Empurau: The Most Expensive and Unforgetable Fish in Malaysia
Empurau is best known as the most expensive fish in Malaysia. It has many other names like Kelah, Semah or Pelian and the nickname of “King of the River”. In Mandarin, Empurau is transliterated to 忘不了 Wang Bu Liao or “unforgettable”, a fun word play about its unforgettably high price.
Residing in freshwater environments, Empurau thrives in swift, crystal-clear rivers with cool temperatures and clean rocky bottoms. This omnivorous fish has a diverse palate, feasting on crustaceans, insects, frogs, smaller fish, algae, and even fruits.
While Empurau can be found in other Asian countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia, it is the specimens from the rivers of Sarawak that fetch the highest prices. This is attributed to their unique diet, consisting of Sarawak’s native fruits such as ensurai, dabai, kepayang, ara, and engkabang, which fall into the river. As a result, Empurau from Sarawak possesses an unparalleled fruity, sweet, and creamy flesh, making it incredibly sought after.
Empurau also has a very slow growth rate. It takes approximately two years for it to reach a mere 1-2 kg and another year to reach 3-5 kg, contributing to its elevated price. Empurau weighing less than 2 kg can cost around RM400 per kg, while those surpassing 4 kg can fetch prices of up to RM2000 per kg. Additionally, there are two varieties of Empurau: red and white, with the former commanding a higher price.
To fully appreciate the delicate flavour and texture of Empurau, it is typically enjoyed steamed or even in its raw form. Chefs make clever use of the fish’s edible scales, frying them with spices and seasonings to create a delectable snack reminiscent of potato chips.
Unfortunately, the population of wild Empurau has been dwindling in recent years due to overfishing driven by high demand and habitat loss resulting from pollution and deforestation. In response, various organizations have been diligently exploring ways to recreate the fish’s ideal environment and diet in fish farms, aiming to replenish its numbers.
While Empurau dishes can be savoured in select high-end restaurants and seafood establishments across Malaysia, particularly in Sarawak, its exclusivity and scarcity contribute to its allure and make it an extraordinary culinary indulgence.