All this talk about 1 Malaysia in recent times has got me thinking, if there was a Malaysian food that could embody the 1 Malaysia spirit, what could it be? Then the answer came to me – rojak! The term ‘rojak,’ in the Malay language, is a colloquial expression for ‘an eclectic mix,’ which aptly sums up the cultural diversity of Malaysian society, and if you were familiar with the food item, you can easily see why!
Rojak is a kind of savoury snack that has a lot of different ingredients in it. In Malaysia, there are two main types of rojak – rojak buah (fruit rojak) and rojak pasembor (Indian rojak). Rojak buah consists of a mix of a variety of local fruits and vegetables like guava, pineapple, young papaya, cucumber and sengkuang (Chinese turnip). These are cut into small bite-sized pieces and mixed with crushed roasted peanuts and a pungent ‘kuah’ or sauce made primarily of petis, a thick shrimp paste with the consistency of molasses.
The sweetness and crunchiness of the fruits play off the strong fishy taste of the petis, while the peanuts add texture and nuttiness. Some rojak sellers may even add young mango or green apple pieces to their rojak buah, to introduce extra tartness, or blanched bean sprouts and tofu puffs to add interest. The thing that makes the rojak buah special is the ‘kuah’ or sauce itself. If you don’t get it just right, your rojak buah is pretty much ruined!
Aside from the pungent petis, you will also need ingredients like bird’s eye chillies, belacan (dry shrimp paste), tamarind juice or lime juice, sugar and soy sauce to make the kuah. If you’ve never made this before, it can be hard to get right, which is why local manufacturers are now selling ready-made rojak buah sauce that you can get at selected wet markets, supermarkets, grocery stores and fruit stalls.
While rojak buah is kind of like a Malaysian fruit salad, rojak pasembor is far more substantial, consisting of a filling mix of fried dough fritters, fried bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cucumber and sometimes cuttlefish. The sauce has a thick consistency, and is sweet as well as spicy. Some rojak pasembor sellers include unconventional ingredients like batter-fried oyster mushrooms, fish balls, fish cake and hot dogs in their rojak.
With both rojak buah and rojak pasembor, the trick is to add the sauce right before serving; otherwise, you will end up with very soggy rojak!