Posts Tagged ‘Malay food’

kacang botol winged bean

Ulam, raw vegetables and herbs is integral to Malay cuisine. On the right is winged bean/kacang botol, and part of the dipping sauce shown (at bottom right).

In this post, I would like to highlight an aspect of Malay cuisine – ulam, which is a version of Malay salad.

Ulam consists of a platter of raw vegetables and herbs, and may also include some that have been blanched. It is eaten with a sambal, a spicy chilli-based dipping sauce. Ulam is usually served as part of a rice based meal.

Kacang botol, the green bean shown above is one of my favorites. It has a lovely combination of a crunchy texture and a mildly creamy taste.

Kacang means bean in Malay, and botol means bottle. I’m not sure why it is so named; must be an interesting anecdote somewhere. Incidentally, it is known as winged bean in English, perhaps named after its uniquely shaped edges. Well, it seems like the bean encouraged people to be quite poetic in naming it.

The bean plant grows as a vine, and it is said to be a good source of vitamin A.

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kuih or desserts from Malaysia

A selection of Malaysian desserts in petite-sized servings. A favorite is the layered jelly (on the right), especially the one with the creamy white layer, made from coconut milk.


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Malay food

The ketola, a type of gourd, makes a tasty soup believed to have a cooling effect.

I would describe myself as an intermediate home cook, but some of my cousins are very accomplished in their cooking skills.

When I’m in Singapore, they would invite me over and cook my favorite food. Featured here are two dishes, ketola soup and fritters made from tiny shrimps.

The ketola is a vegetable believed to have a cooling effect on the body. The English name for it is ridged luffa or ridged gourd.

When my cousin made this dish, she tweaked our grandmother’s recipe a little by adding fish balls to the soup.

The fritters are made from fresh tiny shrimps called krill, or by its Malay name, udang geragau. These shrimps have a unique crunchy texture, and are relatively harder to come across these days.

When another cousin saw them at a market, she instantly bought them. She then went home; battered them with a flour mixture, onions and green chillies, fried them, and presented me with a delectable plate.


Fritters made with tiny shrimps called udang geragau.

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This amazing cake was made to replicate my book and my childhood home that was on the cover of my book (see sidebar).

This amazing cake was made to replicate my book and my childhood home that was on the cover of my book (see sidebar).

kampung memoriesI’m very lucky that my book “Kampung Memories, A Life’s Journey Revisited” has been able to “travel” and present itself on both sides of the Pacific; and more importantly, has enabled me to share memories and insights with diverse people and readers.

“Kampung” means village in Malay, and the book revolves around the urban villages in Singapore before they were demolished for redevelopment. I grow up in such a kampung, and in the book, I weaved my memories with that of the people who used to live there.

I launched my book in Singapore in June this year, and recently, the first book launch/event in the United States was held in Santa Clara, northern California, at the Kababs and Curry’s Restaurant.

It was the brainchild of my friend Khir Johari, who is considered by his many friends as a Renaissance man. He and members of the Singapore and Malay communities in the San Francisco Bay Area took care of all the details of the event: everything was done elegantly, and all I needed to do was to show up.

There was batik to decorate the tables, a spread of Malay dishes prepared by the talented ladies from the community, and wonderful chai from the restaurant. One of the highlights was a chocolate cake, made to replicate my kampung house that was on the cover of the book.

Faridah, who made this amazing cake, said she took a few days to complete it. She decorated it with coconut trees and little pots of flowering plants made with brightly colored fondant. There was even a tiny replica of a sepak raga (a traditional Malay ball made of bamboo and rattan).

So on that Sunday afternoon in fall, we sat down in that cosy room, sharing and listening to stories that follow a path to our heritage and roots. There were also other Americans of different ancestry in that room. I hope, and I suppose I imagine this, that the book brings to their minds a dusty road where their fathers or grandfathers used to cycle, or all the strong women of their childhood, the ones who nurtured and held the families in their seemingly simple, humble ways.

Thank you to everyone who helped organized and showed up for the launch.

The author with Khir, listening to the stories and ideas shared by the guests. Khir is the brainchild behind the event.

The author Sharifah (left) with Khir, the event’s creator, listening to the stories and ideas shared by the guests.

A group photo. The banner, handmade by Salizah, was pretty impressive.

A group photo. The banner, handmade by Salizah, was pretty impressive.

With Faridah, who made the extraordinary cake.

I’m carefully cutting the cake with Faridah, who made the extraordinary cake.

Mee siam, a specialty noodle dish of Singapore Malays.

Mee siam, a specialty noodle dish of Singapore Malays.

Kuih keria, Malay doughnuts made with sweet potato.

Kuih keria, Malay doughnuts made with sweet potato.

Playing Malay heritage games (left) batu serembat or five stones, and the congkak, a board game.

Playing Malay heritage games (left) batu serembat or five stones, and the congkak, a board game.

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Traditional Malay dessert

He has the recipe for the most popular putu piring in Singapore. The cakes are made in this steamer.

When the weather gets hot, thoughts turn to light-colored, soft desserts. I often think of putu piring, a Malay cake that is so fluffy and has a melt in your mouth quality.

Putu piring are round steamed cakes made from rice flour and gula Melaka (palm sugar), and best eaten when they are still warm.

This is one of my favorite foods, and when I am in Singapore, I always make a beeline for the putu piring in the Haig Road area.

Malay cakes

A great combination of fluffy rice flour dough and rich palm sugar.

That is, before the line starts at the putu piring stall in the Banquet Food Court. (I believe the food court now has a new name.) If you arrive after 3pm, be prepared to wait in a long line, with people of all races and age groups. Now there are two locations, this one as well as a stall in the Teh Tarik Café, which is also in the vicinity.

One time when I was passing the food court when it was closed for renovations, a man stopped me and asked where was the putu piring stall. He seemed rather panicky, and explained he came from the other side of the island and had not been in this area for a while. He had a wide grin on his face when I showed him the other location of the putu piring.

An unofficial poll of friends and family points to this putu piring as the best in Singapore, and dare I say, the best in this Southeast Asian region. So I made it a point to talk to the owner/founder of this successful enterprise.

He is a hands-on owner and is often seen helping out his employees. The gentleman prefers to be known as Mr Putu Piring rather than by his first name, and has been making and selling putu piring in the Geylang area for 15 years.

I was very pleased to learn from him some interesting facts behind this dessert. According to him, the word putu is a Sanskrit word for rice. Piring is a Malay word which refers to a saucer, and originally, saucers were used to mold the cakes into the round shapes. Hence, the name.

palm sugar

The secret is in using the best ingredients, including the best palm sugar.

The ingredients are simple: rice flour, gula Melaka (palm sugar), grated coconut and pandan leaves. Basically, a mixture of rice flour with a filling of palm sugar in the center is patted into the molds and then steamed through to form the cakes. The cakes are served with grated coconut containing strips of pandan leaf to add a fragrant note.

When asked about the secret of his success, Mr PP says: “It is crucial to use the best ingredients and to stay true to traditional methods.” He also wants to maintain the quite amazing price of three small cakes for a dollar. And he is happy that his daughter Noraishah, who studied culinary arts and worked in Boston, is now part of his team.

Talking to him, I realize that  the ingredients of his success are those that have stood the test of time: quality, value, and a deep appreciation of one’s heritage and roots.

traditional Malay dessert

Putting the ingredients together.

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