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Malay Culinary Fare

The usual fare of the Malays of today consists of rice and curry though
they like the Moors have their traditional cuisine as well. The earliest account
of local Malay food habits is perhaps that of Percival (1805) who says that the
usual fare of the Malays consists of fowl, fish, rice and vegetables while the
better sort also eat beef and mutton killed by one of their own race and
prepared in their own manner.

Among the other early accounts of Malay cuisine may be mentioned that of
Ferguson (1868) who refers to the Malay pasong woman chiefly met with on
Thursdays whose speciality pasong comprised “a sort of sweet pudding made
with rice-flour and jaggery, with a frothy head of coco-nut milk, and rolled up
in conical envelopes of plantain leaf”. Lionel Juriansz 1 delving on the local
Malay cuisine of his day mentions the sathe curry made of little squares of meat
skewered on short lengths of ekel (the midrib of the coconut leaf). Each length
of ekel, he says, accommodates four or five squares of meat.

Among the other Malay fare mentioned by him are kopa pittu and seeni
pittu. He also mentions sweetmeats such as saudodol (sago Muscat), boloong (a
delicious cake made of eggs, grated coconut and caraway seeds cooked in
treacle), pasong (a mixture of rice flour, coconut milk and jaggery, poured into
cones made of green banana leaves and then steamed), seenakku (the same
mixture poured into tiny cups and steamed) and vargik (half-boiled rice which
is re-boiled in treacle and balls made of the mixture).

There can be little doubt that the staple of the Malays even before their
arrival in Sri Lanka was rice as this is the staple food of the Malay peoples of
South East Asia as well. On special occasions such rice or nasi as they call it is
prepared in a variety of ways. For instance there is nasi kubuli, a rice dish
prepared by frying rice in ghee. Yellow rice (nasi kūning) is also known, as
also tempered rice (nasi tumis) and dillseed rice (nasi uluwarisi).Vegetable
curries include potato (ubi), drumstick (klentung), hog-plum (dongdong), bitter
gourd (papari), fried breadfruit curry (sukung goreng) and curried drumstick
leaves (dawong klentung kuwa).

Meat curries include beef curry (darging), mutton curry (kambing) and
chicken curry (ayang) as well as liver (āti), tripe (bābat) and trotters (kaki).
Fish and cuttle-fish curry (kucumi) are among the few seafood curries. Fried
meats include fried beef (darging goreng) and fried chicken (ayang goreng).
Hungry ? A gastronomic voyage. The Times of Ceylon Christmas Number 1951
Besides these, one would find the hot, so called devilled dishes such as devilled
beef (darging piddus) and devilled prawns (udang piddus). Yet another Malay
meat dish cūka consists of sliced beef cooked in ghee along with a paste of
ground garlic, mustard and red onions after which it is liberally mixed with
pepper. Another notable Malay meat dish is sāte, a thick beef curry made by
heating in coconut oil lightly pound beef cubes soaked with a mixture of
ground ginger, red onions, lemon grass, cumin seed, curry leaves and chillie
powder until a thick gravy is formed. Among the other typical Malay dishes
may be included the terong pical where whole brinjals are roasted in embers
after which the skin is peeled off and a paste comprising of dried prawn heads,
green chillies and garlic ground together applied on it.

The Malays also consume a variety of acar or pickles including the famous
sour-sweet Malay pickle made of onions, capsicums, dates, ginger and garlic
paste, ground mustard, chillie powder, jaggery, sugar and vinegar. Other
popular relishes include sambal cīlī, a delectable sambol prepared by mixing
scraped coconut fried to a golden brown with fried maldive fish, curry leaves,
ginger, tamarind, sugar, chillie and other spices and cooking it over a low flame
and ikkang kayu goreng, another delectable sambol made of onions fried until a
golden brown along with curry leaves and mashed and mixed with maldive
fish, chillie, sugar, lime and a variety of spices before being cooked on a low
flame. There is also blacang, a cake made of powdered dried prawns, ripe sour
plantains and jaggery dried in the sun and stored to be used as a sambol by
roasting and grinding it with chillies and adding lime juice.

Besides the above mentioned rice dishes and the side dishes which go along
with it, one may also come across various other dishes which figure as the main
meal. Prominent among them is pittu which is widely consumed by Malays
who know it as puttu. It is commonly consumed with tripe curry (bābat) and
coconut milk. The Malays, especially those of the east consume a variety of
appe or hoppers. These include appe santung or milk hoppers prepared by
pouring thick coconut milk on to the centre of the hopper which could then be
consumed with sugar or treacle, appe tayer or curd hoppers made by adding
curd to the hopper which could then be eaten with sugar or a sambol and appe
ayer prepared by adding sliced plantains, chopped cashewnuts, egg, jaggery
and sugar to the hopper batter after which it is prepared the usual way by
greasing a special semi-circular hopper pan and heating it over a low flame.
Shorteats are also known and prominent among them is the pastōl, a large
patties filled with tripe, potatoes ,onions and a variety of spices all cooked
One may also come across a variety of other dishes prepared with rice
which may be consumed on occasion. These include santan nasi which is
prepared by pouring milk over a dish of cooked rice, after which bananas,
jaggery or sugar is added. Another variant is prepared by mixing the cooked
rice with curd and treacle or sugar. Yet another sweet rice dish is the nasi
kuppal or moulded milk-rice prepared by cooking white or red rice in coconut
milk after which it is flattened to form an oval shape and filled with a mixture
of grated coconut and treacle heated together. There is also umping which is
consumed on special occasions. It comprises of rice flakes formed of boiled
rice flattened and dried in the sun and is consumed along with scraped coconut
and jaggery or sugar.

As for gruels, the Malays consume a considerable variety. One such is a

rice gruel known as nasi kanji, prepared by cooking white rice, garlic and dill
seeds in coconut milk. There is also kolak, a gruel commonly consumed during
the Ramaḍān period to break the fast which is prepared by boiling sweet
potatoes in coconut milk and mashing it, after which sugar, cinnamon and
cardamoms are added to it before it is cooked to form a gruel. Yet another
sweet gruel, the Būbur manisan is made of rice flour, coconut milk, kitul
jaggery and sugar enriched with a variety of condiments like cinnamon,
cardamoms and cumin seeds. It is highly recommended for invalids. A soup
peculiar to the Malays is the rawon made of breast bones, onions, tomatoes,
garlic, ginger, coriander and a variety of condiments like chillie, pepper and
cumin. There is also the famous beef soup (darging sop) made of beef with
bones, potatoes, carrots, beans, cabbage, leeks, onions, tomato, barley, celery,
ginger, garlic and pepper. Kuwalada, another soup especially recommended for
invalids is prepared by cooking together a mess of red onions, green chillies,
maldive fish, smashed garlic and ginger and coriander,cumin and pepper

As for Malay desserts and sweetmeats, we find a considerable variety

from the rich sirikāyā pudding to the crispy and crunchy sukung melar.
Sirikāyā which figures prominently as a Malay dessert is prepared in the same
manner as the vaṭṭalappam of the Moors. It is however very likely that it had its
origins in the Malay world, having evolved from that sweet dish known as
serikāyā among the Malays of Indonesia and Malaysia. The serikāyā of the
Malays of this region however somewhat differs from the local sirikāyā and
comprises of a steamed egg custard made with coconut milk, palm sugar and
pandan leaf. It is also often consumed as a jam. The similarity between the two
however suggests a common origin so that we may have to suppose sirikāyā to
be a Malay achievement. This would also suggest that the vaṭṭalappam of the
Moors has actually been borrowed from the Malays who settled here.

Various confections known as dodol are also in wide use among the
Malays. They are evidently of Malay introduction (the term dodol itself is of
Malay origin) though widely consumed by other communities such as the
Sinhalese (who also call it dodol) and the Moors of the East (who call it lodal).
The common dodol is prepared by cooking together a mess of rice flour,
coconut milk, kitul jaggery ir treacle and cardamoms to which is sometimes
added cashewnuts to form a soft, oily, dark-brownish sweetmeat. It is similar to
the to the kalu-dodol of the Sinhalese and the lodal of the Eastern Moors.
Besides this, there is sav dodol made of puttu grains, kitul jaggery, sugar,
coconut milk and cardamoms and nanka martan dodol made of ripe jak fruit,
rice flour, kitul jaggery, sugar, coconut milk, cardamoms and cashewnuts.

Bibikkan, also popular among the Sinhalese who know it by the same name
is a rich brownish cake made of rice flour, roasted and pounded green gram,
scraped coconut, jaggery, sugar and sweet cumin. Also commonly consumed,
especially on festive occasions are the cucur or oil cakes which are similar to
the kävum of the Sinhalese and the paniyāram of the Moors. There is also
cūcur kaccang which is similar to the muṅ kävum of the Sinhalese and is
prepared by cooking together rice flour, ground green gram, kitul treacle and
crushed cardamoms after which it is kneaded into a paste, flattened on a board
and cut into the desired shape before being coated in a batter of rice flour,
coconut milk, egg and turmeric and deep fried. It is then coated in a syrup made
of sugar, water and rose essense. Another well known sweetmeat, the kospāng
is similar to the lävariya of the Sinhalese. It is prepared by placing a mixture of
scraped coconut, sago and treacle all boiled together on to the centre of a
stringhopper after which it is folded into two and steamed on mats like

The Malays also have preserves of the dōsi type including nanas dōsi
(pineapple preserve) and dongdong dōsi (hog-plum preserve) which are
similarly prepared to those of the Moors. Yet another sweetmeat, manisan tūju
somewhat resembles halwa and is made of milk, sugar, gram flour, grated
coconut, crushed cardamoms and ghee. There is also sukung melar, fried
breadfruit slices, fried breadfruit slices coated in sugar syrup.

Other typical Malay sweetmeats include warjīk made of half-cooked rice

cooked in thick coconut milk, kitul jaggery and cardamom powder and formed
into boluses of the size of small limes and pilos prepared by mashing bananas,
flour, sugar and coconut milk together into a paste and frying small quantities
of it in coconut oil until a brown colour. These pilos are usually consumed with
sugar syrup poured over it. Another typical Malay sweetmeat is the pāsong, a
sort of cake prepared by forming a batter of rice flour, jaggery, cinnamon and
cardamoms mixed with coconut milk and pouring it into cones made of
plantain or banana leaves. The cones are steamed and the leaves removed
before serving. There is also cīna kuwe prepared by steaming in special cīna
kuwe moulds a mixture of rice flour, kitul jaggery and coconut milk until it
assumes a puffed appearance after which it is served with grated coconut 2.

Some recipes peculiar to the Malays may be found in Cultural Rhapsody: Ceremonial food and rituals of
Sri Lanka.Vinodini De Silva (2000) and Makanan Melayu.Gnaima Dain (2003).