Cuti 1 Januari lalu, aku sebenarnya ke Sungai Besar. Isteriku mengajak jalan ke sana nak kenal Pekan Sungai Besar yang kononnya ‘murah’ dengan kain pakaian serta tudung. Dari rumah perjalanan kira sejauh 85km dan aku juga sempat membeli beberapa keperluan Surau Al-Hidayah seperti kain baner dan tikar plastik untuk solat Jumaat. Kira murah juga berbanding di Bandar Baru Sungai Buloh.
Dalam perjalanan balik, kami sunggah di gerai tepi jalan yang menjual mentarang di Sekinchan. Apa dia menatang ni ? Masa perjalanan pergi pun sudah kelihatan iklan serta gerai-gerai menjual mentarang. Itu yang pasang niat, nak beli masa balik nanti. Bila singgah tengok ‘binatangnya’ agak pelik sikit.
Menurut penjual tu ( tidakku tanya pulak namanya ), ‘Ini rezeki kami lepas tsunami. Sebelum ini ada sikit-sikit, tetapi kini banyak’. Aku tanya lagi, makan macamana ?’. ’Buat macam masakan kerang aje bang’, katanya. Besar sikit daripada lala, tapi memanjang, kerangnya kasar dan terkeluar macam lidah daripada badannya. Terasa geli pulak. Isteriku beli 2kg dengan rega RM 7 sekilogram. Banyak juga …
Bila buat sedikit penyelidikan, ada beberapa perkara menarik mengenai mentarang ni. Sebelum ini dikatakan banyak di patai Perlis. Tetapi sejak tsunami melanda pada Disember 2004, mentarang atau nama saintifiknya Pholas Sp. boleh didapati di sekitar pesisir pantai di kawasan Jeram, Kuala Selangor hingga ke Tanjung Karang dengan banyaknya. Mentarang di dalam lumpur sedalam 50 cm dari permukaan dan biasanya didapati pada jarak 300 meter hingga setengah batu dari pesisir pantai. Untuk memperolehinya terpaksa dengan mengorek lumpur tersebut apabila bila air laut surut.
Kehadiran mentarang dikatakan menjadi petunjuk bahawa rupabumi dasar laut telah berubah setelah kejadian tsunami yang meranapkan Acheh. Di sebalik kesengsaraaan akibat tsunami, nampaknya ianya memberikan rezeki kepada para nelayan atau pencari mentarang.
Sampai rumah, isteriku terus membasuh mentarang dan membilas beberapa kali dengan air. Sebabnya, aku lihat mentarang agak berlumpur. Kalau kerang, tijah ( istilah Besut ) dan kupang tu memang biasa dengan rasanya. Tapi ketika itu aku tidak dapat membayangkan rasanya bagaimana. Kemudian isteriku pun masak ’rebus steam’ macam yang dibuat ke atas kerang or kupang tu.
Sambil isteriku mengopek kulitnya kulit mentarang untuk mengeluarkan isi, dia merasanya. Sedap katanya. Aku masih lagi ’ragu-ragu’. Kelihatan seperti isi kepah tapi bentuknya memanjang. Anakku kata, ’terasa masih berlumpurlah Umi’.
Keesokan pagi isteriku masukkan mentarang yang telah dikopek kulitnya ke dalam nasi goreng. Aku cuba merasanya …. alamak !!! Aku tak dapat nak menahannya, lalu ku muntahkan semula. Nasi goreng tu tak dapat ku habiskan. Sorry my dear, I can not take it. Nampaknya memang bukan selera aku. ‘Kalau takde sapa yang makan, bagi kat kuching ajelah’, kata isteriku. Anak bungsuku pun macam tak larat nak makan.
Aku tidak dapat membayangkan bagaimana mentarang dikatakan dijadikan juadah istimewa dengan pelbagai jenis masakan oleh restoran-restoran besar di sekitar Sekinchan dan Sabak Bernam. Malahan dikatakan orang Jepun dan Singapura pun suka. Takpelah, biarlah pengenalan menu mentarang di restoran itu secara tidak langsung membantu penduduk tempatan menambahkan pendapatan mereka daripada hasil jualan mentarang.
Berikut adalah kisah mentarang sebagaimana tersiar dalam akhbar The Star pada 3 Januari 2009.
By ROSE YASMIN KARIM
Gathering mentarang from thick sludge under the glaring sun is hard work, but collecting the bounty of the sea can be rewarding. I EASED my car onto the sandy shoulder of a beach that ran along Sekinchan, Selangor. At low tide, the flats reach out 300m or more before the sea laps the shore. In this muddy terrain, the mentarang is highly sought after.
These whitish shellfish, which are about the length of an index finger (but which can grow to the size of a cellphone), burrow deep in the mud to escape predators – crabs, birds, and people like Amran Samudi, 30, who make a living harvesting them. Amran’s activity depends on the tides. When the water recedes during low tide and land is reclaimed momentarily from the sea, Amran glides over the sludge and treads the shallow water to collect mentarang to sell at his roadside stall.I managed to coax him to take me along to work. Still, he wanted to be sure I was really up for it.
The treacherous territory can pull one down like quicksand, he warned. “Some years back a television crew came here to shoot footage of the villagers collecting mentarang. Halfway through, the host had to be dragged back to shore on a plastic board because she was too exhausted to walk back through the mud. Still want to come along?” Amran asked.
Since my rubber football boots had been laced and I had driven all the way out here, there was no turning back. So, armed with a pair of gloves and a plastic container roped to our waists, Amran and I made out way out to sea to join the rest of the mentarang collectors. When the water reached our thighs, we knelt down and scooped about in the mud.
“Digging for mentarang is all about feeling for them, not seeing them. Even when we go out at night, we don’t use lamps because we don’t need the light,” Amran explained.
Using his upper body, Amran dug his hands into the bottom and pulled the mud towards his chest. “When you feel something, chances are it’s mentarang,” he said. I got a little bit too excited when I felt my first mentarang and roughly yanked it out, breaking its fragile shell.
“We can’t sell the ones with brokens shells, but they’re still good to eat. We’ll have that cooked later,” Amran said. I rinsed off the mud, and proudly deposited the shellfish into my bucket.
Unlike fishing, you don’t have to be quiet when hunting mentarang. The collectors were indeed a noisy bunch, laughing and merrily teasing each other as they dug around under the blazing sun. “A few more rounds of this and your hair will be in tight curls,” one of them joked.
Some collect mentarang full time, like Amran, while others do it to supplement their income from working fruit orchards, freshwater prawn farms or trapping birds. On a good day Amran can bring home 40kg.
Mentarang, according to him, can be found along the shores of Pantai Remis all the way to Tanjong Karang. Apparently, it was only seven years ago that the locals learned of this shellfish’s existence.
“After the tsunami, there were more mentarang than usual,” Amran recalled. He said mentarang were first harvested in Kuala Perlis but the supply there had started to dwindle. “Nowadays, even the sellers from there come to buy from us.”
“Do you come across other marine life, while you’re looking for mentarang?” I asked. “There are mostly small crabs and other shellfish. You want to watch out for sea snakes, crabs, caterpillars, and eels, though,” he cautioned.
Gulp. I scraped hard at the muddy bottom to distract from thoughts of eels worming its way through my pants.
“Once you’re done with that spot, you can move on to a new area,” Amran hollered. After an hour or so, we had a formidable haul and Amran decided it was time to go back. He dragged both his and my container, while I carried a mentarang-filled net over my shoulder. Despite the heavy load, Amran beat both the photographer Glenn, and myself, to the shore, gliding effortlessly across the muddy terrain. By now, I was caked in mud – it was in my hair, ears, shirt, pants, and socks. I couldn’t wipe myself with the back of the hands without smearing on more of the muck. The mud here was salty and it tasted like shellfish.
My shoes were like two bricks. It felt like I was walking in a steel-toed Dr Martens boots, but five times heavier. What I needed was a good hose-down, but all we had were two two-litre bottles between the three of us. “Go clean up in the puddles first. Later, you can have a proper wash behind those bushes,” Amran urged. Waiting for us at the stall close to their home in Parit 8, Sungai Leman, were Amran’s wife, Rosnah Basri, and their three kids. Our freshly-caught mentarang were soaked in water to remove the grime before they were arranged on the counter. “We sell them in two sizes. The big ones is RM8 per kg and the smaller ones are priced at RM7. It’s easier to eat the bigger ones but the smaller ones are more tender,” Rosmah opined.
“The deeper you dig into the mud, the bigger the mentarang. And what we have noticed is that from the 30th to the 3rd day of the Muslim calendar, the mentarang we get are larger,” commented Amran.
Most of the customers, he added, were locals who live out of town. “We also have some curious first-timers who will keep coming back,” Rosnah chipped in. The mentarang are normally sold out on the day itself but unsold mollusks are kept in a tank where they can last up to two weeks. Some days, the couple also sells cockles. “We price it at RM1 a kg but it’s always the mentarang that gets snapped up first.”
Rosnah then showed me the trick to de-shelling the mentarang. Pointing to a tiny latch on the shell, she said: “Once you remove this piece, it’s easy to separate the shell and scoop out the flesh. To remove the sand and grit when cooking, I half-boil the mentarang first.” Her children, she said, liked them best coated with eggs and flour, and fried KFC-style.
The mentarang is a versatile ingredient. “You can also sauté them whole with ginger and onions, or simply boil them with a seasoning of salt and lemongrass. It has been said that gout patients can benefit from eating steamed mentarang,” Rosnah informed me.
While Rosnah, her daughter Intan Azra Shahira, 11, and I de-shelled the broken mentarang, her two sons Muhd Fat-hi Amrin, 11, and Luqman Hakkem, seven, happily cast their lines and reeled in freshwater fish from a ditch behind the stall that had many lotus flowers.
The bait? Mentarang, of course.
Later, Amran stayed back to man the stall while the rest of us went for a late lunch at a restaurant nearby. It was pretty laidback here, for the staff didn’t seem to be in any sort of a hurry. It took a whole hour before our dishes finally arrived. Rosnah had ordered mentarang soup, mentarang paprik, fried mentarang and mentarang tiga rasa (three-flavoured mentarang). I liked the simplicity of the mentarang soup, which was cooked in its own juice with chillies and onions. But whatever way they were cooked, I liked them – the chewy texture and earthy flavour, somewhere between cockles and lala.
However, the dishes were a bit gritty because the cook didn’t clean the mentarang of impurities. As we ate, Rosnah pulled out something stringy and translucent from a mentarang and said, “People with a delicate stomach should remove this jelly because it might upset their stomach. It doesn’t bother me or the kids, though, so we eat it whole.”
That day had been an eventful one, and I went away with three important lessons: that cute tiny crabs really can pinch; that my tummy can handle the gooey bits of the mentarang; that persistence and hard work pays even when one is mucking about – provided one knows what one is doing.