The Sarawakian who can tell male Terubok fish from female

Yusuf Morni at his stall at Medan Niaga Satok, Kuching.

KUCHING: Yusuf Morni is a familiar figure at Medan Niaga Satok here where he sells herring or Terubok fish, a “must-taste” in Sarawak.

He quit school at the age of 13 and started going to sea with his father to catch fish which they sold at the market.

“I have been running this business since I was 15. My passion is the Terubok fish,” said the 35-year-old. He is the fifth of seven siblings, five of whom, including him, are in the fish business.

Business starts as early as 7am and ends at 5pm. Yusuf has two stalls operating seven days a week which only close during the Hari Raya period.

“I have been selling Terubok fish to the extent that I know how to differentiate between males and females. The ones with curved tummies are females and the ones that have flat tummies are males,” he said.

Apart from selling fresh Terubok fish, Yusuf from Kampung Bintawa, Kuching, also sells salted Terubok fish which he gets from Thailand and also a local supplier in Asajaya.

He said it is unnecessary for the salted Terubok fish to be sun-dried. Besides being less salty, they can last for more than six months as long as they are properly cleaned.

“People think that we soak them in salt water but we don’t do that. All you have to do is to remove its gills and guts and rub it with fine salt,” he said.

Yusuf said the fresh Terubok fish taste best when steamed with black beans or “asam keping”. The salted Terubok fish, he said, could be fried with some lime juice added to it.

“The Terubok fish eggs can also be used as a food flavour enhancer for porridge. You don’t need to add soy sauce into your porridge. Some people prefer to steam it in a rice cooker and mix it with lime juice,” he said, adding that there is a high demand for Terubok fish eggs from people in Brunei.

The price of the Terubok fish depends on its size. The imported ones are usually cheaper than the local ones.

Yusuf Morni comparing local and imported salted Terubok fish.

A small local salted Terubok fish is priced at RM15 apiece. The medium-sized ones go for RM20 while the bigger fish cost between RM30 and RM40.

“The price of a large imported Terubok fish is about RM10. You can get two average-sized imported Terubok fish for RM10 and three smaller ones for RM10.

“The local Terubok fish is slightly expensive compared with the ones imported from Thailand due to its seasonality. The local Terubok fish can be found mostly between the months of April and October. The peak season would be from June to August,” he said, adding that the price would increase on normal days.

Because the Terubok fish cannot be found in Sabah and the peninsula, Yusuf receives a lot of customers from these places during the December school holidays.

“I also have Sarawakian customers who reside in countries such as Australia, Holland, New Zealand and Dubai,” he said, adding that he could earn up to RM5,000 a day during school holidays and festive seasons.

Visitors from Sabah and the peninsula buy salted Terubok fish in bulk because it is “one of the must-taste local food apart from the Sarawak layered-cake”, he said.

“The package must be sealed properly and can last for a week. So far, no customers or airlines have ever complained about the smell,” he said.