Giant Grouper, the ultimate seafood of Sabah
Local gluttonous eaters love giant grouper, not because of its quantity but the great taste. Giant grouper is known as Ikan Keratang locally and the largest bony fish lives in the tropical sea up to 100 Metres deep. Some thinks giant grouper is a normal grouper that grows oversized when it gets older. In fact, Giant Grouper is just a big fish (Species: Epinephelus lanceolatus) under grouper family.
Giant Grouper can grow up to 2.7 Metres in length, weighs over 400 Kg and live more than 50 years old. The largest record of giant grouper in Sabah is the one captured in Lahad Datu in 2011, which is 2.286 Metres long (7.5 feet) and weighs 204 Kg. This fish is so huge that it freaks out our scuba divers sometimes, as its big mouth seems to be able to swallow a man in one gulp. Luckily, human isn’t on its food menu. Instead, it is a delicacy to seafood lovers.
Pic: this giant grouper is over 150 Kg in weight (might cost over USD3,000)!
Westerners who love tuna may not know giant grouper very well. However, giant grouper is a highly sought after seafood by local and overseas Chinese. Each Kg can cost over RM65 (≈USD20). Chinese calls Giant Grouper as 鲈趸 (Lú dǔn).
Giant Grouper is abundant in the sea of Lahad Datu and Semporna at east caost of Sabah. Due to overfishing, huge giant grouper is getting rare now, as most of them are caught before they can grow big. That’s why it is listed as a vulnerable species by IUCN.
Kedai Makan Gembira (大家乐茶餐室)
The funny thing is, I never tried giant grouper (since it is expensive and not always available in seafood restaurant). Thanks to Tisha and Simon from Bike and Tours, I got the first taste of giant grouper in Kedai Makan Gembira, a coffee shop in outskirt of Lahad Datu.
Two months ago, after cycling around Lahad Datu, Tisha suggested to have lunch at Kedai Makan Gembira.
Kedai Makan Gembira means “Eat Happily Shop”, even their dog also looks so happy lol.
Then we found out the shop was close on Monday, but Tisha kept on persuading the owner to open the shop for us. I was wandering why we didn’t go somewhere else for lunch, as there were many other restaurants opened in town.
Guess what was waiting for us? Jenny, the shop owner, looks so small next to the giant grouper!
The whole fish is edible and no part is wasted, from the meat, skin, scales, head, belly, gut, fin, maw, liver to its mouth. You may have the fish steamed, fried, stewed, etc. You choose it.
Pic: the shop was empty as it was off day. I felt like a VIP booking the whole place.
Check out the big fish scales of giant grouper. (Oh, I need to clean my fingernails) :-p
The food menu of the coffee shop. Nevermind if you can’t read Chinese. They can explain it to you. Basically it’s giant grouper served in different way. For example, you can have the fish with soup or noodle.
Pic: fish lip soup
We started with the fish lip soup. From its nice color, I already could tell it was yummy.
Pic: close-up of the fish lip
The fish lip got some meat and not bony at all. The soup is thick with fleshy flavor. The meat tasted fresh, tender and “creamy”. A surprise, because the meat of big fishes are usually harder and coarse.
Jenny is such a good cook. The more I ate, the more I wanted, the quicker I ate, as if I was starving for days.
Pic: fish head soup, the signature dish of this shop.
When I was still enjoying the fish lip soup, the fish head soup came. Real foodies always aim for the fish head and belly. They say these are the parts where the best taste of seafood concentrated. Personally I think fish head is too fishy, but this one is not. The ginger and green onion remove the excessive fishy smell, and the tomato and a bit of Chinese wine enhance the sweetness of fish, making it more appetizing.
Look at the translucent fish lips and skin, they are so rich in collagen. I bet I’ll look 10 years younger if I eat these every day, haha!
Besides giant grouper, I also tried their Kam Hiong Tiger Prawn (甘香老虎虾 in Chinese). This dish smelled really good because of the curry spices. The tiger prawns are mildly spicy, sweet and chewy, another must try.
Fried fish egg, my favorite always! Whenever I eat fish, I’m super happy to see even a small pieces of fish eggs comes with it. Seeing so many big chunks of fried fish eggs really made my mouth shivering due to excitement.
Jenny also cooked some stir-fried organic vegetable for us. Crunchy.
Pic: The shop also serves freshwater eel (黄鳝 in Chinese) that looks like snake. Many don’t dare to eat it, but eel is one of the best food for regeneration of cells, great for healing wound.
Below is the contact of Kedai Makan Gembira if you want to try the “ultimate seafood”. Please note that giant grouper is not a common caught, so it is not always available in the shop. To avoid disappointment, call them to check before you visit.
Address (See location map): Batu 4, Sandakan Highways, Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia.
Tel: +60 16-8897761, +60 13-5439468 (Jenny Wong)
Opening Hours: Tue – Sun: 6:30am – 5pm
Kedai Makan Gembira Serves No Pork.
Photos taken in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo