The Star Malaysia - Star2
A blue dessert worth saving
Pulut tetal is one of 213 malaysian delicacies listed as heritage food items by the national Heritage department.
NOT many people seem to have heard of pulut tetal, a glutinous rice cake with a bluish tinge, whose origin can be traced to Peranakan cuisine.
It was once upon a time relished as a dessert by the elite and wealthy women of the Baba Nyonya clan in Melaka (another name for the delicacy is tai tai which, in Chinese, refers to wives of rich men).
Its popularity, however, waned over the decades, probably due to its complicated preparation process. For the record, pulut tetal, also known as pulut tekan, is among the 213 Malaysian delicacies listed as heritage foods by the National Heritage Department under its intangible heritage category.
Making it to the heritage list in 2012, along with other Baba Nyonya delights such as bubur chacha, popia and pie tee, pulut tetal is now on the brink of extinction, according to the National Heritage Department in a tweet it posted last year.
Pulut tetal, it said, was once unique because of its blue tinge that comes from the natural dye of the butterfly pea flower or bunga telang. In the past, it was often served during festivals and parties but today’s younger generation barely knows of its existence as few people make the delicacy, the department added.
Not wanting the delicious glutinous rice dish to fade into oblivion, one enterprising woman in Bukit Jelutong, Selangor, is making an attempt to popularise the heritage item by making and selling pulut tetal.
Rosmawati Abdul Ghani, 48, who hails from Taiping, Perak, said in an interview that the idea of starting the business came about during last year’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations. At the time, she tried to prepare her own pulut tetal, which incidentally was her husband Azman Mohd Yusoff’s favourite delicacy. Azman’s mother, who was of Baba Nyonya descent, used to make it.
According to Rosmawati, pulut tetal served with rendang or asam pedas was a staple dish whenever they celebrated Hari Raya with her husband’s family in Tengkera, Melaka.
Since her family could not return to Melaka for the celebrations due to the movement control order, she decided to try her hand at making it.
“When my husband told me of his longing for pulut tetal, I tried to make it myself. Fortunately, he was satisfied with my ‘handiwork’,” she said.
Her husband’s thumbs up motivated Rosmawati to improve her work through trial and error. Finally, towards the end of 2020, she mustered the confidence to embark on her pulut tetal venture which she named Pulut Tetal Nyonya Zubaidah after her late mother-in-law Zubaidah Taib.
“Pulut tetal was originally eaten with seri kaya but in the case of my husband’s family, they usually eat it with asam pedas daging served on the side.
“My customers can order pulut tetal with asam pedas, pandan-flavoured seri kaya or serawa durian (durian flesh cooked with coconut milk and sugar),” she said, adding that there is good demand for her pulut tetal which she promotes and sells online through her Instagram account.
“For most of my customers, my pulut tetal brings back memories of their childhood. They said they have not had the chance to eat it after their family members who knew how to make it passed away that is, until they got to know Pulut Tetal Nyonya Zubaidah.
“I’m happy that my product has enabled them to reminisce their childhood,” Rosmawati said.
Former journalist Norliza Abdul Rahman, 47, from Umbai, Melaka, said she used to enjoy pulut tetal during her schooldays too.
“I used to have it with seri kaya but it was not made by my family because the preparation is complicated and lengthy. But after I left school and Melaka, I never got to taste it until now, when I tried this,” she said of Rosmawati’s product. Norliza has since tried the pulut tetal with seri kaya, asam pedas daging and serawa durian.
She added that she found the pulut tetal served with asam pedas interesting and that the latter added more heritage value to the dish.
To prepare pulut tetal, the glutinous rice has to be soaked for at least two hours before it is steamed. Then, the rice is mixed with coconut milk, salt and sugar and left for an hour before it is steamed a second time.
The juice of the butterfly pea flower is then added to the mixture which is then transferred to a mould. Rosmawati uses a special wooden box lined with a banana leaf. To get a firm, smooth and beautiful texture, the rice has to be hand-pressed while it is still hot and steaming.
“If the glutinous rice is not hot, it will not compress well. This is because when the rice becomes dry it will become less sticky,” said Rosmawati, who leaves the pressed glutinous rice inside the wooden box for at least eight hours before serving it.
Meanwhile, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri praised the efforts taken by individuals to popularise Malaysian traditional delicacies that are nearing extinction.
She said the heritage food industry has the potential to be developed for the tourism market and can be highlighted in promotions aimed at attracting tourists to Malaysia.
“The ministry is confident that the 212 other food items given national heritage status also have potential to be highlighted by food entrepreneurs (just like Rosmawati’s pulut tetal),” she said in an interview recently.
Referring to Sarawak’s traditional kuih bahulu and layered cake, which are also listed as heritage foods, Nancy said the two items have been commercialised widely and are highly sought after in the market.
She also said that the ministry is always open to providing full support to entrepreneurs who wish to embark on a business involving heritage food and are in need of aid, advisory services, expertise and further information on heritage products.
She hopes the support extended by the ministry will encourage more food-based entrepreneurs, chefs, local restaurant operators and hotels to serve heritage dishes at their respective premises. – Bernama