Claypots have been used in traditional cooking for centuries and across many different cultures. It is said that the porous quality of clay helps to retain the food’s nutritional value, whilst also giving the dish an earthy aroma and deeper flavours.
Here in Malaysia, claypot chicken rice is very popular among the Chinese diaspora. It usually contains chopped pieces of chicken, salted fish, chives and Chinese sausage, drizzled over with dark soy sauce. The dish was traditionally eaten in Southern China as a dinner dish, and it was later brought over to Southeast Asia (Malaysia/Singapore) by Hokkien immigrants.
Indian-style claypot rice (sattisoru), however, is new to me. Perhaps it’s because I don’t eat Indian food often (blame it on my canto palate!), but I’ve been ignorant about its existence until recently, when I had to interview and write about a street chef in Rawang who sells sattisoru.
You can find Spices Claypot Rice tucked within Restoran Try to Eat, a no-frills food court by the side of the road. Despite being the only Indian stall here, it attracts customers of all races. There’s a wide variety of dishes on offer, including their signature Claypot Mutton Masala (RM12), Chicken Masala, Prawn Masala and Chilli Chicken Masala. Less common ingredients like salted fish and sardine are also available, and there are vegetarian options for non-meat eaters.
Spices is run by Janagaraju Arumugam, a young chef with a huge passion for food. Prior to opening Spices two years ago together with his wife, Jana worked as an engineer and had no F&B experience – so it was a big leap of faith.
“We started this as a part-time venture. My wife was a pharmacist and I was still working as an engineer. We’d only open our stall after we finished our day jobs, at 6pm,” he quips. Juggling two jobs was exhausting, but Jana keenly pushed forward. Eventually, he quit his job to run the stall full-time, and has since hired more people to help out at his stalls, of which there are four in the Klang Valley (aside from Rawang, he also has branches in Kota Kemuning, Selayang and Klang).
Why give up a cushy shop to be a chef-cum-businessman? Jana explains that as a boy, he used to help his mother out in the kitchen, and he recalls fondly how his mother’s love for her family shone through the dishes she made – something he is keen on preserving ever since she passed away. The dishes he serves at Spices are all based on recipes and techniques that were handed down by his late mother – and it truly shows in his cooking.
Cooking the claypot rice is an art in itself. Each order starts with a base of onion, potatoes, dried chili and masala paste, which is constantly stirred in the clay pot to bring out a mouthwatering aroma. Rice is
added last, after the liquid has simmered down, so it does not become soggy. Controlling the fire is also important, and because they are cooking it with a slow fire, it allows for a more even cooking process and the natural flavours of the ingredients to permeate through. Since everything is cooked to order, expect a wait of between 15 to 20 minutes.
I tried two clay pot dishes – the mutton masala and the prawn masala. Between the two, I enjoyed the mutton masala more as the meat was tender and flavourful, having absorbed the flavours of the curry. The heat wasn’t obvious at first bite, but hits gradually and had me chugging down my sugarcane juice lol. Portions are hearty and can be shared between two people. You also get a whole boiled egg in each pot.
The masala paste is what makes the dish, as it contains over 20 spices such as cinnamon, pepper, coriander, cumin seeds and mace. The paste is ground in a central kitchen and distributed to the different stalls, so customers get a consistent quality and taste. It’s also free from additives, making it a healthier alternative to commercial mixes.
As for future plans, Jana is hoping to open five more stalls across Peninsular Malaysia, as well as a proper restaurant. All the best, Jana! Keep the passion alive. 🙂
SPICES CLAYPOT RICE
Restoran Try to Eat, 48, Jalan 1D, Taman Jati, 48000 Rawang, Selangor
Opening hours: 11AM – 11PM (daily)
Note: I interviewed Jana for the November issue of Fireflyz, the inflight magazine for Firefly Airlines. This article features a few tweaks and some additional info I wasn’t able to fit in to the story.
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