This was where I developed my fondness for seafood and I was very fortunate and thankful that I am not allergic to any shellfish. I could eat all kinds of seafood ranging from clams, squids, pipis, prawns and fishes. My uncles were fishermen and they would bring back all the goodies from the sea.
Daytime was spent wandering around the beach with my cousins, digging for clams and watching the womenfolk hanging and drying up the fishes and squids. I love my childhood days. Evening was all about huge family dinner with seafood meals. After dinner, my cousins and I would try to catch fireflies for our night light. Grandpa's house had no electricity then and he would only use kerosene lamps for lighting. Cooking was done with a big wok over hot charcoal. Water had to be drawn from a well. I remember freaking out one time when we had to rescue a chicken from the well because it had fallen in. I refused to bathe that day.
Grandpa didn't put electricity in his house till the mid-eighties. I didn't mind. For me, it was all a big adventure whenever I visited my grandpa. Bedtime was also a pleasure, I never once protested when told to go to bed; I would listen to the waves of the ocean before dozing off.
One particular dish and recipe that I can recall and still love to eat is the "Tamarind Prawns" also known as "Assam Prawns". This is a favourite local dish. Almost every Malaysian household would have their own versions and because it is so simple and flexible, you can adjust to your taste. Tamarind is a fruit, its pulp or skin can be added to any Malaysian dish for the sour taste. Some may like to add chilli or sugar to this dish.
My version is very simple. It’s so good that you’ll be making lip smacking noise trying to suck the shells off the tamarind prawns and yes, it will be a little sour at first, till you get to the sweetness of the prawn meat.
Assam Prawns (serves 4)
- 800grams of Large Green Banana Prawns
- 4 tablespoons of Tamarind Pulp
- 2 tablespoons of Dark Soy Sauce or use Kicap Manis (Indonesian Sweet Dark Soy Sauce)
- I tablespoon of sugar (optional) Omit if using Kicap Manis.
- 2 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- ¼ cup water
- Garnish: Sliced chillies and scallions or chives
- Wash prawns and pat dry, do not remove the shells. You can opt to keep the head on or not. Some may like to have their prawns deveined and shells removed.
- Put the tamarind pulp in a bowl.
- Add a little water, a tablespoon at a time, to soften the tamarind pulp. Use your fingers to press on the pulp and mix it in with the water. While it mixes, the meat of the tamarind will separate from the seed; throw away the tamarind seeds. Leave the extracted juice aside. It should not be too watery; it should be paste-like juice extract.
- Marinade the prawns in the tamarind juice for an hour.
- Heat up your wok and add some cooking oil.
- Throw in your marinated prawns and stir fry it on very high heat. Cook for few minutes or when the prawns have changed their colour. Add the kicap manis, omit sugar if using kicap manis. Use sugar if you are using dark soy sauce. Add any leftover tamarind juice extract to wok.
- Garnish and serve immediately with a bowl of hot steamy Jasmine rice.