Etok Salai: The Shelled Goodness from Kelantan
Etok Salai, a cherished delicacy synonymous with the people of Kelantan, holds a special place in their hearts, particularly when paired with the beloved Nasi Kerabu. Etok (or sometimes called Etak) is a river bivalve mollusks, scientifically known as Corbiculacea. Etok can be cooked in various ways, such as gulai lemak putih (white creamy curry), singgang (lightly sauced), goreng berempah (spiced fried) and the most popular preparation – salai which means smoked.
Etok is a sweet and fatty shellfish that thrives in the bordering areas of fresh and saltwater. It can be found in shallow river waters, primarily in Kelantan, though it exists throughout the Peninsular Malaysia. In the past, there were plentiful Etok in the Kelantan rivers, but excessive sand mining has deepened the rivers, making it unsuitable for Etok to survive. As a result, Etok sold in Kelantan is nowadays sourced from Johor, Terengganu, Thailand, and Perak.
The process of making Etok Salai is a meticulous work that involves thorough cleaning the shellfish. Once cleaned, the Etok is marinated with a finely ground mixture of ingredients like salt, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, coriander, and fenugreek. Each Etok preparer has their own secret recipe, which adds a personal touch to their creation. Some even drift away from the traditional taste and experiment with weird flavours like BBQ, tomyam, paprika dan ‘cheese’.
After the Etok is marinated, the shellfish is then slowly smoked with firewood or coconut husks until cooked and ready to be eaten. When it comes to opening the Etok shell, one can use a small knife or its own shell. In Kelantan, locals have mastered the art of opening with their teeth, allowing them to fully experience the tantalizing blend of spices infused into the shell.
Etok Salai is often enjoyed as a snack, especially while leisurely watching TV or picnicking. Etok is belived to possess notable health benefits as it contributes to blood enrichment, being a clean organism that primarily feeds on green algae. It is also advised by fellow Etok Salai enjoyers to avoid drinking water (especially chilled water), immediately after consuming Etok, as it may cause discomfort in the stomach.
The preparation process for Etok Salai requires significant time and effort, from the meticulous cleaning process, to the innovative preparation of blended spices, to the learning curve of opening the shell. Whether paired with Nasi Kerabu or savoured as a standalone delicacy, the final product is well worth it. For enthusiasts of Etok Salai, there are numerous stalls located in Kelantan, particularly in Kampung Laut, Kasar, and Kedai Buluh, offering a variety of flavour options.