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Have You Heard About The Most Expensive Fish In Malaysia? Empurau Who?

Have You Heard About The Most Expensive Fish In Malaysia? Empurau Who?

One Empurau can cost roughly around RM1k for the normal ones and can go up to RM15k for the big and wild ones.

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What’s an Empurau?

Empurau or Tor Tambroides, is considered to be the most expensive freshwater fish in Malaysia and is only found in the rivers of Sarawak, mainly in the Kapit and Hulu Rajang areas. Also known as the “King of the River”, this fish has a high commercial value and can cost from RM800 to RM1,500 per kg. It could also reach up to RM2,000 per kg according to its size and where it was caught.

(Credit: Fernando Fong / TRP)

In Chinese, it is also called “Wang Bu Liao”, which means unforgettable, mainly because of its superior taste and of course, hefty price tag.

The fish is actually a type of Mahseer fish or Ikan Kelah, as the Peninsular Malaysians call it. Kelah fishes are mainly found in India, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia but the most expensive ones are thought to come from the rivers of Borneo Island, such as the Rajang, Baleh, Baram, Katibas and Balui rivers.

(Credit: Illuminasi)

There are two types of Empurau, the white and red Empurau with different lengths and flesh texture. It is said that the White Empurau ones are shorter and tastier than the red ones but both are well-sought after if they’re more than 3kg as the flesh is firmer. Smaller Empuraus have a higher fat content, making the texture too soft and they are usually left to mature for quite some time to reach a good criteria.

How much does it usually cost?

According to The Borneo Post, in 2016, a giant Empurau fish weighing 7.9 kg from the Baleh River was sold for RM7,900. Mind-blowing?

Well, hear this, just a year before in 2015, a 27 kg Empurau from the Katibas River was sold for RM15,000! The price of a single fish could even pay off your student debt loans. Thus, this fish is undoubtedly a very popular culinary staple among the T20s and is usually served in hotels or luxury restaurants.

Just this year in February, a Singaporean influencer even featured the fish in her TikTok, saying that she paid around SGD1,000+ (RM3,300+) for this fish when she had it in Sibu.

Well, it’s no wonder the fish can easily be sold for thousands during the Chinese New Year period. Unforgettable one, what!

@kerrynlee SGD1000+ for a fishThe most expensive fish ever in my lifeHock Chu Leu Sibu Sarawak #malaysia #travel #tiktoksg #tiktokmy #sgfoodie #sibu #sarawak #statos #statossg #fish #yummy #empurau #empurausarawak #visitsarawak #eastmalaysia #fyp #sg She Share Story (for Vlog) – 山口夕依

Why so expensive, though? Here’s why

There are a few factors attributing to the price of this fish, which are the natural diet of the fish and the struggle to capture it.

The Sarawak Butter Diet

Well, the Empurau from the Sarawak Rivers usually has a distinct taste when cooked due to their particular diet. They are said to taste creamy, savoury, a little sweet and fragrantly fruity. The texture is said to be really tender, melts in your mouth and is very juicy.

The fatty and fruity taste comes from their main diet of fallen fruits from local trees at the riverbanks. One particular fruit is the “Engkabang” fruit or “windmill fruit”.

The Enkabang fruit is also called the Helicopter fruit for its seed dispersal method.
(Credit: JamesJG, BorneoTalk)

The fruit has wings that carry it a distance in the air from the tree after falling. Engkabang fruits or also known as the “Tree Butter of Sarawak” are used traditionally in cooking (especially rice), as it has an oily and buttery taste.

Furthermore, the tree only fruits every four to five years or so, making it a rare occasion, which further dictates the increasing price of the fish that consumes it.

Hard to catch

Apart from its unique diet that gives this fish its distinct flavour, the Empurau fish is very hard to catch in the wild. They are usually found upstream in fast-flowing rivers with tricky riverbeds and will migrate if their habitat is polluted.

(Credit: Borneo / Facebook)

They also take a long time to fully mature, almost three years, and only those weighing 3 kg and above are worthy to be sold because of their chewy and dense flesh as mentioned before.

Undoubtedly, the wild ones will cost higher but with pollution depleting their habitat and the market supply increasing, these fish are also cultivated agriculturally, with the help of the Sarawak Agriculture Department.

(Credit: Bagajo Kananbana Limo / Facebook)

Besides that, this fish is also well-known globally, especially among Chinese culinary aficionados and the VIPS. According to Bernama, non-Malaysian parties also took the initiative to breed this fish internationally. One such country is Hong Kong, where they are fed fruits such as avocados. Empurau also has a high demand in countries like Taiwan, Singapore, and China.

How are they served?

Empurau fish are usually steamed with their scales intact to further preserve the juiciness and texture of the flesh. They can also be served roasted but people enjoy the taste of the fish better steamed in a soup.

(Credit: Johor Kaki Tony / Blog)

As every part of the fish is valuable, no part goes to waste. if they are not steamed together, the scales of the fish are deep-fried with seasonings and turned into crispy curled chips, which are usually served as crunchy tasty appetizers.

(Credit: Johor Kaki Tony / Blog)

What else should we know about it?

Besides Empurau, there’s also another fish in Sarawak that’s also popular and expensive, which is the Ikan Semah. The Semah fish is the official fish of Sarawak and it is also an alternative to those seeking the Empurau fish due to its soft texture, although it is quite cheaper. Besides steaming and roasting it, this fish is popularly made into a jerky called pekasam.

Semah Fish (left) and the jerky made from it (right).
(Credit: Umpan)

Fun Fact: Did you know that in the Sumatra area of Indonesia, Empurau is considered sacred? Bad juju will happen to those who eat it without permission.

According to I Love Borneo, even though they cost a fortune to be eaten in Malaysia, in most places in West Sumatera, especially to those with Minang blood, they believe that whoever catches the Empurau fish will fall ill, die or suffer from bloatedness. The fish can only be eaten after a few months or when they mature, or as soon as religious bodies give their green light.

So, now you know how rare this type of fish is in Malaysia and how precious it is worldwide. Next time you make your way to Sarawak with a few thousand to spare, stop by the famous restaurants in Sibu for this kayangan fish.

READ MORE: Things You Must Know Before Ordering Fish At A Restaurant

READ MORE: The ‘Fruit Basket’ Of Sarawak Has Weird Fruit You Can’t Get Elsewhere

READ MORE: The Iban & Dusun Said These Fruits Were Two Distinct Species But Westerners Didn’t Listen Until Proven Wrong

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