Sunday, October 7, 2007

Menjelang Syawal ’07 – The Ketupat & Dodol Story

Menjelang Syawal ’07 – The Ketupat & Dodol Story

Hey you, just in case you have not noticed, or that you have not been keeping count, or that may be you have just came back from a hiatus at Gunung Ledang or some deserted island in the middle of the Pacific, we are on the last leg of Ramadhan - less than a week away from the most celebrated day in Malaysia - Hari Raya Aidilfitri or the end of Ramadhan celebration. I guess that gives us the permission to start thinking about the auspicious day just ahead of us. Yay!!

To me, Hari Raya would almost always be associated with ketupat, never mind that in KL you could find it all year round. It is the symbol of Hari Raya. You will see it everywhere, especially in decorating the streets of Kuala Lumpur. To me, it is the main dish for Hari Raya. I would hit the ketupat (nasi) and kuah kacang right after solat raya - like man possessed, and all day long for sure. Kuah kacang raya to me is one that contains some mince meat, just to differentiate it from the the kuah kacang we can normally get with our satay kajang, all year round.

(Pic taken by zali, I think)

I love the ketupat, but to be honest, I don't know how to weave the palm leaves to make the pouch and I am too old to learn now...hahahaha. So I would only buy ready-made ones. Of course someone in the family would be able to do it, so I would leave it to them to do the needful.

I would not mind not having anything else for Raya, but I have to have my ketupat! And it is easy to make after someone had woven the palm leaves of course lah - just boil them for few hours. You would not even be there. But be careful not to overfill the ketupat pouch - it will be 'hard' when it is cooked. Tak sedap. Too little, and it will be too soft. But put the right amount of rice (3/4th or was it 2/3rd?) and it will be just nice! As the rice cooks, the grains begin to expand to fill the pouch and the rice becomes compressed. This gives the ketupat its characteristics and texture. Tender but firm; that's how I like my ketupat.

But don't give me ketupat daun palas and the likes lah. I don’t fancy them at all. That is the northern states of Kedah and Perlis’ version. I guess they are steamed instead, and use glutinous rice. I tell you bro, palas is no fun to eat one. Since this is made of pulut, it is more like lemang and too glutinous for my liking. But this to me is a poor man's lemang or rather lazy people's lemang! Jangan mare, Kedahan. Betui per. How else would you describe it?

I would like to story mory about lemang, but nantilah dulu - next one kut.

Give me ketupat (nasi) anytime, or give me no ketupat at all. Ntah la, tak penah minat that triangular ketupat daun palas. May be the slightly odd shaped ketupat (nasi) is more appealing to my eyes and hence my palate.

Anyway, here is a pantun ketupat.

Nyiur gading puncak mahligai
Sayang ketupat berisi inti
Hancur daging tulang berkecai
Belum dapat belum berhenti

I have not seen nor eaten ketupat with an inti, have you?

Dodol is another Raya dish though it is peculiar to the southern side of the peninsular. The Minangs, Malaccans and Johoreans (Jawa la kut) would go by this dish for Raya. Not for the people in Kelantan & Terengganu, or so I am told. They don't cook dodol for Raya.

Caption: The house where nenek would cook dodol.

I remember when I was kid in Aulong in the early 70s, nenek would have to have dodol forRaya without fail, even if she had to cook it herself. I would guess that as a Minang, dodol is quite significant to her - much as I consider that it is not Raya without ketupat! And since we live on the other side of Aulong – all within cycling distance, we would help her whenever we can.

Now if you know my nenek - she was a very petite lady and quite thin to be honest, but frail she was not, and if you know how difficult it is to cook dodol, you would think it is close to impossible for this Minang lady from Kampung Haraban in Bukittinggi in Sumatra Barat to do it on her own.

But I guess even with many of her grandchildren around, and some reasonably big enough to play rugby in primary school (ehem ehem), towards the end of the cooking process, when the dodol had become so sticky and viscous that it is no longer Newtonian fluid, she would be the one ‘stirring’ the dodol. In other words, she would be the last 'man' standing! So much for the hype that men are supposed to be stronger.

Overview of the making of dodol at my cousin Baharum's house in Kemunting on Nov 1, 2005. That's mum supervising the whole operation. The kawah was kepunyaan turun temurun. Not many inlaws, or even real sibling would want to handle the work requirement of dodol making.

A couple of years ago (Nov 2005 to be exact), the Hariris decided to cook our own dodol. The kawah besar that nenek used to use for cooking is now Mak’s, and she knew the recipe and the trick and tips well enough for us to have a go.

So we went to a cousin’s house in Kemunting, since his house is more suitable than ours for a day's worth of cooking. It has a compound and a shed; which is very important should it rain, and Taiping is of course known for its rain. Furthermore he has access to matured coconuts easily.

So with the proper ingredients (something like 5 coconuts for each kg of rice flour, may be, you need tons of coconut milk), gula kabong etc, we light up the fire at around 11 am in the morning. It was easy in the beginning. Even Arif who is not known to be masculine chipped in in the beginning.

The idea is to stir it (kacau) continuously over small fire to ensure that the mixture will not get burned in the kawah. If it did, you can practically throw away the whole thing - it is not nice to eat dodol with a hint of even a slight charred dodol.

.....and the mixture thickens. It is from here you need all the muscles you can muster. You can see mum trying the control the fire, as we need to slow cook dodol mixture, or it will burn and you have dodol with a stinging burning smell.

Tak sedap.

Caption: One hand demo on how to kacau dodol.

However, after more than 2 hours, the mixture started to thicken, changing its characteristic from Newtonian fluid to non-Newtonian fluid (read this only if you are a chemical or mechanical engineer). Then the energy and strength required to stir the mixture would be exponential. At this stage, the dodol fluid exhibited quite a character with big bubbles trying to push through from the bottom of the kawah. It looks like you have a volcano crater. Interesting behaviour - I guess the Minangs of the old days were trying to imitate the volcanic activities within the environment in Sumatra Barat to their kitchens! By 3 pm, it has thickened considerably and by then you wish you had not been so stupid to embark on the dodol project.

People started leaving the kawah as the mixture thickens. The energy and effort required would be exponential at this stage and it is best that you don't stick around! Find a reason for you to have to leave like taking pictures, and then slowly move away from the fire! ;-) My sis Farah, and my niece are in the background, starting to disappear, I guess. Eh, Azhar, kome pun nak cabut ke tu? hahahaha..I am glad this bro in law of mine was around.

“Why did we bother?” I asked mum, “Wouldn’t it be much easier just to purchase our own dodol?” Mak did not answer – to her that question need not be answered. Remember the response from Sir Edmund Hillary when people asked him why he had to climb Everest? Because it is there!

Dad and son at the helm, having fun in the shade. You can see the bubble forming in the right pic. Eh Mai, asyik dok tengok je, when are you going to help with the chore? Oh and Azhar did come back to help. I told you I can rely on him. This dodol was cooked with lots of love, and lots of sweat! Tu yang sedap giler tu. Haha puji sendiri!

By the time we finished (when the dodol was in semi-solid form), it was about 5 pm. We had been cooking by the fire for a grueling 6 hours. We were totally exhausted.

For the next 15 minutes after the completion, I was the horizontal man. I could not even move. I don’t quite feel I have a limb anymore.

When I looked back at what we did that year, it reminds me so much of nenek, who looked so frail but has the strength of two men, easily. I would not do it yearly for sure. I don’t have her strength and her will power. Inilah anak lepas merdeka .

In hindsight though, it was a fun family affair, especially when everybody chipped in. It brought the family together for the occasion.

But I am sure I did not feel that way that day.

In conclusion, should you have a craving for a good dodol in the future, but baulk at the idea of paying top ringgit for it, trust me, it is not, and it is worth every single sen of your hard-earned ringgit. It is not like making teh tarik or cooking rice. A whole team’s effort is required to make top notch chewable and sticky, but tasty dodol. And it is hard work.

So what about you? What are you favourite Hari Raya dishes?

PS A good dodol should not be sticky to your finger, or the plate actually. If it does, then it means that it has not been cooked properly. It should not be too sweet and you would also taste the creamy side of sweetness.


Chemical Engineering 101

A Newtonian fluid (named for Isaac Newton) is a fluid that flows like water—its stress versus rate ofstrain curve is linear and passes through the origin. The constant of proportionality is known as the viscosity.

A non-Newtonian fluid is a fluid in which the viscosity changes with the applied strain rate. As a result, non-Newtonian fluids may not have a well-defined viscosity. An inexpensive, non-toxic sample of a non-Newtonian fluid sometimes known as oobleck can be made very easily by adding corn starch(cornflour) to a cup of water.

NI termasuk dodol lah ni....

There you go - our tok nenek dedulu were competent chemical engineers. They produced fanciful edible solids that were converted from newtoniann fluid to non-newtonian ones, which to my mind is one of the more difficult branch chemical engineering - fluid dynamics. As noted by a friend at Petronas, sure die one sebab nama pun 'die'namics! Funny guy. Honestly I can't still comprehend many of its behaviours.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Puasa doloe doloe - Ramadhan '79 @ MRSM KB

I don't remember all the details. Thirty years had since passed - so much water had flown under the bridge, so to speak. At that time, our time is perhaps 30 mins earlier than they are now, so I presume waktu imsak is at around 5 pm. If I am not mistaken, at around 3 pm, thedewan makan folks would come to the hostel to wake us up.

With a bell!

"Sahur, sahur," they would call out aloud, of course while ringing the bell. Kleng kleng, kleng kleng. "Bising ler," many would be cursing back, especially those sleeping near the windows facing the corridor, "oghe nok tido pun tak sene."

Obviously many of would be just too lazy to go to the dewan makan. You cannot just jump out of bed and head to the hall. At the very least, you would have to wash you face and comb your hair properly. If you have proper etiquette, you would be brushing your teeth first. With your hair in a mess, I would not go. The gals would be even worse. At 3 am, you would want to still look 'come'. It's not so bad on the boys - many would be stone-faced, irrespective of their appearance, I guess.

But what can you do? Many a times, there would not be water running down the tap. You want to wash your face dengan tayammum?

The dishes at the dewan makan was nothing to shout about, obviously. Nasik kawah, after all, what do you expect? Hence, many of us were not too bothered to have sahur. Funnily,lauk gulai kawah is now back in popularity. I guess many of us, having reached the pinnacle of our lives, are longing for the good old days, which unfortunately included the bad foods.

We have short memories, so we were told by none other than our former PM himself.

But the kawah at the kitchen is bigger than those at the restaurant and of course did not use woods anymore.

In order to ensure many would come and eat the lousy food they cook, the dewan makanfolks would come up with a new marketing strategy. They were quite good actually; I am sure many would have passed their MBA, if they were to take classes. They would go to the gals' dorms, with the bells in their hands - kleng kleng, kleng kleng.

"Sahur, sahur," the makcik dewan makan would shout, "ayam goreng, aye goreng." They were announcing to the gals that the dish that morning would be fried chicken.

Upon hearing that, the gals would leap out of their beds. It was not every day we would able to have fried chicken. The dewan makan folks would rotate the menu obviously, and unlike today, sea food, especially fish, would normally be the order of the day. Ayam goreng would be for special days. Ikan jeket besi would be typical.

Many would not be edible, at least not to our taste.

But fried chicken is fried chicken, even though the dewan makan's version is no KFC. Hence it was easy to please kids who have no recollection of the taste of KFC then. And that morning, we were going to get fried chicken, and for that, it was worth going for sahur.

So we would all wake up, while the gals would put talcum on their face, and some makeups - to make themselves presentable, and with a glint in their eyes, headed to dewan makan, everybody with a mug in their hands.

Ayam goreng, aku nak makan ayam goreng - that would be in their minds as they walked passed each other like zombies. They may walk like zombies, but at 3 am, many would make pretty zombies, ;-) if you know what I mean.

Alas, we would all be disappointed. We were all tricked by the marketing gimmick of the dewan makan folks. Instead of ayam goreng, it would just be ikan Uji Rashid or ikan jeket besi. Obviously I was a fan of her, but definitely not a fan of the fish version. But since you are there already - you had taken the effort to wake up and do the needful to be at the dewan makan, you had no choice but to eat them.


I think the dewan makan folks have their own KPIs then. And their KPI would be to get us to finish those lousy foods.

But that's not my story. I would not have remembered such detail. That came from Shema, circa 2003 that I still remember. I thought it was funny. In fact it was funnier in words, and in first person, than in cold, static written words, as they were written here. Pity them nonetheless, tricked by the dewan makan folks. I don't think that was an issue for me. Syed Aboo would be waking us up reasonably late - no chance for a lengthy sleep and most likely, we would leave it quite late too. Like 4.30 am or something, so that we would not go back to sleep.

That's not it, as far as her story goes. According to her, those too lazy to wake up and go todewan makan, would - before they go to sleep - immerse/soak their instant noodle in hot water, so that at sahur time, they would be able to just eat it without having to wait.

And then would hit the bed again.

Like a sleeping beauty. Amboi.

Some would even just eat crackers for sahur, by soaking them in the maggie mee. I have no idea about this. I guess the gals' recipe did not make it to the boys dorm. Yalah, there was no hp or sms then. They would do anything to lengthen their sleeping hours.

Janji puasa.

But the best of times would be during the breaking of fast. We were allowed to go out to buy food and kuih to supplement our buka foods. Most likely we would head to the warung near the PPH (pasukan polis hutan) Pengkalan Chepa in front of our school. We are obviously talking about Kelantan here and Kelantan is known for her sweet tidbits, not unlike the Kelantan gals of course.

Unlike at the pasar ramadhan in KL, all you can get there is murtabak, murtabak and moremurtabak. Or otherwise it would be ayam percik, as if that there were no other foods and dishes. The murtabak would be paper thin, thinner than your 60g photostat paper. If it is as thick as the The Star newspaper, it would not be as bad, at least it would be worth it to buy and eat them as it would be filling, even if it were tasteless.

But in Kelantan, you would get all fancy foods - foods you would not get in KL. Jala Mas is a favourite of mine. I simply could not find it here in KL. Taik itek, akok, laksam etc etc. Of course some of these can be found in Pasar ramadhan, but they paled in comparison with the real thing in Kelantan (or Terengganu).

Akok has to be made from telur itek, so I was told.

The warungs of PPH Pengkalan Chepa would have better foods than you would ever find in the pasar ramadhan of KL, anywhere, or combined.

But the breaking of fast may pose a problem to some. During the non-fasting months, you can probably have your dinner from 6-8 pm or even later, and as it was staggered, theDewan Makan can accommodate all of us. But to do that within a space of 30 mins, it surely cannot seat 600 or more hungry students at the same time. As such, they decided that breaking of fast will be done according to class. When your turn to eat at the Dewan, all of us would be there with our own tray and mug, complete with all the rice, dishes and dates, waiting for the call for prayer.

Like these Pasteur 4 (1979 boys) waiting for someone to shout "dah masuk dah" and the hive of activities would begun. More of chaos, rather than gluttony, I guess.
All the other boys were looking at the direction of the camera but this blogger was concentrating on the foods on his tray. I can see dates, watermelon, veggie, eggs and may be a fish dish in the tray.

We were allocated 2 tables and as the boys outnumbered the gals by 4 (14 to 10 for a total of 24 students), sometimes someone may have to share the second table with the gals.

One can see Zai, Azli, the blogger, Budi, but I am not sure the far end person on the right. On the left I can see Abu, Jamil and Toi on the furthest end. I am not sure who was on this end of the pic, unfortunately the photographer took the picture vertically, when it should have been landscape. But he surely has lot of dates.
The Pasteur 4 gals - Minee, Jaghah, Sally, June and Liza. The others were hidden; they must have been shy gals. Not! At least 6 more of them in this picture, but it is not their fault; it is their photographer's. I wonder who was the gal on the left - just a portion of the hair can be seen. Sally should know I think. All them of them are in this pic, if you count the tray.

Hehe funny mugs; I am sure nowadays they would want to be seen with those anymore!

Arif told me that during his time at MRSM, he would be breaking his fast at the dewan with his homeroom mates. It sounds so boring to me, if at least I was not as familiar with my homeroom mates as I would be with my classmates. But time has changed I guess, he told me, that it was great that way.

A friend of mine - not mentioned above, told me of this story a couple of years ago. One day during Ramadhan that year, he went to buy a favourite sweets of his - Nekbat (I can't find this in Cheras). It is bigger than the marble you used to play with and it would be soaked in sugary solution.

Coming back from the PPH and getting ready for buka puasa, I guess since he was a bit late and the boys' table was full, he would have to sit with the gals, so it became a mixed table. To many, it would be a dream comes true to be able to sit with the gals, for one chances are they would share some of their cookies with you.

Of course the best part would be the cuci mata part! ;-)

In the tray would be the mouth's candy, and left, right and in front of you - the eyes' candies!

But that proofed to be a bane for him, for he had to sit with some he had been admiring (from afar) and she was quite a popular gal in class and in school, and I guess he knew he was not in her league. Not only he had to sit at the same table, but she was directly in front of her.

Lidah kelu, tak boleh berbicara.

Tak tentu arah dibuat nya. Nak makan pun tak selesa. You were trying your best to be cool and impress the other party, or at least not make a fool of oneself in front of her. Penangan cinta zaman sekolah.

So in the end, he did not touch his Nekbat and I guess he would remember this incident for the rest of his life. He was looking forward to enjoy his Nekbat, and in the end, he did not get to taste it at all as he was too embarrassed at the dining table.

Bro, should have given away the Nekbat to me then!

I guess this was the year that we had to rotate eating at the Dewan and at the dorm. She seems to be able to remember them all, this informer of mine, for I seems to have forgotten the huicy details.

She said, "Which year yang the boys and gals kena rotate buka puasa buka puasa kat dewan makan and dorm. Seingat I all the time macam tu kan, boring sungguh kalau kena angkut kuih2 tu buka kat dorm."

My brain is telling me that it is reaching an overloading situation. Beep, beep, does not compute. Memory overflow. I am shutting down...

Sorry Ma'am, I don't remember no more. I only seems to remember eating next to the gals tables. If there were no gals in the dewan, it would not be that much fun, and would not be a filling dinner. Your story on having to dine at the dorm would have blanked out from my memory ;-) It would not just be not fun having to carry the foods back to the dorms to have meals with the boys; in fact, it would be boring as we cannot 'cuci mata' while 'cuci mulut!"

Originally posted Oct 6, 2007 at 0725 hours at 360 blog.