sambal with nasi lemak


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