9 Must-Have Hari Raya Dishes For the Festive Season

Ramadan Kareem!

Last week marked the start of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam, when Muslims around the world observe fasting from dawn until dusk. In Malaysia, this is usually a time for Ramadan bazaars – but these have been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some states have come up with innovative ways to help traders, such as through delivery services – and while it may not come close to the festive atmosphere at an actual food bazaar, it’s the best option to ensure that we still get to enjoy some food, help out the traders and most importantly, keep safe and healthy.

After Ramadan comes Eid, known colloquially as Hari Raya Aidilfitri, on May 24. Just like Christmas is celebrated in Western countries as a time for family and togetherness, so is Hari Raya to Muslims. But with travel restrictions expected to be put into place to avoid an exodus of city folk returning to their hometowns (which might cause another wave of infections), members of the public are faced with a very bleak and lonely Hari Raya.

Not all is doom and gloom, however. An essential part of any celebration is food – and I’m pretty sure that we’ll still be able to enjoy some scrumptious Raya dishes: perhaps not at a friend’s open house or a family gathering, but from a restaurant, small-time traders (whom we should definitely support), or if you can make it at home – then all the better!

Rendang 

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Photo credit: Kyle Lam via Flickr

No Hari Raya celebration would be complete without rendang – a spicy slow-cooked meat dish braised in coconut milk and spices. There are many different ways to make it, depending on the state/region you’re from. (One thing it is not, however, is crispy.) Typically, a protein such as chicken, beef or lamb is used, but there are also versions made with seafood like fish, shrimp, crab, squid and cockles. The rendang that I am most familiar with is the regular rendang daging, which is drier than curry but still has plenty of gravy that is excellent with rice. A lot of work goes into making good rendang, with ingredients such as coconut milk (santan) and a paste of mixed ground spices such as ginger, galangal, turmeric leaves, lemongrass, garlic, shallots, chillies and more.

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The rendang from Negeri Sembilan – a state with a large Minangkabau diaspora – has a distinctively Padang influence, with heavy use of turmeric, chilli and santan which gives it a distinctively lighter colour. They also like to use smoked duck as the meat – another Negeri Sembilan specialty. Rendang Tok from the state of Perak, on the other hand, is very dry with little to no gravy, and uses a liberal amount of kerisik (pounded, toasted coconut) and larger chunks of meat that is slow-cooked until tender. My personal favourite? Rendang paru, made from cow lungs. Not very healthy, but t I only have it once a year. 😛

Lemang 

Lemang

Photo credit: zol m via Flickr 

A lot of Hari Raya dishes have strong flavours + gravy, and are made to be eaten with rice. So you definitely can’t miss out on lemang, essentially glutinous rice, salt and coconut milkin a hollowed-out piece of bamboo and grilled over an outdoor fire. You might think it’s easy to chuck rice into bamboo and grill it, but the ‘simplest’ things are often the hardest to execute. The bamboo can’t be too soft or it will break easily, but neither can it be too hard as it will take too long to cook the rice. Maintaining control of the fire and heat is essential, which can be challenging when you’re working with an open fire. The bamboo also has to be turned over constantly, to ensure the rice is cooked evenly and thoroughly. The final result? A slightly sticky, chewy rice with a smoky aftertaste – perfect to go with curry, rendang and serunding (meat floss). 

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Lemang periuk kera, which features rice stuffed into pitcher plants, has become very popular in the last couple of years – although naturalists discourage eating it due to fears that the plant will be over-collected in order to meet demands.

Ketupat 

Ketupat

Photo credit: Sham Hardy via Flickr 

Andddd we have the poster child for Hari Raya – ketupat, or compressed rice. The image of ketupat nasi, housed in iconic diamond-shaped containers woven out of palm leaves, is synonymous with Hari Raya in Malaysia. Like lemang, ketupat is meant to be eaten with all the savoury, curry and gravy-based dishes. Aside from ketupat nasi, there is also ketupat daun palas, which is triangular in shape and made with glutinous rice.  If you can’t get your fill of rice, look out for nasi impit which is basically rice compressed into squares – makes for easy eating! 

Masak Lemak 

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While it’s literally translated to ‘cooked in fat’, masak lemak actually refers to a style of cooking that incorporates coconut milk (yes, we use a lot of that here). The dish is usually prepared with meat such as chicken, beef, fish, seafood and even vegetables. Masak Lemak Cili Api is popular in Negeri Sembilan and has a vibrant yellow colour, with birds-eye chillies thrown in (they’re pretty spicy at 50,000 – 100,000 Scoville units!) alongside turmeric and other spices. For something milder on the palate, there’s Masak Lemak Putih, which is white in colour and often uses vegetables such as cabbage and pumpkin. 

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Masak lemak putih with pumpkin and spinach

Satay

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Satay may not be Hari Raya “exclusive”, but it is certainly part of any Hari Raya gathering worth its salt. And who doesn’t like smoky barbecued meat on skewers, grilled over a charcoal fire? Most common meats are chicken and beef, less common are lamb and seafood. Of course, you can’t miss out on the peanut sauce and nasi impit. Tone down the spice with some cucumber and onions.

Kambing Panggang 

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Again, not Raya exclusive, but you’ll often find it at major festivals in Malaysia celebrated by the Malay community. You’ll often find whole roasted lamb at Ramadan bazaars or at buka puasa/ Hari Raya buffets at hotels, served with black pepper or mushroom sauce.

Sambal based dishes

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Curry-based and masak lemak-based cooking form a large part of Malay and Indonesian cuisine. Rounding it off are sambal-based dishes, which are typically made from a sauce or paste featuring chilli, shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallots and other spices. Sambal dishes are very common during Hari Raya – my favourite being sambal sotong (squid), which comes in a spicy, rich and thick, sweet gravy.

Bubur 

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There’s something very hearty and comforting about the humble porridge – perhaps because it is easy to digest, tasty, and warms/fills the belly right up. There are both sweet and savoury variants. Bubur Lambuk, a spiced meat porridge, is a popular dish for breaking fast during Ramadan, and it is also served during Hari Raya. Again, like Rendang, different states have their own versions. The east coast of Peninsular Malaysia uses fish meat and fresh herbs such as fern and cassava leaves, while Bubur Lambuk Utara from the northern states of Malaysia contains egg, shredded chickens and nuts. Personally, I like dessert bubur that uses local fruits and ingredients, such as black sesame, mungbean, red bean and pengat pisang (banana porridge? although it’s more like a stew rather than a bubur per se).

Kuih-Muih 

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Ending this post on a sweet note, we have kuih muih. It’s hard to classify what kuih muih is as they come in all sorts of colours, shapes and flavours –  the best I can describe it is an assortment of cakes, sweets, cookies and snacks. Traditional favourites that are commonly seen during Raya include Kuih Koci – a glutinous rice dumpling with a palm sugar-filled centre, onde-onde (chewy glutinous rice balls with shredded coconut), kuih bakar (baked pandan cake), lepat pisang (steamed banana cake wrapped in banana leaves), talam ubi (tapioca cake) and kuih seri muka (a two layered white and green cake).

 

What are some of your Hari Raya favourites? If you celebrate Eid in other parts of the world, let me know in the comments about some of your traditional dishes!

 

 

 

 

 

Nasi Campur Murah @ D Hamodal Cafe, Petaling Jaya

My colleague V has been raving about this place in Petaling Jaya that sells affordable and tasty Malay dishes – so we went to try it out recently! Dubbed D Hamodal Cafe, the cafeteria-style establishment serves nasi campur (mixed rice – ie a variety of different dishes that you can pick and mix to pair with rice). It is popular among the factory and office workers within the area for its tasty food, large portions and affordable prices.

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You can already see people queueing up (this was around 12.30PM) but fret not as there is plenty of seating on the ground and upper floor.

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Line moves quickly.

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Wasn’t able to take a lot of pictures as there were many customers and I didn’t want to hold up the line. The dishes are typical Malay fare: stir-fried veggies, curries, rendang, assam fish, masak lemak (cooked in coconut milk), ulam (Malay-style salads), fried chicken, stir-fried beef masak kicap (soy sauce), turmeric squid, sambal sotong (cuttlefish) and many more. There are easily 30-40 dishes available.

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My admin L took about 4-5 different items (fried omelette, squid, cuttlefish, meat, ulam) and it only cost Rm15, with drinks!

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Boss had fried egg with squid

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Not being a fan of veggies, I had fried chicken on the recommendation of V, as well as sambal sotong and pedal/hati masak kicap (gizzard and liver cooked in soy sauce). The fried chicken was marinated well and was full of flavour but a little on the dry side. Sambal sotong was spicy but not overwhelming, and I liked how well they prepped the gizzard and liver, as it did not have an offal-y smell. All this for just RM10, with a drink of iced tea.

D Hamodal is a good choice for a quick, tasty and affordable lunch if you’re in the Petaling Jaya area. Service is fast and efficient, although it can get pretty warm since there’s no air conditioning.

D’HAMODAL CAFE 

Dataran Hamodal, Block A, Lot 4, Jalan 13/4, Seksyen 13, 46200, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Opening hours: 7.30AM – 6PM (closed Saturday – Sunday)

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FoTD: Nasi + Sotong Goreng Kunyit (Turmeric-Fried Squid with Rice)

Hey guys and welcome to another edition of FoTD – where I attempt to introduce dishes that are commonly found in Malaysia! Today’s dish will be Sotong Goreng Kunyit; ie turmeric-fried squid – one of my regular lunch meals. 😀

What Is Turmeric? 

For those not familiar with Asian spices, turmeric is a flowering plant commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. It has an earthy, slightly bitter aftertaste, but when done well, is very aromatic, adding fragrance and flavour to dishes such as curries and stews. The spice is also purported to have medicinal benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, and being rich in antioxidants.

Goreng Kunyit 

While it’s origins are unclear, Goreng Kunyit (literally ‘fried in turmeric’) has been gaining popularity in recent years, and you may find different varieties of meat and seafood prepared in this style, such as chicken (ayam goreng kunyit), beef (daging) and squid (sotong). They are typically sold at roadside stalls or food bazaars by Malay traders. The protein is first marinated in turmeric, curry powder and some cornflour ,then deep fried together with long beans, sliced carrots and onions. The dish is then served atop a bed of fluffy white rice with a side of sambal. Some places drizzle it over with sweet soy sauce (kicap manis) and chilli sauce. The sweet and salty combo makes it a great pairing with rice, and there are plenty of different textures to satisfy the palate – from the crunchiness of the vegetables to the springiness of the squid.

Where To Get It 

My personal favourite is from a food truck called Ayam Goreng Kunyit Power in Seksyen 51A Petaling Jaya, just in front of Menara Axis and across the road from the Asia Jaya LRT station. The line starts as early as 11.30AM, as soon as they open for business, and the squid – one of their bestsellers – runs out really fast! As far as I know, they are only open during weekdays to cater to the lunch crowd in the area, but may move around to different spots on weekends.

 

Review: Smoked Duck & Traditional Malay Favourites @ Zaini Salai House, Kampung Ulu Bendol, Negri Sembilan

For travelers plying the Kuala Pilah – Seremban route, Zaini Salai House is a household name, having been around for more than seven years. The simple open-air warung is bereft of air conditioning, but the beautiful view of paddy fields and lush emerald hills just across the road more than makes up for it.

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The restaurant is known for its itik salai (smoked duck), a 30-year-old recipe the proprietor, Zaini, learnt from his grandfather that has been handed down the generations. The tedious process, which involves smoking the duck at a distance of about three or four feet away from the fire, takes up to four hours (sometimes more!) Smoking was used in the old days to preserve the meat, as there was no refrigeration back then.

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We were invited to sample a variety of dishes, including the famous duck cooked in masak lemak cili api (coconut milk curry with birds eye chilli), rendang pucuk paku and beef with bamboo shoots. While tasty, everything was a tad too spicy for my Chinese palate, except for the cabbage which was in a mild, milky sauce lol. The flavours were good though, and the duck dish lived up to its reputation.

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For dessert, there was ABC topped with a generous chunk of durian, cendol, red rubies and sweet corn on a bed of shaved ice and condensed milk with gula melaka (palm sugar).

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And pulut tapai. A little ashamed to admit that in 28 years of life, I’ve never had one of these before. They’re essentially fermented glutinous rice cakes with a sweet aftertaste. Goes well with the Cendol/ABC dessert.

If you’re looking for unpretentious, hearty traditional food, Zaini’s Salai House is a stop you shouldn’t miss while on the way down to Seremban or up to KL!

ZAINI’S SALAI HOUSE 

No. 33A Kampung Ulu bendul, 71500 Tanjung Ipoh, Negeri Sembilan

Open for breakfast / lunch: 830AM – 6PM (daily)

facebook.com/ZainiSalaiHouse/

Breakfast With A View: D’Sawah Breakfast @ Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan

D’Sawah Breakfast in Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan has something that even five-star fine-dining establishments can’t offer – a beautiful view, paired with simple, tasty food, and warm service – the genuine kind that you only find in small towns, where life is laid back and there’s no such thing as a rat race.

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The shop, located next to the main road, is a simple wooden shack next to paddy fields, with emerald green hills stretching as far as the eye can see. We were fortunate during our visit, as the fields were a verdant sea of green, swaying in the breeze underneath clear blue skies. Coming from the city, it was a refreshing breath of fresh air to see such lovely views, and the sight really eases your mind from everyday stresses and worry.

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No air conditioning – just the natural breeze and a couple of ceiling fans. The food is simple but hearty  – nasi lemak, noodles, assorted kuih and roti canai.

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I was so taken by the sight of the paddy fields that I forgot to take pictures of the food except for the kuih, lol.

(left) Kuih talam – the bottom part is pandan and the top is coconut milk. (right) Kuih sagu, made from sago and rolled in shredded coconut.

For breakfast I had roti canai, which was fluffy and crispy on the edges, served with generous amounts of dhal and sambal. Nothing much to say – just good, tasty food.

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D’Sawah is extremely popular with bikers on weekends as they travel from KL to Kuala Pilah/Seremban and further down south. Prices are extremely reasonable. If you want a taste of the simple, laid back life then defo stop by! They only operate four hours a day, so come early to avoid disappointment.

KODAI SARAPAN D’SAWAH 

22, Jalan Kuala Pilah, Kampung Solok Paku, 70400 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan

Opening hours: 7 AM – 11AM (daily)