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Heritage: Dish woven in tradition

The art of making ketupat, a staple at Hari Raya celebrations, is an intricate one. Siti Nurbaiyah Nadzmi goes through the paces with two ketupat masters

THE word ketupat usually conjures up festive images of balik kampung and the delicious spread of rendang, kuah kacang and serunding that go with it.

But the word itself connotes a delicate art of weaving coconut palm leaves into casings to hold the cooked rice fillings. The art of weaving is slowly dying because people have the option of getting those ready-made ketupat wrapped in plastic which is commonly found in supermarkets.

 There are at least two types of ketupat served during Hari Raya in Peninsular Malaysia: ketupat satay in the north and ketupat palas in the east coast. They differ significantly in shape and taste.

Ketupat satay is first made by weaving the ketupat casing from young leaves from the coconut tree. The ketupat satay casing has a square shape.

Patimah Sujak, 65, from Kampung Sungai Buaya, Rawang says she can weave five types of casings: ketupat satay, ketupat bawang, ketupat pasar, ketupat jantung and ketupat burung.

Palas or fan palm leaf

Patimah demonstrating how to weave ketupat satay

 “The ketupat satay has the basic three loops (rumah) and three strands to weave into a ‘fish’ shape before locking the weave into its final shape. It is easier to learn than other shapes,” says Patimah, who learnt the art from friends and neighbours after she married.

Sharifah Nadzriyah (right) showing her daughter Sharifah Sharina Syed Mestaddin (middle) and cousin (Sabihah Alauddin) how to wrap ketupat palas

 When her nine children and their families return to celebrate Hari Raya, they will help weave the casings together. “A-once-a-year event, but during this particular time I will teach the young ones how to weave ketupat. It is easy to forget if you don’t practise.”

Boiling ketupat palas

Once the casings are completed, they are half-filled with washed rice and then boiled for at least 90 minutes. Some have never witnessed the entire ketupat-making process.

 “That’s why I feel it is important to make ketupat when everybody is home for Hari Raya. At least they know what it takes to make the ketupat.”

The ketupat has a delicate pandan aroma and the rice, shaped by the casings, will turn into smooth rice cakes. Unlike the plastic-wrapped artificial pandan-flavoured ketupat, these have a slightly springy texture and easily soak up the rendang.

“When I was a child, I remember the pilgrims to Mecca would pack ketupat as their travel food on the boat. They are filling, wholesome and last longer than normal rice,” she says.

 You can’t eat a freshly boiled ketupat. The ketupat, once boiled, will be hung to cool and dry before being served. “You cannot eat a hot ketupat. You can’t even slice it! Hot ketupat will not hold its shape so you have to let it cool first.”
Hanging the ketupat to dry will increase the ketupat’s shelf life by almost a week.

 Patimah has always marvelled at the intricate weaving of the coconut leaves. “I do not know who invented ketupat because as far as I can remember, ketupat has always been served for Hari Raya.

“Everytime I look at the weaving, I will ask myself who created these beautiful intricate sacs to fill with rice which are then boiled into ketupat?”

  Patimah says ketupat is viewed as a group activity. “My husband is a ketupat expert. From weaving the casings to boiling the ketupat, he knows exactly when the ketupat is done,” she says.

Ketupat palas is different. Homemaker Sharifah Nadzriyah Syed Harun, 61, from Sungai Petani says ketupat palas is traditionally prepared by women. “I have never seen it made by men.”

Ketupat palas is made by wrapping half-cooked glutinous rice with fan palm leaves and then boiled. Sharifah Nadzriyah says it is impossible to make ketupat palas without the these palas leaves, harvested in the wild for the sole purpose of making ketupat.

 “I suppose you can substitute palas leaves with pandan or banana leaves but the taste will be different,” she says.

Making ketupat palas begins with “buka daun”, where the leaves are smoothened out and folded into triangular shapes. Then santan is put on the fire and when it is simmering, glutinous rice is added. The pot is stirred until the contents are half-cooked.

“The ketupat can be just plain sticky (glutinuos) rice, or it can have fresh corn and black-eyed peas added to it,” she says. “For Hari Raya I usually serve all three types — plain, corn and peas,” says Sharifah Nadzriyah who has been making ketupat since her teens.

Ketupat is traditionally served with beef curry

The crucial part of ketupat palas is wrapping the half-cooked sticky rice in the leaves. “The ketupat has to be tightly wrapped and knotted, otherwise water could seep in when boiling and the ketupat will be soggy and unpalatable,” she says.

 Once wrapped with its tail knotted, the ketupat is boiled for about two hours. It can be served immediately.

“The ketupat is traditionally served with beef curry but nowadays many people like to have it with rendang and serunding.”

Sharifah Nadzriyah adds that the ketupat can be made in advance. “Once is it is wrapped, the ketupat can be frozen and kept for weeks. Just boil the number of ketupat that you’d like to eat and freeze the rest.” A freshly boiled ketupat can last a few days.

What better way to have ketupat than with family and friends?

 Patimah and Sharifah Nadzriyah are ketupat masters featured in a Life & Times short film titled Ketupat. The minute-long short film documents the making of both types of ketupat and was filmed at their homes in Kampung Sungai Buaya, Rawang and Taman Ria Murni, Sungai Petani.

Sharifah Nadzriyah, who learnt ketupat-making from her mother, says the younger generation is quite disinterested in making ketupat.

“Making ketupat today is a lot easier than before. You can buy santan freshly pressed. You no longer have to buy coconuts, grate the flesh and press for santan. It is the same with glutinous rice because it is sold cleaned — you no longer have to sift the grains to separate the rice husks or antah (unprocessed padi grains).

“When I was a girl, making ketupat was a skill that everyone had to have, but the younger generation seems complacent about making these traditional dishes. If they don’t learn how to make ketupat, then who will?”

By Siti Nurbaiyah Nadzmi | Source:  Sunday Life & Times - HERITAGE: Dish woven in tradition - 05 August 2012
Tags: heritage, ketupat

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