As Ramadan winds down, I race to give credit to local foods that got me through the month. These MREs, Malaysia Ramadan Essentials, are practically complete meals in one package. Add rice as needed.
Pulut Panggang Udang
Wrapped in banana leaves held in place by bamboo pins, pulut panggang udang is beras pulut, sticky or glutinous rice, cooked with a bit of santan, stuffed with a spicy shredded coconut filling cooked with tiny dried shrimp. The whole package is grilled on a skillet to impart the banana leaf flavor to the rice. The size of a large cigar and selling for a ringgit a piece, one unit is equivalent to a light meal.
Botok is a huge favorite of the adults of the household. It is a Sarawakian favorite not well known in other parts of the country, and it is basically unavailable outside of bulan puasa, the month of fasting. The package looks fairly unappealing: a moist black leafy lump of organic matter.
Open it up though, and you find a piece of tenggiri fish surrounded by a shredded coconut preparation. It is said the best botok is made with fish past their expiration date. The fish has absorbed the nutty oils, the coconut is pungent and fishy and the whole shebang is given a fresh, bitter taste by the leaf it is wrapped in, something akin to mustard greens or collards.
That leaf comes from the Mengkudu tree, Morinda citrafolia. Westerners may recall it as the source for Tahitian Noni Juice, an MLM miracle food craze big around the turn of the century. Mengkudu is a weedy tree in the mulberry family, popping up in cracks in the pavement just like mulberries do back home. The fruit gives a hint of the relationship, but mengkudu fruit tastes utterly vile and smells nearly as bad as it rots on the ground. The juice is strictly for medicinal purposes, whatever those may be. Consult your bomoh. But in our house, we eat the leaf wrapper along with the fish, just the sort of veggie dish to keep you regular through the fasting month.
Morinda growing beside the river
Fruits ruined by a fox in hunger
Wait til I collapse in death my lover
Fallen into the hands of another
Batang mengkudu di tepi sungai
Putiknya musnah dimakan musang
Abang menunggu mati terkulai
Adik lah pindah ke tangan orang
Malay pantun sourced from Malay Civilization. Translation mine.