Wednesday, September 11, 2013

#eatsomethingnice 12 - Rojak

proudly a part of #Saysomethingnice
image credit: Veronica Ng

Rojak is a Malaysian salad of mixed vegetables and fruits, drizzled with a sweet, sour sauce made up of local prawn paste, sugar and lime. While Rojak in Malay means "mixed", the dish also best exemplifies the cultural diversity of Malaysia. The taste of Rojak is something that one must personally experience to fully appreciate it.

It is uncertain how rojak originated. There are many different vegetable salads that are unique to Asia, but only in rojak is a rich mix of fresh vegetables such as kangkong (water convolvulus) and taugeh (beansprout) blanched while the cucumber and Chinese turnip are sliced in an angled fashion to add crunch. Sour, tangy flavors come from ingredients such as sliced pineapple although sometimes starfruit, young mangoes or unripe jambu (rose apples) can also be added.

Up until the 1980s, rojak vendors could still be found moving through neighborhoods on bicycles. This was an improved means of transport from the 1960s when they used pushcarts instead. These carts, whether on bicycle or as a mobile stall, often had a wooden box where the fresh ingredients could be seen through glass panels.

The vendor's only tools would be his cutting board, a knife and the large mixing bowl. The rojak would be cut and mixed on the spot. Before the days of paper plates, the rojak would be packed in a piece of Banana leaf. Toothpicks pierced through the first few vegetables served as forks.

To add to the typical Malaysian food fiesta there are the Chinese Rojak and the Indian Rojak versions with ethnic flavors coming from different ingredients and methods of mixing.

The Chinese version has a base of lemon sauce and a sweet gravy. Ingredients include Yaw Char Kuay (also known as yu tiao or fried crullers - a crispy length of deep fried flour), fried Tau Pok (beancurd), Tau gay (Beansprouts), Wong Lai (Pineapple), cucumber, radish, and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts.

The Indian flavor constitutes a mélange of colorful fried dough, boiled potato and fish cake. This rojak is normally accompanied with a sweet red colored sauce.

The most sought after rojak – Penang-style, has fresh cucumber, crunchy jicama, pineapple, jambu, bean curd, and cuttlefish in smothered in a thick, gooey, and pungent Hae Ko (dark prawn paste).  Needless to say the secret of this rojak lies in the sauce. The sticky paste is mixed with a little water, lime juice and a lot of sugar. Chili paste or freshly pounded chilies may be added for some spice.

A dusting of crushed peanuts gives further texture. The paste is then mixed thoroughly, traditionally in a large wooden bowl with a wooden spoon. Only when the sauce is complete are the mixed vegetables and ingredients added and thoroughly covered with the paste. Finally, the mixture is garnished with a dash of finely cut ginger flower.

Today, as with most Malaysian delicacies, variations of the rojak have multiplied as new ingredients are creatively added to the spicy, sweet and sour black sauce. More often than not, the dish is to be found in the cool comfort of modern restaurants and food courts with the occasional spotting of the traditional rojak vendor under a shady tree.

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