Years ago when I was younger, I recall a fond memory when I was visiting my grandparents in the sweet town of Gadek, Melaka.

There was a traditional celebration taking place in the house: the children were scattered all over the gardens, men were singing religious hymns and the women were tending to the organised chaos in the kitchen.

I was definitely caught in the current of the kitchen, sweeping from one aunt to the next, fetching ingredients while at the same time being scolded for being noisy. And when the chaos winded down, we all huddled together to distribute door-gifts to the guests.

This particular door-gift is the star of today’s column — a lovely, simple package of glutinous yellow rice and beef rendang.

The rice dish, known in my family as pulut kuning, is more widely known as pulut kunyit. Traditionally served with curries or rendang, pulut kunyit is often prepared during special occasions within the Malay and Chinese communities in Malaysia.

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Ingredients for pulut kunyit and rendang ayam laid out on a table. Photo: Zulaikha Ishak

The fusion of Chinese and Malay influences, one that evolved after Chinese people settled in the Straits of Melaka in the 15th century, has resulted in what we call Peranakan cuisine.

To the Baba-Nyonyas (the descendants of Straits Chinese), pulut kunyit is always served at a baby’s full moon celebration, accompanied by red-dyed hard-boiled eggs along with a tray of ang ku kueh.

In Malay culture, the rice is decorated with serunding (beef floss), chicken or beef rendang, and quail eggs on top of beautifully woven banana leaves.

Weaving back to the story, I remember thinking how meaningful it was to give away something that was made with the warmth of turmeric and coconut milk, molded with genuine affection by the matriarchs of the family — it gave the door-gift a much deeper meaning.

My love of sharing flavors and warm dishes stems largely from this memory. The dish itself symbolises tradition, cultural fusion, and above all, love. In many ways, the dishes that I have shared with people since then have been efforts to recall the sentiments felt in that memory.

In this fast-paced world, there is beauty to taking a beat, slowing down, and putting all your efforts into making something that is meant to nourish and heal.

  Pulut Kunyit  

Photo: Zulaikha Ishak

INGREDIENTS:

 A few cups of glutinous rice (relative to the amount of people to be served)
200ml of coconut milk
 2 tbsp tumeric powder
 Salt to taste
 Pandan leaves, folded

METHOD:

1. Rinse the glutinous rice with water, then drain.

2. Soak the rice in water and add the turmeric. Leave for about an hour to absorb the colour, then drain.
3. Add salt to the rice and put folded pandan leaves at the bottom of a steamer. Begin steaming the rice with lid on.
4. When rice is half-cooked, take the rice out and into a bowl. Gradually stir in the coconut milk.
5. Place the rice back in the steamer until sticky and cooked thoroughly.

Pointers: Don’t put in too much water or it will stick together and become soggy.

To decorate: Boil some chicken eggs and quail eggs, pin them together with a toothpick to form the ‘body’ of the ‘chicken’. Use small chilli to fashion a beak, black pepper for eyes and carrot slices for wings.

  Chicken rendang  

Photo: Zulaikha Ishak

INGREDIENTS:

• Chicken, cleaned and cut into pieces
 10 fresh red chillis
 Lemongrass, 5-6 leaves
 Galangal
 Onions
 Shallots
 Garlic
 Coconut milk
 Kerisik (pan-toasted fresh coconut found in most markets and tamus)
 Turmeric powder
 Salt

Optional: My mother and I love adding gula Melaka to add a hint of a sweetness, and to give the rendang a lovely brown color.

METHOD:

1. Blend all the ingredients (except the chicken and kerisik) together in a blender or food processor.

2. Heat oil in a wok, and sautée the blended mix.
3. Add in chicken and kerisik until cooked thoroughly.
4. Finally, pour in the coconut milk.
5. Serve with the glutinous rice. 

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