Temerloh is the home of the Patin fish (Silver Catfish), one of the most prized freshwater fishes in Malaysia.
THE PATIN – A FISH LIKE NO OTHER!
Temerloh town sits at the confluence of the Pahang and Semantan Rivers, which is why it is rich with freshwater fish such as Patin (silver catfish), Jelawat, Baung, Tenggalan, Lampam, Belida, Tilapia and Kerai.
As the home of the Patin fish, the Temerloh folks have special dishes that bring out the best taste of the fish. Two of my favorites are the ikan patin masak tempoyak and the ikan patin asam rebus.
Actually there are three species of patin, based on its breeding, and hence to connoisseurs, there are slight differences in the taste. A patin fish has smooth flesh and when grilled under a firewood, or barbequed and eaten with sambal asam, …um mum…oh my… I’m not just salivating, I’m drooling already. It tastes like... well... it’s indescribable. Try them yourself, okay?
But please do forgive me for going into raptures over this fish. I just can’t help it. It’s not because I am Temerloh-born that I am biased, or that I have any economic reasons. But it’s just that I have eaten all kinds of fishes, and I still regard the Temerloh patin as the best fish in the world!! The patin tastes smoother and sweeter than any fresh salmon (or other fishes) by the yard!
The cheapest patin (about RM5.00 per kilogram) that is available at most supermarkets in Malaysia is the one bred in the lakes or large pools where the water does not run.
The one that fetches the highest price (up to RM100.00 per kilogram) is the wild patin caught in the river and which has a slightly whiter shade of silver on its body scales, and a slightly longer mouth (pout).
The less expensive river patin which costs about RM12.00 per kilogram is the one bred in the special breeding cages at the riverbanks. The restaurants in Temerloh use these patin for food dishes and most people will come to the riverside to buy them.
But as an aquarium fish, the patin is not that very good looking. Other river fishes like the tenggalan, kerai and the kelah (the green and especially the red kelah) are sought for their shiny silvery scales which, when reflected in the aquarium water, will shine and look like jewelries. That, I believe is good feng shui to the Chinese. These fishes are also easy to keep in the aquarium as they will eat anything.
If you want to see the place where patin and also tilapia fishes are bred in the cages in the riverbank, from Temerloh town just follow the road to the Temerloh Rest-House to Kg. Bukit Pak Silap. And then proceed to Kampung Bangau by the river. Here there are at least five places along the road where the fish is sold live. (Watch for the signboard at stalls that say “Patin / Tilapia”).
Although the fishes are kept in cages in the river, thieves sometimes come at night in boats and steal many of the fishes. That is why the breeders co-operate and keep vigil at the site at night. (And they keep warm at night by having fresh grilled fish with asam pedas and soy ketchup over campfire!! Oh, I envy them).
If you come to Temerloh now, from the old bridge over the Pahang River, maybe you can see a few houses floating on the riverbank.
In the old days I remember there were more of these river-houses, and I remember my parents taking me to one of the houses to visit friends during the festival of Aidil Fitri. The house was like any other on land except that it was swaying a bit because of the movement of the river waters.
I remember my father related that these river houses increased in numbers during my grandfather’s time, after Pahang (in fact most of the east coast of Malaya then), was inundated with floodwaters of unprecedented severity in 1926. Old folks refer to this big flood as "Bah Merah" or "Red Flood".
Many houses especially those located near the river were destroyed by drift timber during that huge flood. As a means to have a flood-proof house, the enterprising folks consequently built river houses tied with ropes to the riverside to prevent them from drifting!! How ingenious -- the houses will float according to the level of the river water!!
But perhaps because of hygienic and legal reasons, very few of these river houses are now in existence, and, if there are any, of course their days are sadly numbered.