Villages abound in Malaysia. One of the more well-known villages that we have is Kampung Baru or New Village, which is situated in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Due to its prime location, developers have been wooing residents of the Malay enclave, however elders in the village have resisted. So far.
I’ve never been to Kampung Baru but I’ve only driven past it on the myriad highways that surround this village established in the 1900s. Friends who have, tell me that it’s a typical Malay village, wooden houses and all.
And apparently, this humble village, which began as a pastoral community way back when, is now a food hub as well. Guess I better plan a trip there soon!
If I didn’t have any access to pictures and was asked to describe what an ulam (oo-lam) is, I’d say that it’s a platter of raw vegetables (cucumber sticks, a variety of herbs, grilled eggplant, etc…) with a spicy chili and shrimp paste dip or sambal belacan.
However, I do have access to pictures so I’ll just show you what an ulam is –
In Malaysia, there are about 120 types of plants that can be used in an ulam. These plants can either be eaten raw, blanched or grilled lightly. Each region in the country has their own way of serving ulam and also the dip it’s served with. Besides sambal belacan, ulam can also be served with a durian-based dip called tempoyak.
Ingredients of an ulam can also be used to make a rice dish called, what else, nasi ulam (ulam rice). Interested to give it a try? Here’s a recipe – Malaysian Mixed Herb Rice.
Note: Though April is over 😦 I’m committed to completing the rest of the posts in this theme mainly because it’s been educational for me to write about it! And also, I don’t like to leave things unfinished! For the few of you who’re still hanging around reading my belated A to Z Challenge posts, thank you! Once I’m done with all my posts, I’ve every intention to visit fellow A-to-Z-ers and read their fine posts!
Tuak (too-wak) is a popular Iban rice wine made from glutinous rice and homemade yeast. It’s normally made for Gawai or the Harvest Festival, held every year on the 1st of June. Traditionally, it’s not commercially made, rather each household would make their own based on a family recipe handed down through generations.
If you visit any longhouse in Sarawak, it’s traditional to be served tuak as a welcome drink. However, be ready, there’ll be several people holding out the glasses as tuak to welcome you, not just one. And as a guest, you’re obliged to drink every glass offered.
Recently, my sister in New Zealand tried to make her own batch of tuak and I’m happy to report that it almost tastes as authentic as the tuak our mother makes. The difference was the yeast she used and that she replaced glutinous rice with sushi rice.
If you’re ever in this part of the world, go ahead and give tuak a try!
The first time I tried otak-otak (o-tuck-o-tuck) was when I was in college and a friend brought a few of them back with her after a weekend at her hometown. I remember being asked if I wanted some otak-otak and I went “Wha….???”
Otak-otak, I later learned, is ground fish meat, tapioca starch and various spices. This mixture is then shaped and placed inside banana or coconut leaf, after which it’s grilled. Though it was a strange and new delicacy for me in the beginning, I grew to love it. At the time, whenever friends would leave for their hometown for the weekend, I’d ask if they could bring back some otak-otak.
Oh, otak-otak translates to “brain-brain” 😀
Do you think you’d be game to try a dish called “brain-brain”?
Now that we all know that the durian is the King of fruits, did you know that the mangosteen, or manggis (in the Malaysian language), is its queen?
The reason for this (as I’ve been told) is that whenever you eat durian, whenever possible, eat mangosteen after that.
According to the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine , durians are considered “heaty” or “hot” food. While the mangosteen is “cooling” or “cold” food. So, eating them together will balance your body.
One interesting thing I learnt about manggis was that you can find out how many white fleshy segments are inside the fruit before you cut it open. At the bottom of the fruit, there are raised brown ridges that radiate out like a star.
In the picture above, there are 6 ridges/ arms of the star. Therefore, there’ll definitely be 6 white fleshy segments when you open the fruit! Don’t believe me, get your hands on a mangosteen and give it a try!
Ever seen/ ate a mangosteen? If yes, what do you think?
When I was a child, I’d eagerly wait for the the sound of a handbell being rung followed by motorcycle honking. When I did hear it, I’d run to the gate and wait for the ice cream man to make one more round of my neighbourhood so that I can wave him down. In Malaysia, we didn’t use to have ice cream trucks, rather ice cream was sold by men riding motorcycles with a cold box on the back of it.
When they’re not driving around neighbourhoods, the ice cream man would sometimes park at schools waiting for kids to get out or at parks on the weekends.
The variety of ice cream sold would be displayed on the box, along with the price. So, you’d just point at which ice cream you wanted, get your cash ready and the ice cream man would open the box and reach in to get the ice cream you wanted!
Some of the ice cream I’d crave would probably not be as familiar to non-Malaysians. One of the cheapest ones I used to get as a kid cost only 10 Malaysian cents and it’s not quite an ice cream but rather a sweet drink poured into a long tube-like plastic bag which is then frozen.
We’d chew off the plastic from one end and then suck on the frozen icy concoction! Another favourite would be ice cream scooped into cones although usually the choices of ice cream flavours would only be limited to three types and most often it would be corn, chocolate or durian!
It’s quite rare to hear the ice cream man’s handbell these days but whenever I’m in the mood for ice cream and see the familiar motorcycle with the ice cream box on the back, I’d revisit my childhood.
In Malaysia, Eid al-fitr, a religious holiday that marks the end of a month of fasting, is commonly referred to as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and this year it falls on the 25th of June. Being a non-Muslim in a Muslim country, you can’t help but be entrenched in the rhythm and practices of this holiday. Here are several things to know about how Eid al-fitri or Aidilfitri is celebrated in Malaysia:
#1. We get a looooong holiday – This year, Hari Raya Aidilfitri will fall on a Sunday. In Malaysia, whenever a festival falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is the public holiday. For this particular festival though, we get TWO days off, so Tuesday’s also a holiday! Long weekend!
#2. Bazaars pop up during the fasting month – During the fasting month of Ramadan, food or Ramadan bazaars pop up in and around the city. These bazaars start setting up at about 3pm (or earlier) and folks on the way home after work would stop by to get food to break their fast with. One key difference between Ramadan bazaars and other food bazaars is that eager customers will be able to find their favourite food that only appears during Ramadan, food like bubur lambuk, a type of porridge.
#3. Change in working hours – Working hours differ for those celebrating Aidilfitri. Since they spend the day fasting, their lunch duration is shortened (normally by 30 minutes) which means they get to go home earlier to prepare to break their fast!
#4. Homemade firecrackers make the news – Most firecrackers and fireworks are banned in Malaysia. However, since we’re an innovative lot, folks make their own firecrackers. Yep, DIY firecrackers. And since these DIY firecrackers do not go through stringent safety and health testing, etc… they often perform unpredictably. This is when the news start reporting about “…15-year old boy loses 4 fingers playing with his homemade firecrackers…” or …”9-year old boy loses 3 fingers and tore his palm while playing with firecrackers…” Some of these DIY firecrackers are made from bamboo!
#5. Dates abound – Supermarkets start selling dates by the caseloads. And I mean all kinds of dates – medjool, dayri, thoory. Most restaurants will also have a small plate of dates on the table for those who break their fast. After an entire day of fasting, the body may experience lethargy and low blood sugar. Starting off with dates before digging in to richer food is a good way to replenish the body.
If you celebrate Eid, what are the traditions practiced in your country? Also, do you eat dates?
These are just a few ways that the stench smell of durian, king of fruits, have been described. How would I describe the odour of durian? Yummilicious and inviting!
Whenever a non-Malaysian visits us, one of the questions we’d ask eventually is “Have you tried eating durian?” Most would answer “Ugh! It smells awful!” The rare individual will reply with “Alamak! I love it!” We love the non-Malaysians who answer with the latter ;P
Truly, durian is a divisive fruit – you either love it. Or you loathe it.
In my hometown, the durian season is one of the most important seasons of all fruit seasons. Not many families have durian trees on their property so when durians are dropping to the ground, it could get pretty cutthroat. There’s been more than one occasion when we hear a durian fall to the ground and when we rush out of our house to where we think it fell, the fruit’s been taken by someone else who was waiting! These durian fruits obtained illegally would normally be sold at a roadside stall.
We Malaysians love durian so much that we even have roadside durian buffets. Like a typical buffet, you pay a fixed fee and eat as many durians as you can!
Here’s a video of folks trying durian for the first time. I thought it was pretty hilarious especially the way they were cutting into it like it was a dead animal!
So, have you tried durian before? And if not, would you dare? ;P
We have a lot of bananas in Malaysia. In fact, it’s the second most widely cultivated fruit in the country! Most homes (with a yard) would have a banana tree (or two). I’ve got two trees that seem to be fruiting all year round!
But this post isn’t about bananas, it’s about the banana leaf. Yep. With bananas being ubiquitous, we’ve found a variety of ways to use its leaves, which is abundant. Of course, most of its usage (if not all) involves food.
Lemang is a traditional rice dish that’s most often prepared during festivals. It’s a mixture of glutinous rice and coconut milk, which is cooked in bamboo. Before pouring the mixture into the bamboo, banana leaves are used to line the inside of the bamboo so that the rice mixture doesn’t stick to the bamboo.
One of my favourite food is nasi lemak, which translates directly to fatty rice. Don’t let the name fool you though, in 2016, TIME magazine listed it as one of the 10 healthy international breakfast foods 🙂 There are many versions of this fatty rice but the type that I always seek out is the type that’s ready-packed, wrapped using the banana leaf and sold at roadside stalls. This version of nasi lemak can cost as low as RM1.50 or less than 25 US cents.
So many nasi lemak!
I could happily eat 10 of these
Being a multicultural society, we have all sorts of cuisine available to us. One of these is South Indian cuisine and in particular banana leaf rice. There are so many banana leaf rice restaurants and everyone has their favourite. In this type of restaurant, food is served on the banana leaf, so effectively, it’s your plate! You’ll be provided your own banana leaf plate when you’re seated and someone will come around to dish out rice, vegetables and curries of your choice. And once you’re done with the meal, you fold the leaf towards yourself, if you’re happy with what you ate, and if you’re not, you fold the leaf in the other direction.
So, have you ever eaten anything that’s cooked using banana leaves?
Chinese New Year is this weekend and where I’m from, it’s a major festival. Every one joins in the celebrations in one way or another, and you don’t even have to be Chinese to enjoy the festive occasion. Here’s what happens in my neck of the woods when Chinese New Year rolls around.
#1. We get a holiday – Though Chinese New Year falls on a Saturday this year, the entire country is granted a holiday the following Monday which means it’ll be a 3-day weekend for me!
#2. Stalls selling Mandarin oranges pop up – It’s customary to give out Mandarin oranges to colleagues at work and to folks who visit your house during Chinese New Year. These oranges are typically sold at supermarkets and roadside stalls which pop up specifically for this festival. There are often multiple stalls along the same stretch of road, all of which peddle these oranges and all of them would be able to turn a profit.
#3. Lion/ Dragon dancers are every where – They’re in shopping malls, in the back of trucks on the streets en route to their next gig and even at your local watering hole. You know Chinese New Year is fast approaching when these dancers with their white t-shirts and colourful pants that supposedly mimic a lion’s/ dragon’s legs show up almost every where.
#4. Streets in the city centre are exceptionally clear – This is one of my favourite things about Chinese New Year. Traffic jams in the city has gotten from bad to worse and it’s only when folks leave the city for their hometowns that I’m willing to drive into the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
#6. Retail stores and banks give out (almost) free ang pow packets – Giving ang pows (red envelopes stuffed with money) is a key activity during Chinese New Year. Well, other than eating, drinking and playing mahjong. In recent years, shopping malls and banks stock ang pow packets for their customers and these are where folks tend to get them from. The packets aren’t entirely free if you intend to get them from shopping malls though. Shoppers would need to spend a pre-determined amount before redemption of the ang pow packets are allowed.
#8. Almost everyone organises an open house – Eating is a national past time and open houses are basically an opportunity to eat all you can for free! This tradition encourages family and friends to visit one another’s homes to celebrate together. Even companies and government agencies have started organising open houses to which the general public is invited.
#10. You hear firecrackers eventhough it’s illegal– Yep, fireworks are illegal in Malaysia. Unless you have a permit. I don’t think the homes in my neighbourhood who light up their firecrackers applied for one though. Yet, I go to sleep on the eve of Chinese New Year listening to a barrage of fireworks. All night long.