Selamat Hari Raya Puasa!
Muslims in Singapore and around the world have been observing the daily fast from dawn to dusk for nearly a month and on Saturday October 13, Muslims in Singapore celebrate the end of the fasting month called Ramadan, in a feast which is known to Malay Muslims in Singapore as Hari Raya Puasa.
Hari Raya in Malay means “a grand day for rejoicing” and Puasa is the Malay word for fasting. The original Arabic name of the festival is “Id al Fitr” and “Fitr” literally means “breaking of fast”. The feast is also known in Singapore as Hari Raya Aidilfitri and this name follows the original Arabic name.
On Hari Raya Puasa day itself, Muslims celebrate by paying their respects to their ancestors and visit their older relatives. More traditional Malay housewives will have spent weeks baking cookies for the festive month ahead and the two days before the feast itself will see a flurry of activity in the kitchen as the rice dumplings of ketupat are boiled in woven coconut leaf packs and spices are blended for the festive dishes. Muslims fast to purify their minds and souls and to bring them closer to God while the festival that follows is a time for forgiveness and family love and friendship.
To our Muslim friends, Selamat Hari Raya Puasa on October 13!
For some Hari Raya Delights, click to Recipes.
The Magic Of Leaves
I had started on my quest for earth’s gifts to us as an emotional exercise triggered off by an interview on why foods served ON and wrapped IN leaves taste so much better than foods served on metal, porcelain or plastic.
Close encounters with nature have always been a part of my life – after all as a food critic, as someone who loves to entertain and as a cook I work with the fruits of nature constantly.
I love working with leaves - the pandan, bamboo, lotus, banana, coconut all make wonderful food receptacles, wrappers and plates.They are the original disposable tableware of nature, biodegradable, eco-friendly and best of all, imparting a natural fragrance to food.
One of the oldest fruits known to mankind, the banana is mentioned in early Greek, Latin and Arab writings. The plant is believed to have originated in South Asia from where it spread to Africa and Australia and the Americas where it was introduced over 500 years ago. Useful parts include the fruit, leaf, flowers and trunks. We are of course most familiar with the banana as a fruit, eaten either raw or cooked as fritters.
The trunk is used as a vegetable in Burmese dishes, particularly in a dish called Mohinga. The tender inner core of the trunk is also popular in the Bengali and Kerala kitchens of India. The unopened banana flower of the banana plant, known as jantong pisang in Malay, is used in South East Asian and Indian cooking and is eaten either raw, with dips or cooked in soups and curries.
But it is the leaf of the banana plant that does duty as nature’s original disposable plate and food wrap. The large, flexible and waterproof leaves are sometimes even used as umbrellas and in Asia, particularly in South India, they are used as dinner plates.
One of Singapore’s main cultures is Tamil as Tamils from India were amongst the first immigrants to arrive here in the early 1800’s so eating off banana leaves is nothing new. In South India, foods are served on banana leaves in households and in hotels as well. Some farmers even grow bananas just for their leaves.
Tamils are very particular about how banana leaves are placed before their guests. Important guests are always served with the “nuni elai” the top-most section of the leaf, with the narrow end pointing to the left. Fish, fruits and vegetables are wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, baked or BBQ–ed for added flavour. Thick and water proof, the banana leaf is the ultimate package for cooked food like the Malay dish of Nasi Lemak for example.
The contact of the hot rice of the Nasi Lemak (rice steamed in coconut milk) with the banana leaf releases the bouquet from the leaves which infuse the food fragrantly.
Banana leaves are an essential food wrap of South East Asian countries and one cannot imagine Malay and Indonesian glutinous rice cakes being made without their banana leaf wraps. In Central America, tamales (corn meal dough with or without filling, wrapped usually in corn husks) are sometimes steamed in banana leaves, and the Hawaiian imu (an underground oven) is often lined with the leaves while in Puerto Rico, pasteles (similar to the tamales but made with grated green bananas and a variety of fillings) are wrapped in banana leaves and then boiled or steamed.
Picture Captions from top: Food served on a banana leaf; Nasi Lemak wrapped in banana leaves; A grove of banana plants; Close-up of a banana leaf.
Picture Credits: © All pictures by UV Picture Library.
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