KAPIT, Nov 14 — About a week ago, there was a shocking case of a floating seafood restaurant in Langkawi, Kedah charging more than RM1,000 for a 7.48-kg ‘siakap’ (sea bass) fish dish.
However, not many people know that in Sarawak, there is one of the most expensive fish species in Malaysia.
The empurau, or Tor tambroides, which is known as the “King of the River” in Sarawak, has a high commercial value and can fetch anything from RM800 to RM1,000 per kg.
The exotic fish is expensive because it feeds on fruits found on the riverbanks such as ‘engkabang’ which is the fish’s staple, giving it a fatty taste as well as a distinctive fragrant aroma when cooked.
The wild empurau fish, also called ‘emas Borneo’ (Borneo river gold), lives in clean, cool, clear and fast-flowing river habitats with rocky riverbeds and will migrate if their habitats become polluted.
When met by Bernama, empurau trader Loh Hoe Hua said he usually gets his supplies from those who are lucky to catch the fish in rivers such as Sungai Rajang, Sungai Baram and Sungai Baleh.
With more than 10 years of experience in selling empurau fish and other Sarawak river fish species such as semah, baung, tapah and tengadak, he said the empurau was always in high demand from restaurant operators and dignitaries who come all the way from Kuching and Kuala Lumpur just to buy the fish because it is difficult to find, given its slow-growing and seasonal reproductive rate.
Usually, empurau fish weighing more than three or four kg are sold at a higher price because the flesh is dense and chewy, he added.
During the interview, Loh also showed off an 8.2-kg empurau fish with a price tag of almost RM7,000 that had been frozen and waiting to be sold to a buyer from Kuching.
Besides being able to see the empurau fish up close and have the opportunity to taste a steamed fish, there is no denying that it tastes very different from other fish — chewy, fatty, slightly sweet and smells quite fragrant — making it an exclusive dish.
Currently, there are companies that have started breeding and conducting research on empurau fish widely with the assistance of the Sarawak Agriculture Department, in line with the state government’s goal of transforming the agriculture, fisheries and livestock sectors to become more productive and modern.
To date, the Sarawak government, led by Gabungan Parti Sarawak, has allocated RM265 million for the Agriculture Facilitation Fund to help improve the skills of the three sectors.