Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Seasonal No More...

Few days ago my mother-in-law brought home a traditional Kelantanese delicacy called Surra. It looked unappetizing with "dodol-like" greyish rubbery texture. There were some yellow strands and beans sprinkled on it, making it just a bit interesting. Initially I was reluctant to try the ugly stuff but she insisted that I had to try this as people don't make this food anymore. She got it from her friend who made it by herself. I asked her what's so special about this Surra and what's it made of.

Long time ago, in Kelantan (one of the nine states in Malaysian peninsula) people made Surra only on Fridays during fasting month. The cooking was usually done in mosques by volunteers. On Thursday people would go to the mosques, each bringing a container of ingredients for making Surra. One person brought rice, another brought chicken, another brought eggs, some brought bird, some brought spices, etc. Everyone in the community would contribute something. It's like potluck in the US but instead of bringing food, they brought in raw ingredients. On Friday morning the volunteers would cook the Surra in a huge "kawah", a huge black metal wok for a few hours. After Friday prayers when the Surra was ready, everyone would get their containers back with the freshly-made Surra in it. The tradition stopped long time ago. Nobody does it anymore and it's very difficult to find Surra because people are too lazy to cook a dish with a lot of ingredients.  My mother-in-law said to make one nice surra, we need at least 20 ingredients.  Some of the ingredients need to be soaked over night before being cooked for more than 5 hours with constant stirring.

With a story like that, of course I eagerly tried the dish. Taking the first bite, the taste was very new to me. It took me awhile to get used to it... It was savoury, very rich in flavours at the same time I could taste some sweetness in the shredded chicken. After the second bite, I couldn't stop... But of course I had to stop because my mother-in-law only had two slices of surra to be shared with the rest of our family members.

Eating the Surra reminded me of all the food I used to eat when I was young.  Some still available, some are gone, some are modified.  I am a huge fan of traditional food so I feel sad when traditional food is forgotten.

Growing up in a Chinese family in Indonesia, I used to help my late grandmother made Onde on the 21st of December. She would gather everyone in the family to pound suji leaves and extract the juice to colour her dough green. Late in the evening she would have her rice-flour-dough ready for shaping.  Children would shape the dough into tiny colourful balls while adults shaped them into larger balls filled with sweet ground peanuts.  The morning of 22nd December she would boil the Onde and put them into bowls with hot syrup made of brown sugar and ginger. 

Bandung air was still chilly at that time so it was a total bliss to have piping hot Onde for breakfast.  Nowadays people can buy the Onde anytime from roadside stalls, no need to wait until 22nd of December.

Then there was "Bak chang" festival where every house would make its own version of Bak Chang, a triangle shaped rice stuffed with meats. For the whole week we would exchange Bak Changs with our neighbours and relatives, trying their versions.

During that time, food was not just a thing to satisfy hunger and appetite but it was more like a glue that connected family members, relatives, friends and neighbours.

Malaysians used to have Lemang only during fasting month of Ramadhan. The smell of glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk inside bamboos over charcoal fire made the nights of Ramadhan smelled heavenly.  The morning of Hari Raya everyone would be eager to have the Lemang and Beef Rendang as their first meal of the day.

Now we can find Lemang almost everyday in night market. To make it worse, we can even buy instant Lemang in plastic casing in supermarket. We just need to boil it. While some people say it makes it easier and faster to eat lemang, I just hate that idea.

To me, authentic seasonal food keeps traditions alive. When seasonal food becomes commercial and available all year long, it just lost its soul. When the soul of food is lost, eating is less pleasurable... It's not special anymore. 

I remember what my husband told me this morning : Too much of a good thing is not good, no matter how good that good thing is. (siiigghhh... the whole sentence is so complicated... typical of him..;).  I have to agree with him on this...

Now... I am waiting patiently for my first Yee Sang of the year.... I really hope they won't start making Yee Sang available everyday.


  1. So true. Food that we could only find during festivals those days, we can have it everyday, which makes those food not special anymore. Happy New Year to you. Kinda late wishing you but it is still January.

    1. Hi Aries, Happy New Year to you too... Not too late of course, I am still in the New Year mode until February after Cap Go Meh...;)


The Accidental Prisoners

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