Billions of these little fishes are
continually being caught, dried, salted, made into fish sauce and other
fish products. They are also cooked freshly caught, the main
disadvantage being that there is considerable cleaning and preparation
as each fish is no bigger than 12 cm (5 in) and most of them are much
smaller. These small fishes are sometimes loosely labeled sprats, a name
applied to any small fish.
Most people prefer the very small ones
because when they are dipped in seasoned flour and deep fried, even the
bones become meltingly crisp. One variety of tiny fish with a silvery
stripe running the length of the body is sold dried in packets labeled
ikan bilis or ikan teri. They make a delicious snack, deep
fried with peanuts and sprinkled with a touch of chili powder and sugar.
Fresh anchovies have white flesh and it is
only after salting and leaving for at least a month that they develop
the red color and special taste that one associates with fermented
anchovies in jars or cans.
Anchovies are processed by marinating the
fish in a mixture of salt and vinegar for 1 to 2 hours, until they are
soft and juicy, then mix well with the brown sugar and add the kao koi
(uncooked rice which has been toasted in a dry pan and then pounded to a
powder while still hot) and galingale (galangal). Let the preparation
mature in a sterilized glass container for 3 to 4 months, or until the
anchovies turn brown, with a clear liquid formed on top and a good aroma
arising from the brew.
When you come to eat these preserved
anchovies, season them with finely cut lemon grass, young ginger, spring
onion, tamarind juice (made by squeezing fully ripe tamarind fruit with
warm water until it turns into a brownish liquid), a little sugar and
lime juice to taste.