Ikan Bilis - specialty of Pulau Pangkor
Pulau Pangkor is known in Malaysia as the number 1 place to get ikan bilis. The question of course is, what is ikan bilis? The translation into English is "anchovies".
On the west coast of Pangkor you find the beaches, restaurants and hotels, this is the tourist part of the island. The east coast, where you arrive when you take the ferry, is what you could call "the industrial area".
Industrial is quite a rather big word since the industry is based on fishing. This part of Pangkor is not as much visited by tourists as it deserves. For example, it's great to visit Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery. You may even try to get a ride on one of their fishing boats (on your own risk of course).
Pangkor, since many years is famous for it's dried fish. The cotters sail out once or twice a day to catch fish. Depending on the license they fish near or further away from Pangkor. Some fishing boats have licenses to sail all the way to the borders of Indonesia.
Catch and processing
This is how Mr. and Mrs. Beh of Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery described the catching and processing of ikan bilis. Ships sail out in pairs. The first boat is doing the actual fishing. Once the nets are in, the fish is directly moved to the second boat.
Much of the processing is already done on board. At the second boat the fish is roughly sorted. At the boat the fish will be boiled. There are no additional chemical used, not even salt!
When the boats return to Pangkor Island, the fish has to be further sorted and dried. The drying is done in the open air. But if it is not possible, drying can be done indoors. In general the fish is left to dry for a few hours.
Sorting goes first on size. Another criteria is the color of the fish. In principle the rule is simple, the fairer the fish, the better. Fairer colored fish means also that the bone structure has not yet developed and therefore is of better quality.
Another way to check the quality of the ikan bilis is by examining the color of the eyes. The best quality ikan bilis will have bright blue colored eyes.
Ikan bilis is now ready for selling. This goes directly in the shop. Mr. and Mrs. Beh do selling themselves if they're in. I have to admit, the shop looks a bit lousy, even the name board above the shop looks run down. This doesn't mean the quality of the sold fish is also rundown, on the contrary.
The board can not be changed, since for over 40 years a birds nest is attached to the board. It can be seen as a sort of trademark for the quality of Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery company being over 40 years in business in Pangkor.
Most of the fish however is sold elsewhere. The Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery company sells to anyone who wants to buy.
Now, the next thing is, what are you going to buy and why! Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery has all quality fish they catch for sale. As said, some of the fish is sold in the shop which is located in the middle of Pangkor Town.
While you check the fish in big bags stalled out in the font, you may want to have a look in the back of the shop where workers sorting the fish. Almost all the sorting is done by hand.
Of course I tried the fish myself. There is a distinct difference between the fish the company catches themselves and the imported fish. And yes, they sell imported fish from Thailand too.
The question I had was.... why??? Why sell imported fish while you have your own fish right out of the sea? Mrs. Beh explained it very simple: imported fish is cheaper but treated with chemicals and thus of lesser quality. And since there's market for this fish too, it's sold.
It is easy to check the difference between local and foreign fish. The foreign fish has a thin layer of white powder on the skin. You can taste it too. Foreign fish more salty and drier then the local produced fish.
The Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery sells fish that has no addition of any chemicals, not even salt. In other words, the ikan bilis you buy from Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery is 100% natural. And yes, it's slightly more expensive.
Ikan Bilis Dishes
Ikan Bilis is much used in Malaysia in Nasi Lemak. There are more possibilities to used Ikan Bilis. In Italy anchovies is used in pizzas. When you get a pizza here in Malaysia, you can have some with the ikan bilis and sambal ikan bilis.
Where to buy?
The Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery is located in the main street of Pangkor Town:
24 & 26 Jalan Besar
The Fire of May 2007
In May 2007, a huge fire razed through Pangkor Town, demolishing in total 17 shoplots including the one Kheng Hai Chuan Fishery shop of the family Beh.
The shop continued to be open during the building of the new shops. At the door of the original shop, the only door which survived the fire, is a sign where the temporary shop is located. It's in the alley next to the original shop. Mr. and Mrs. Beh continue, of course, to deliver excellent ikan bilis to an even more excellent price.
Am I joking? Well, a family I recently brought to the shop where amazed by the prices and bought for a few hundred ringit all kinds of dried fish.
More pictures what happened after the May 2007 fire in Pangkor town you will find here. It may be clear I do hope the shops will be open by the end of the year 2008. The rebuilding of the shops has been started in November 2007 and officially the whole process will take between 12 and 14 months.
August 2009 - The new shop is open!
The new shop celebrates the shop warming party with many officials. It is a big party, celebrated in the Pangkor Town main street which for the occasion is not assessable.
I arrive around 4.30pm when a group Chinese drummers give a great show and a bit later the food was served
After the show there's plenty of food for the invited guests.