Wednesday, October 26, 2005In my younger days in Merang, Terengganu, nobody sells seashells by the seashore or anywhere else. If you feel like having seashells for lunch or dinner, you go get them yourself.
During the long monsoon, we did not have fresh fish unless we go fishing for freshwater fish. We did not have the luxury of fridges or good roads where fishes from non-monsoon seas can come rolling on vans or small lorries. We had to make do with eggs, dried fish, fermented fish (ikang jerok) with the suspicious smell of carbide or sardines in cans (Morjon brand, from South Africa). We had live chickens in the gok (chicken coop) but chickens were usually reserved for special occasions, like when visitors drop by for meals. When we get fed up with this fare we put on our kain sahhang and headed for the beach for remis-picking.
Remis (see pic) or if you prefer its scientific name Pacific Bean donax Donax faba lurks in the sand at the water's edge. When the waves come and withdraw, you can see the remis upright in the soft sand with part of their flesh sticking out like miniature sails. You have to mark the spot before the remis disappear into the sand. Then you use your feet to locate them. Do this a few hundred times and you will get a basketful of remis for lunch or dinner. Remis are usually cooked in their shell as soups. Sometimes they are stir-fried with vegetables. There are not many things you can do with remis although I came across a recipe for spaghetti using remis flesh.
Another shellfish used as a break from the usual monsoon fare is lokan (Polymesoda expansa). Lokan is far bigger than remis, some are as big as an adult palm and with thicker and heavier shells. They lie in the thick black mud of slow moving rivers. If you chance upon a group of people waist-deep in the middle of Sungai Setiu, chances are they are looking for lokan. Chances are most of them, even the women, would sport a temporary moustache. They would squish the river bed with their feet. Upon feeling a lokan, they would use their hands to dislodge the mollusc from the black mud. Their face would be underwater for a brief moment. Then they would wipe their mouth with their hand, leaving a black mark. It is like the "You Got Milk" ads, only it is black. Anyway, it has been ages since I had lokan so I have forgotten how they are cooked apart from being fried with longbeans. You are welcomed to refresh my memory.
The shell of a certain sea snail is also used, among other things, to gloss songkets. Songkets are usually silk cloth woven with gold threads. They are rarely washed. To make them look crisp and shiny again after the last raya, they are sent to Tukang Gruh. I remember one at one end of Paya Tok Ber. Somehow, he did his work at his front door. He had a long pole fixed to the beam of the door frame. The end of the pole nearest to the floor was buried in a big shiny conch shell. This shell would be drawn and rubbed vigorously over the songket to give the cloth that ironed look. How did they come up with this idea? What did they use to subsitute the conch in places far away from the sea like Kuala Brang? Did they use tortoise shells?