Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Jumping Table – The Quintessential Malay Feast

It was only after I had lived a few years away from Singapore, that I truly appreciated having grown up in its famously multi-racial milieu. For one, Singapore has bred in me an ethnic tolerance and appreciation that I’ve come to take for granted; for another, it’s given me an omnivorous palate, and taught me the pleasures of indulging in as wide a range of cuisines as possible.

Whenever I get invited to a traditional celebration by a Malay or Indian friend, I see it as a special treat – especially when it involves food.

For me, nothing evokes the Malay love for family, friends and food, and a good time, like the ‘kenduri’. The Malay wedding features the quintessential -- and one of the most common – forms of kenduri. Who hasn’t encountered one in an HDB void deck; seen the ‘ma-chiks’ huddled together and busy with the food preparation; or smelled the delicious aromas wafting up to the upper floors, and heard the music and merrymaking?

Kenduri (pronounced ken-doo-ree) is Malay for ‘feast’. A kenduri is joyous, age-old, and versatile. Kenduris are organized to celebrate everything from weddings, circumcisions and birthdays, to anniversaries, ‘graduations’ from religious or silat (martial art) studies, festivals like Hari Raya, and even first-time pregnancies and the first haircut of a 40-day-old infant. Seems anything is fair excuse for a kenduri. And why not?

Kenduris bring people together in a riot of communal good spirits. Everybody chips in: grandmas to five-year-olds help in cooking, decorating, serving, and running errands, all in the spirit of ‘gotong royong’ (or cooperation). And everyone – guests and all – always has a fun time.

Missing the flavors of the kenduri spread that I grew up eating and loving, I approached one of my favorite chefs recently.

Bubbly and big-spirited Chef Arni used to run a well-known eatery with her husband -- Arni & Yusof -- at Far East Plaza on Scotts Road. The Arni & Yusof kitchen was originally helmed by Arni’s mother, from whom she learned the ropes and succeeded several years ago. I’ve been a patron of the stall for more than 12 years until they closed for good a few months ago. The feast that Arni prepared for my friends and I was replete with the traditional dishes and desserts of the kenduri, including mutton, nasi brani, chicken, pacheri, and in particular, kek kukus, a rarely seen caramelized cake.

A Wedding Kenduri
23 March 2013

Nasi Brani Dum

Kambing Masak Rempah Brani
Mutton in Brani Paste

Rendang Lembu
Beef Rendang

Ayam Masak Merah
Chicken in Chili and Tomato Paste

Sotong Masak Hitam
Squid in Black Ink
What got me hooked on Arni & Yusof in the first place -- sotong masak hitam for more than 12 years.
Udang Sambal
Sambal Prawn

Dalcha  / Pacheri  / Achar
Mixed Vegetable Curry with Lentils/Spicy Cooked Pineapple/Cucumber Pickle

Kek Kukus / Bubur Kacang / Pisang
Steamed Caramelized Cake/Green Bean Dessert Porridge/Banana

All photos by Mark Ong

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