Mak­ing a leaf ren­dang

The younger gen­er­a­tion may not be in­ter­ested in cer­tain leafy dishes, but a pock­et­ful of older folk in Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan are still mak­ing th­ese her­itage recipes, hop­ing to keep them ever­green.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By ABI­RAMI DU­RAI

WHAT makes some food sur­vive the long haul while oth­ers dis­ap­pear with­out a trace? While Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan is fa­mous for its ren­dangs and co­conut milk-rich gu­lais fired up by bird’s eye chill­ies, other dishes from the Mi­nang ta­ble – like a ren­dang made of leaves – are hardly known out­side of lo­cal homes.

Con­cerns over the fate of lesser­known tra­di­tional foods sur­faced at the Mini Pesta Masakan Tra­di­tional, a small af­fair held at the Seri Menanti Re­sort, within view of the old palace. The women liv­ing around the royal town of Sri Menanti in Kuala Pi­lah had got­ten to­gether to show­case their food her­itage.

Nearly all aged 50 and above, they are the last in line who are still mak­ing the tra­di­tional dishes taught to them by their moth­ers and grand­moth­ers.

Many of the ladies agree that tra­di­tional cook­ing styles in the state arose based on what was avail­able around them. Back in the day, there were few shops or con­ve­nience stores, so peo­ple sim­ply used what was on the land, mak­ing use of trees, plants and leaves in their gar­dens or neigh­bours’ plots.

Ac­cord­ing to 58-year-old Zuriati Hu­sain, by her es­ti­ma­tion, there are ap­prox­i­mately 44 dif­fer­ent kinds of wild leaves in the state that can be utilised for lo­cal food.

But Zuriati and her peers seem to be a dy­ing breed. They all la­ment the fact that few young peo­ple are keen to learn older recipes which use all sorts of for­aged lo­cal plants, shoots and leaves, pre­fer­ring in­stead to eat out or mod­ernise the recipes in favour of con­ve­nience.

Take gu­lai um­but ke­lapa for in­stance, which is a tra­di­tional Ne­gri dish that em­ploys the use of co­conut palm shoots (an­other ex­am­ple of the state’s affin­ity for co­conut). Ac­cord­ing to 57-year-old Rozalmi Alias – who makes gu­lai um­but ke­lapa when she can – the dish was once very pop­u­lar at kenduris, but is also a costly af­fair as to get the palm shoots, an en­tire co­conut tree has to be sac­ri­ficed!

“I learnt how to make this dish from my grand­mother – peo­ple used to make it all the time for wed­dings and kenduris. If it was a big kenduri, they would cut down five or six co­conut trees.

“Th­ese days, in­stead of co­conut trees, peo­ple use palm trees, be­cause you can get palm trees any­where. It doesn’t taste as nice as co­conut palm shoots though – the tex­ture is rougher,” she says.

Rozalmi thinks the recipe will die out soon as younger peo­ple don’t seem to like the taste and flavour of um­but ke­lapa and most of them ab­hor the work that goes into mak­ing it. The few who are will­ing to try their hand at it of­ten choose to use the eas­ier-to-source palm tree shoot in­stead. Ren­dangs are also ubiquiin tous Ne­gri cui­sine, but while most peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with chicken and beef ren­dang, in­ter­est­ingly, there are greener vari­ants that make use of lo­cal leaves like pe­gaga and ma­man.

Datin Sri Zainah Ibrahim, who makes a mean ren­dang pe­gaga, says the key to mak­ing a good, leafy ren­dang is to have pa­tience.

“Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan food is very sim­ple; we don’t use a lot of spices. The most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ents are cili padi, turmeric and co­conut milk. But even though you need just a few in­gre­di­ents, it takes a long time to cook, be­cause ev­ery­thing is slow-cooked,” she says.

This is a sen­ti­ment echoed by 53-year-old Jauhariah Mohd Sidek, who makes a very good ren­di­tion of tra­di­tional ren­dang ma­man, which utilises ma­man leaves, which are found pri­mar­ily in Kuala Pi­lah and Ge­mencheh (where it is served dur­ing Hari Raya) in Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan. Ap­par­ently, the leaf is so lit­tle-known out­side th­ese ar­eas that most peo­ple ei­ther haven’t seen the tree or have never even heard of it.

Ac­cord­ing to Jauhariah, mak­ing ren­dang ma­man is a long-drawn af­fair that takes be­tween two to three hours for the leaves to be­come crispy and the gravy to dry up, re­sult­ing in a rich, flavour­ful leafy ren­dang.

Ex­pe­ri­ence is es­sen­tial in mak­ing this dish as peo­ple who don’t know how to han­dle the leaves of­ten end up with a very bit­ter con­coc­tion.

Jauhariah says she too re­alises that there might be an ex­piry date for this recipe, as few younger peo­ple seem to be in­ter­ested in mak­ing it th­ese days. She has tried teach­ing it to her 17-year-old daugh­ter but the lat­ter doesn’t like it very much and hasn’t taken to it at all.

“It’s like a dy­ing recipe; I think it’s too tra­di­tional for younger peo­ple as you have to stand over the fire for a long time, which I don’t think they’re will­ing to do,” she says.

An­other tra­di­tional dish which makes full use of lo­cally-sourced ed­i­ble leaves is the creamy, highly ad­dic­tive tem­poyak daun racik.

The dish em­ploys nearly 10 dif­fer­ent kinds of leaves and shoots, like daun mang­gun and daun cengk­er­ing.

Zuriati – who is a dab hand at mak­ing this form of tem­poyak – says that the bal­ance of leaves in the dish is cru­cial to at­tain­ing a rich, flavour­ful dish that is nei­ther over­whelm­ing nor un­der­whelm­ing. “It is a lit­tle bit of cam­pur-cam­pur, but the bal­ance must be right other­wise the taste will be off. For in­stance, if you put too much daun kaduk, it will be bit­ter,” she says.

She says there are many it­er­a­tions of this dish us­ing dif­fer­ent leaves, but she learnt her her­itage recipe from her mother. Zuriati adds that cut­ting the many dif­fer­ent leaves re­quired for this recipe re­quires immense pa­tience, which is why it is mostly the older gen­er­a­tion who end up do­ing it, as the younger crowd have nei­ther the time nor the in­cli­na­tion to do this.

In­ter­est­ingly, although the younger gen­er­a­tion may not be fans of th­ese dishes, mem­bers of the Ne­gri royal fam­ily are, ac­cord­ing to 84-year-old Rafeah Hamzah (bet­ter known in the area as Mak Ayo).

Rafeah is an ex­pert on the royal fam­ily’s culi­nary predilec­tions as she served the palace for over 40 years and of­ten cooked au­then­tic Ne­gri dishes like the ren­dang pe­gaga as well as gu­lai um­but ke­lapa and ayam masak kun­ing with jack­fruit.

“They re­ally like to eat tra­di­tional food at the palace. And it’s the same

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