MRE: Botok and Pulut Udang

Mengkudu, Morinda citrafolia

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

Pulut Udang
Pulut 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

 

Botok tenggiri
Botok tenggiri

 

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.

 

Botok dissected
Botok dissected

 

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.

 

Mengkudu, Morinda citrafolia
The botok wrapper: Mengkudu, Morinda citrafolia

 

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.

[two_first]
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
[/two_first][two_second]
Batang mengkudu di tepi sungai
Putiknya musnah dimakan musang
Abang menunggu mati terkulai
Adik lah pindah ke tangan orang
[/two_second]

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Malay pantun sourced from Malay Civilization.  Translation mine.

Tapai ubi, tapai nasi

Tapai ubi

[two_first]

Fold the corners of the tapai leaf

that you may fill it with stale rice

If you want your knowledge to last

Don’t ignore your teacher’s advice

[/two_first][two_second]

Lipat berbucu si daun tapai

Hendak diisi beras sekal

Pesan guru jangan diabai

Jika hendak ilmunya kekal

[/two_second]

 

A banana leaf wrapped and held with [tooltip text=”coconut rachis” trigger=”hover”]lidis[/tooltip] could hold just about anything.  In this case, it holds tapioca root, ubi kayu, that has … crossed over.  Normally a dense, bland, starchy tuber considered poverty food or at best home cooking, it is transformed into a pillowy soft sweetness soaking in a fiery liqueur: tapai ubi.

 

tapai ubi flesh

 

[two_first]

The sweetness of tapai comes from the yeast

Honey from the bee is sweeter by far

Without faith a man is at loss

Like standing deadwood waiting to fall

[/two_first][two_second]

Manis tapai kerana ragi

Lebih manis madu lebah

Tanpa iman manusia rugi

Bak kayu buruk menunggu rebah

[/two_second]

 

Tapai refers to anything fermented with yeast.  Cooked rice can become tapai nasi, popular in Sarawak.  Glutinous rice, uncooked, becomes tapai pulut, the first step in the production of tuak or rice liquor. Muslims needn’t worry: although C2H6O is chemically present in the tapai, it does not intoxicate even in massive amounts and therefore is not khamr.  Discerning the halal and eating it is not something our forefathers needed a chem lab for.

The first pantun suggests the tapai is cooked in the leaf, and I assumed it was, till early one morning at Satok market I found my dealer taking tapai ubi from a large plastic tub under the table.  The banana leaf was just marketing!  You gotta admit though, a banana leaf is classy packaging.  Better that than a little plastic baggie, certainly, and environmentally friendly besides.  Sanitary?  Well I’m still standing here, ain’t I?  Other leaves are also used, like young coconut leaves[1] for tapai nasi, or less commonly, the unidentified swamp leaf below.

 

 

Tapai won’t cook without the yeast, or ragi, a dry crumbly substance sprinkled on top.  I’m unsure what species of creature it is or where it comes from and I decline to enquire further.  The last pantun suggests mysterious and distant origins and I’ll leave it at that.

 

[two_first]

The Javanese fellow is a maker of tapai

The yeast arrives from the shore over yonder

As long as my dreams remain unfulfilled

Let me die among strangers a trav’ler[2]

[/two_first][two_second]

Orang Jawa membuat tapai

Raginya datang dari seberang

Selagi cita-cita tidak tercapai

Biar mati di rantau orang

[/two_second]

 

 

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1. Also used for ketupat, previously on BGP.

2. Pantuns sourced from Malay Civilization, English translation mine.

Kuih-muih

Kuih-muih: celorot, sampan, bongkol and koci
Kuih-muih: celorot, sampan, bongkol and koci
The fasting month is proceeding apace. This year, I have three children fasting from dawn to dusk, KakUda is fasting from dawn till when she returns from school, and Andak is fasting from breakfast all the way to lunch. With so many earnest young fasters, the iftar spread is of vital importance to bolster their thinly-spread iman. So every evening on my way home from work, I stop by our friendly neighborhood bazaar/pasar for goodies.

All the specialties of the season are on display: fancy sweets, colorful drinks, pan-fried stingrays. The market is packed for hours before sunset; not even swine flu can keep them away. Several stalls sell the triumvirate of fast-breaking drinkschop_hapjoobazaar : Air kelapa, sugarcane juice, and soy milk. Of the three, our household prefers the fresh-pressed sugarcane, dark dark green with a grassy flavor to the sweetness.

tebuMalaysian sweets – kuih – are almost all made from the same few ingredients, but little differences in preparation and presentation result in dozens of variations and permutations on the theme. The packaging is amazing – leaves of banana, pandan, coconut and others are cleaned, cut and wrapped into distinctive shapes, often fastened with a small pin made of bamboo or lidi. Some of our favorites are tapai nasi, bongkol, tako jagung, celorot, koci, and kuih sampan (I think).

tako_tapaiFor many of the kuih, the wrapping is part of the recipe. The tako jagung (santan over agar-agar with corn in the middle) is wrapped in a pandan box, which gives flavor and aroma as you spoon it out. The bongkol is wrapped in a banana leaf that is smoked first, given a smoky flavor to the creamy santan, sago flour and gula apong mixture inside. The celorot is wrapped in a coconut leaflet in such a way that you can press the base and it will squeeze out the top – like a push-up ice-cream.

soyalidah_jinn It is quite a change from my Michigan Ramadans where I survived on bread, zaatar, labne, olives and 5-litre bottles of olive oil – all but unavailable here. But perhaps diet is best suited to climate and this is how we do it at 1 Degree North Latitude.