Baby Turtles and Catfish

25 Oct

Last month, I tagged along with Tom on a trip to a BP-sponsored turtle sanctuary, Ma’Daerah, in Terengganu, on Malaysia’s east coast. The trip was part of a community service project by the interns at his office, who chaperoned kids from Nur Salam (a shelter for at-risk kids, many of them refugees); for a lot of the kids, it was their first trip outside of an urban environment. We got lucky and saw two hatchings, plus two nesting turtles, who were less than amused to have their egg-laying observed by a gaggle of humans. Baby turtles are probably one of the cutest marine creatures out there, which makes it all the more heart-breaking that the survival rate is a shockingly low 1 in 1,000. Having no natural defenses, they’re basically adorable snacks for marine predators. To make matters worse, turtle eggs are considered a delicacy in many countries, including Malaysia, where, shockingly, there is still no ban on the sale of eggs. (Not to worry: no turtles nor their eggs were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

Baby turtle!

Ma’Daerah is close enough to reach by car from KL, and along the way, we stopped for dinner in Temerloh, which is famous for its freshwater fish, especially patin, a kind of catfish. The rest stop we parked at — don’t laugh: some of the best food in Malaysia can be found at rest stops — had stall after stall offering ikan patin masak tempoyak, or patin cooked with tempoyak.

Ikan patin masak tempoyak. Tastes better than it looks.

What’s tempoyak, you might ask? It’s fermented durian. Seeing as durian is already quite pungent on its own, I couldn’t imagine what it would smell like after fermentation. Judging from this dish, though, tempoyak might be actually be less potent than durian in its fresh glory. The broth was rich, with a mellow funkiness, and I can say that the patin is justifiably famous: the meat is delicate but savory, without any of the muddiness one normally associates with catfish. 

The communal pot of patin soup

So if you’re ever in Malaysia during turtle-hatching season, go visit a turtle sanctuary, coo over some adorable (if doomed) baby turtles, and stop in Temerloh for some patin with tempoyak. You’ll be glad you did.

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2 Responses to “Baby Turtles and Catfish”

  1. Nate @ House of Annie October 31, 2012 at 10:29 am #

    What a wonderful opportunity to see these turtles nesting and hatching. I hope I get a chance to go.

    Tempoyak is an awesome ingredient to cook with. I like it very much.

  2. cat_on_a_stick December 19, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    I was looking forward to a post describing the exquisite taste of baby turtles!

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