Thursday, 4 June 2009

Alang-alang menyeluk pekasam

Seems like I'm in the mood of using part of Malay proverbs as title for my posts. The full peribahasa Melayu reads, `Alang-alang menyeluk pekasam, biar sampai ke pangkal lengan'. It is an advice on not doing things at half-measure.

I've used this proverb so many times and yet I have never fully known what the word `pekasam' means. Until last week, that is. But we will get to that part shortly. I first like to continue with the story of my nephew's wedding from the previous post.

Some of you commented on the poignant moment when the groom cried while hugging his mother after the nikah procedure was over. This touching scene caused all the aunts (and some uncles) to shed tears too. The significance of the moment can be understood by knowing some history. Twenty-seven years ago, Fathhullah Azmie, was born two months premature. When he came out of his mother's womb, he was slightly larger than an adult's palm. The first month of his life was spent in an incubator. It was a touch and go situation. His parents were not sure he would make it. By the grace of Allah, he pulled through and survived. He has grown up to be a fine young man who is now a medical doctor posted in the rural outback somewhere in Pahang and on the way to starting a family of his own.

The nikah ceremony actually started in jovial mood. My wife's siblings are mostly jolly folks. We like to poke fun at each other. As we say in Malay, memang kuat bergurau. The bride, Nur Wahidah, being the newest addition to the family, is not spared either. But she's a good sport and she took all our jests in her stride. The following incident illustrates an example.

The day after the akad nikah is the reception at the bride's home and it includes the bersanding ceremony. Our entourage arrived at the reception right on time and assembled at the road junction a few metres from the house. The bride was supposed to come out and meet her groom outside, after which both of them would walk together side-by-side towards the wedding dais.

All of us from the groom's family waited in line for Wahidah to come out. When she arrived, she stood in front of us expecting to be paired with her groom but Fathhullah was nowhere to be seen. We were all mischievously grinning when one of the groom's sister jokingly said, `Alamak! Kita lupa bawa suami awak la... Nampaknya tak boleh nak bersanding hari ni.'

Wahidah nonchalantly replied, `Takpe... bersanding dengan Ucu pun boleh.' Ucu in this case, refers to the groom's uncle who is also my wife's youngest brother (he's the guy holding the mike for the groom in one of the pics in the earlier post). As it happens, Ucu is still single.

We all had a good laugh.... way to go, young lady. You'll fit right in with our family.

The groom's entourage upon arrival at the bride's house for the bersanding ceremony

The bride wondering where her husband is. The groom is quietly sitting in the Camry behind her.

Jangan lah masam muka... kitaorang gurau je!

Upon arrival at the house, we heard two loud bangs. This young man fired the shots into the air, apparently as a form of greeting to the newly-weds. I had him pose proudly with his gun for this pic. Talk about a shotgun wedding!

Indahnya pengantin bersanding atas pelamin

The groom's family. My three nieces in this pic are all still available

Right... now back to the story of pekasam. Before the bersanding ceremony that morning, we went to the Pekan Rabu in Alor Star to look for some breakfast. At a foodstall on the ground floor, the wife and I had some mee hoon sup utara while our son had something called nasi goreng brazil (see pic above). How's that for being creative in naming a dish!

After breakfast, we browsed the other floors of the Pekan Rabu and came across some stalls selling ikan pekasam. It is the first time I've seen the pickled fish as they are not available in Johor. I later found out the the pekasam process involves fermenting the fish (generally the fresh water variety) in dry-roasted ground rice plus some salt. The two main ingredients of pekasam, namely fresh-water fish and rice, are widely available in the northern states as compared to the south. That is why I never came across pekasam before, except in a Malay proverb.

The array of ikan pekasam sold at Pekan Rabu includes ikan puyu, ikan sepat and ikan lampam

There's something new to be learnt everyday. Now if only someone can explain to me the `menyeluk sampai ke pangkal lengan' part...


D said...

Aah... lurve pekasam! Was introduced to it by sister's hubby (BIL) from Penang. Somehow, the smell of the ikan pekasam then made me understand the phrase 'Jangan buat pekasam sudah...' when referring to something which shouldn't be kept on the shelves, for eg taking phone numbers of old friends!

Madam Markonah said...

Pekasam is a regular in my household. We used to get our supply from the pekan minggu in cangkat jering but these days, they don't taste as good as they used to cause the later generation are not so good at making them. Now my mom gets her pekasam from a lady in my kampung whose mom makes one of the best pekasam I've ever tasted. Ikan lampan has always been our choice.

Masa kecik2, my sibblings and me used to fight over the crunchy serbuk so my mom always asked for extra serbuk when she bought pekasam. My 3-yr-old son tasted pekasam for the 1st time just 2 days ago and loved it! :-)

Madam Markonah said...

Oh by the way, about the proverb, from what I understand, dulu2 people used to ferment the pekasam in a tempayan. So I guess to get to the bottom of the tempayan, you have to reach way down, right? Hence, your "pangkal lengan" or ketiak would be at the rim of the tempayan.

Anonymous said...

Now I know how pekasam looks like.. Is the smell/taste similar to belacan,cencaluk or budu..??


VersedAnggerik said...

I hope U got yourself some pekasam!

Its absolutely delicious! Best giler!. My favourite food... especially beras goreng dia tu!

Tok Senek said...

tak berkesempatan singgah kat pekan rabu the last i went back to kedah. sori le ahan, lenkali ek

mamasita said...

I am going to use long ladles to get my pekasam fish in a tempayan..will never use my bare hands sampai above elbow! Smellllyyy...hehe

zafi said...

i cant miss buying pekasam, asam jawa and kerepek2 stuff at pekan Rabu a.k.a Che det nama baru... :P
Alluring nyer!

Oldstock said...


That's a useful phrase, `Jangan buat pekasam...' I might just use it soon.

Oldstock said...


From what I've heard from those who have tasted pekasam, everybody said it's delicious. Good to see that your son love the taste too.

Thanks for your explanation about the fermenting in a tempayan. It somewhat makes sense, although I still wonder why one would want to take the bottom-most layer first.

Oldstock said...


Sorry, can't tell you about the taste because I have not tried it before. According to my wife, it tastes somewhat like ikan kering except that it is not crispy but fleshy.

Going by that description, I'm sure it tastes good because I like ikan kering myself.

Oldstock said...


No, we didn't buy any. My wife has cooked pekasam before (given by my BIL some time back). She loved the taste but she couldn't eat much because the fish caused itchiness to her hands.

Oldstock said...

Tok snake,

Hang orang Kedah ka?

Oldstock said...


You have tempayans full of pekasam at home? Hmmmm...

Oldstock said...


You're Kedahan too? I can understand now why pekasam is popular, to the extent of being immortalised in a pepatah Melayu.

Nurie said...

Pekan rabu...where all the wonderful kuih melayu, kerepek, pekasam...are. I never miss to buy kuih karas when ever I visited pekan rabu(which was eons ago)

Pernah makan kuih karas tak? Sedap tau! Better than cakar ayam. (another phrase for u! he.. he...)

zafi said...

Well im not kedahan though... my mum from perlis... :P i did study my undergraduate in university in kedah... Aloq setaq was my playground! gegegegegeg !

Oldstock said...


When we were at Pekan Rabu, I saw this lady frying the kuih karas on the spot. She was using a tempurung kelapa that has holes in it. The tempurung has a handle and this handle is attached to a wire hanging from the ceiling.

She would pour the kuih mix into the tempurung and rotate the dripping mix into the frying pan with the aid of the hanging wire. Very traditional method, I must say. Pity I didn't take a pic.

And yes, kuih karas tu sedap.

Oldstock said...


Kira hang ni org utara jugak la no... study kat UUM Sintok. Have a friend who is a lecturer there.

Shadowthorne said...

?? Is the man allowed to shoot the shotgun? This is very new for me.