Assam Pedas Town
By KF Seetoh - Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013
I do not know much about this place, except what they say online. That it is once known for the production of charcoals, hence its old malay name, Arang. It also attracted a lot of Chinese miners to its tin mining businesses back then, but the British governors then had better ideas and turned it into a port. So the unimaginative senior government official then, Sir John Federick Dickson, named it… Port Dickson. Population, about 100,000.
The reason I made this “uncharted” trip up recently was to see how a friend turned a little piece of land into a dinosaur and adventure park, complete with all terrain vehicle rides around life sized T-Rex in the “wild.” Of course the real reason was to makan. I wanted to check out this charming, sleepy (especially on weekdays) town almost forgotten by many Singaporeans. “It’s been over thirty years since I last visited,” said some friends and many remembered going there as kids a few decades ago. I had to find out what this little town has to offer by way of memorable gastronomic offerings. I knew I could fall back on the blessed verdant beaches and idyllic little resorts dotted all over her coastline should nothing moreish materialise for me.
I took a ride out of the main town and about 13 km away, stood a little eatery. It was one of the many makan establishments there that offered this dish. Usually, you would find them in the menu, not as a proud signature icon in the signboard. It seems Port Dickson is quietly making a name for itself over this dish and if you care to notice, there are at least a dozen places specialising in this dish.
You can tell this particular stall started quite humbly as a food shed, but now have fancy surf board signages touting — Assam Pedas. These kind of words always catch my attention. The place could sit about 200 people and it packs them in each day, especially on weekends. A long row of muslim style “chye png” or nasi campur dishes are laid out. You pick all these “side” dishes which can include nangka curry (jackfruit core), sambal tempeh, sayur lodeh, grilled little mackerels, salted eggs, raw salads, stir fried bean sprouts, about 30 items in all, and slap them over your plate of hot steaming rice. Then, the staff asks the magical question, “assam pedas mau apa?” or what sour spicy fish or meat would you like. They rattle off in quick and smooth succession of “tengiri, pari, mayong, daging tetel, cencaru, kembong, merah…” which I narrowed down to two, “pari and cencaru, please.”
They cook this separately a la minute and it’s served almost drowned in a bowl of the richest, spiciest, sourish, salty and heat laden assam pedas I’ve ever had. Very different from the Nonya style. It comes very thick, fired up with a complex rempah, tanged with tamarind and stung with lots of dried chilli powder. Basking in that sour curry, was the fishes I ordered — a slice of stingray and cencaru (hardtail fish).
I knew the first thing I had to do was to spoon the assam pedas gravy into the system – just to put it on alert. The rich spices, heat from the chilli, tang and saltiness said “have it with some rice please.” I did and it did not fail me. My other side dishes — tempeh, bean sprouts and nangka curry were relegated to dull reserves waiting for unwarranted praises each time I flipped over the assam pedas curry.
My only gripe was that I wished the fishes weren’t as overcooked as it was. Although it was fresh, the texture did not do it for me. Perhaps it was because we went late (past 2pm) and the seafood had already been sitting too long in the pot. But nevertheless, I came for the assam pedas and it delivered.
Assam Pedas Kasih Ibu
Batu 7, Jalan Simpang Pantai,
Telok Kemang, 71050
Port Dickson , Malaysia
Tel: +6012 3245710