THE STORY BEHIND THE KETUPAT

by Amanda Ng, The New Paper

As Hari Raya comes to an end, the majority of families will open up their houses and invite their friends and relatives to partake in a sumptuous feat, including traditional Malay dishes.

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One of the most anticipated dishes served during the Hair Raya festivities, and also an iconic symbol of the occasion, is the ketupat. Just take a stroll through one of the street bazaars at Geylang Serai in the evenings, and you will definitely recognise it in its signature rhombus form everywhere.

While there are a few schools of thoughts regarding the Ketupat's origins, this is my favourite: The word Ketupat is believed by some to originate from the Javanese term, ngaku lepat, which means to admit one's mistakes. The complexity of the lef weaving that wraps the ketupat is said to symbolise the mistakes and sins committed because of our human nature, and the white inner is said to represent purity and deliverance from sins after the Ramadan fast, prayer and rituals.

According to the legend, this style of rice preparation originated when seafarers going on long sea voyages needed a way to keep cooked rice from spoiling and to protect it from insects and flies.

To make this characteristic dish, rice grains are packed two thirds to three quarters full inside a fist-sized woven palm or coconut leaf pouch and boiled for at least five hours. As the rice cooks, the grains will expand to fill the pouch and become compressed, which gives this rice dumpling its characteristic shape and texture.

At mealtime, the leaf pouch is discarded and the remaining rice dumpling is often cut up into cubes and served together with signature Hari Raya dishes, such as spicy rendang curry or satay, diced cucumber and peanut sauce.

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The New Paper, 27 July 2014

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