Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Ketupat & Dodol for Raya Story


I wanted to post this during the second half of the Ramadhan, but after second thought, I decided that I should do it earlier to get into the spirit of Raya. I have not heard lagu Raya as yet, even though we have been fasting for 11 days already. I think it is about time the lagu raya to start berkumandang on the air. We need to get the people to start shopping and boost up the economy! ;-)

So I thought I would do my part, no matter how small, to get everybody into the spirit of Hari Raya. This entry was originally posted on Oct 7, 2007 at my now defunct Yahoo360 blog.

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.

For what is Hari Raya without the ketupat (and lemang)!

(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-shaped 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 with 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. There is some space on this side of the house, under a rambutan tree, for her to have the open fire for the cooking.

I remember when I was kid in Aulong in the early 70s, nenek would have to have dodol for Raya 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, physically.

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: Demo on how to kacau dodol using one hand only.

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 having to take pictures, and then slowly move away from the fire and disappear! ;-) My sis Farah, and my nieces are in the background, and 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 to just purchase dodol at tyhe shop?” Mak did not answer – to her, that question need not be answered at all. 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.

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