I have a long list of must-eats whenever I am in Kelantan. There are mornings when I have two breakfast – the first one when I get to the market as soon as I wake up at the crack of dawn, and the other one with my friends who wake up at more reasonable hours. I love laksam, nasi berlauk, nasi dagang, nasi ulam, deep-fried kangkung, belud and even the various sweet kuih. In the evenings, there is ayam percik at Buluh Kasap which I visit religiously even if we have dubbed in diarrhea square, and sometimes not in jest.
But there is so much more to Kelantanese food than its Malay and Thai offerings, as I discovered when I did my first feature on the state’s food for the Sunday Plus. My guides were two Kelantanese Chinese boys whom we had known well through Thea Star’s Young Journalist Programme, BRATs.
Shawn and Beng Chuan introduced me to the term Cina Kampung on that trip. In Kelantan, the Chinese are distinguished as Cina Kampung or Cina Bandar. The former is so called because they live in villages among the Malays, or surrounded by Malays. The latter are the Chinese that settled in Kelantan much later, and live in towns.
Shawn’s family has been in Kelantan for nine generations, and they have lived among the Malays for a long time. Academicians define his community as Peranakan because there have assimilated Malay cultural practices in their daily lives. There are also Thai influences due to the state’s proximity to Thailand.
They speak Malay like it’s their mother tongue, and their Chinese dialect bears strong Malay and Thai influences. The women wear Malay dresses, and the men kain pelikat.
However, like their Malaccan and Penang counterparts, they retain their Chinese identity in their religious beliefs and observance of Chinese traditions. They also participate in Kelantanese Malay pastimes like top spinning and kite flying, as well as in traditional Malay performing arts such as dikir barat and wayang kulit.
Not many people know of the Kelantan or Terengganu Peranakan because their community is so small and their numbers are dwindling as more marry outside the group, and are assimilated with the general Chinese population.
On that trip some 15 years ago, Shawn introduced me to Kelantan Peranakan food. His aunt lives in a house with a big compound in a Malay kampung, and she showed me how they make khau jan (which is Thai for nasi ulam) and laksam. Khau jan is what Shawn’s family serve on Chinese New Year, complete with fish flakes, budu and keropok ikan. The herbs are plucked from the garden, and Shawn’s aunt knew some of them by their Malay names and some only by their Thai names.
Sharon Tan did an excellent feature on Kelantan Peranakan Food a few years ago for Flavours magazine, and Shawn’s aunt graciously shared several of her recipes. Their food is delicious, and different from the other Peranakan offerings as they bear Kelantanese Malay and Thai influences. For starters, they use a lot more coconut, and they flavour their food with budu ( a local fish sauce that is not used in the rest of Malaysia) and palm sugar. There is also more use of herbs and ulam to flavour their food.
Khau jan is a signature dish, and the best nasi dagang I had in Kelantan was from a Chinese stall. Customers ask for nasi dagang mixed with nasi berlauk, with accompaniments such as beef rendang, fish curry and chicken, with of course budu and keropok.
There are also easier dishes to make, like egg kesum, kerabu chicken and beef kaduk. There is budu for sale in the markets, but Kelantanese usually buy their budu from people they know so they can be sure it’s hygienically prepared. I haven’t gone to Kelantan in years, and my stock of budu has run out. So, I substituted budu (which I love) with fish sauce.
(From Flavours Magazine – Sept/Oct 2006)
6 shallots, slice thinly
2 stalks young lemongrass, sliced thinly
1 medium-sized torch ginger bud, sliced thinly
1 sprig polygonum (daun kesum), sliced thinly
1 cabbage leaf, sliced thinly
5 bird’s eye chillies, sliced
10 limes, halved and squeezed for juice
1cm gula melaka
1 tablespoon budu
1/2cm belacan (optional)
Salt to taste
Boil the chicken in a small pot until it is cooked. Set aside to cool, then shred the meat.
Mix all the sliced items in a deep bowl. Add in the lime juice, gula melaka, budu and salt. Add the shredded chicken and mix thoroughly. Serve immediately.