A Fruity Combination
By: Fatini Idris
Malaysian food is awesome. Ask anyone and they would agree that the flavours and colours of our cuisine is almost unparalleled to any other cuisines in the world. There are a lot of unique qualities about our dishes, especially given that we live in a multicultural society. Our usage of spices, although not uncommon when compared to other Asian countries, does have some distinctive difference due to the way we mix them together.
And it’s not just the spices that makes us different. Malay dishes for example, loves using fruits in their savoury gulai, or gravy, which goes perfectly together with plain rice. It may be an odd idea to some, especially if you’re not local. You might wonder, how does that even work? But it does. It so deliciously does.
Take pajeri nanas (pineapple curry), for example. The fruit is not just used to complement the spices – the pineapple is actually the main star of the dish. Pajeri has a sweet, creamy and slightly sours taste balanced with the slight tinge of sourness from the pineapple, which what makes this dish unique. To make the curry, a blend of ingredients including onions, fresh turmeric, chilies and pan roasted coriander are blended together with thick paste of ripe pineapple. Cook it until it thickened and add coconut milk with little bit of salt to get the creamy taste. The result is simply divine.
How about the Peranakan delicacy, gulai asam? Usually prepared with fish such as mackerel, belimbing buluh or bilimbi are sometimes added to add a little extra sour kick to the dish. As for the other ingredients, the preparation depends heavily on the use of kaffir lime leaves and other fresh herbs such as galangal ginger, ginger buds or bunga kantan and Vietnamese coriander to work up the aromatics. The cooking process involves soaking the pulp of the tamarind juice and chili until it is soft and then squeezing out the juice for cooking the fish. Once done, you’ll end up with a dish that is sour and spicy, perfectly blended together.
Another dish made extra delicious with the addition of a fruit is gulai nangka ikan masin kurau, or salted kurau fish and jackfruit gravy. Originating from Negeri Sembilan, the dish is usually yellowish-brown in colour due to the sautéed and browned spices which forms its base, and the addition of ground turmeric. The jackfruit adds to the texture and flavour of the gulai, and at the same time cuts off a little bit of the saltiness from the fish. And given that it is a Negeri Sembilan dish, it is usually spicy, but so very yummy.
And we cannot talk about fruits in savoury dishes without talking about sambal tempoyak. Tempoyak is fermented durian, so unlike fresh ones that are sweet and creamy, tempoyak is pungent and has a sour taste to it. The fermentation process takes between 3 to 5 days, and once ready, it can be eaten uncooked as an accompaniment to the usual nasi and lauk meal, or used as an ingredient to several kinds of dishes. One of them is gulai tempoyak ikan patin, or patin fish in tempoyak gravy. This is a popular dish in Pahang, where the combination of tempoyak, chillies, turmeric, and lemongrass, among others, make for a rich, and tasty dish that can be enjoyed during lunch or dinner.