Mad About Rojak

Without a doubt, our Southeast Asian countries including Singapore and Malaysia boasts a kaleidoscope of culture and colours! This is so evident in the food that we cook, eat and serve. It comes to no surprise that many have made our cultural references to a dish of Rojak! Today, Rojak is not only distinctive and […]

Without a doubt, our Southeast Asian countries including Singapore and Malaysia boasts a kaleidoscope of culture and colours! This is so evident in the food that we cook, eat and serve. It comes to no surprise that many have made our cultural references to a dish of Rojak!

Today, Rojak is not only distinctive and iconic, but many would agree that it is a staple luxury in our diet just like how it was in the past.

As early as 1960s, Rojak was sold in the streets of the Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. This is the dish it is a dish that brings everyone together. The old and the young come together to one table to indulge in the explosion of flavours in that one indescribable bite.

Back then, hawker centres, food courts and restaurants were non-existent. So, local rojak peddlers would scour the streets in search of customers. Most travelled by foot. With tins filled with fresh cut fruits and sauces that hung on each side of a wooden pole, the seller would carry and walked from one lane to the next.

Others who could afford a bicycle or a pushcart (a makeshift wooden ‘stall’ in the form of a box with transparent glass panels) would do the same and many would respond to the call of the Rojak man.

Served in a daun upih pinang (thin and wide frond stem; a sheath of palm-tree blossom), the rojak was also served in a newspaper cone lined with daun pisang (banana leaves). The cost? Just 10 SGD cents. With toothpicks or lidi on hand, the hungry customer chomps away on the sweet and savoury rojak!

Indeed, Rojak was one of the small-yet-wonderful luxuries people could afford back in their golden kampong days. Rojak was so popular it was even sold in primary schools!

Today, people continue to crave for Rojak!

One of the popular Rojak outlets in the West is Brothers Rojak located at Clementi! Expect long queues during peak hours! Photo: Rahimah Rahim
One of the popular Rojak outlets in the West is Brothers Rojak located at Clementi! Expect long queues during peak hours! Photo: Rahimah Rahim

Rojak buah/Rojak Petis

Rojak buah also known as Rojak Petis, is distinctly different from the Indian Rojak (also known as Rojak Mamak). Story has it that Rojak buah originated from Indonesia from another local dish of Gado-gado.

Unlike the Gado-gado, rojak buah comprises of cut vegetables and fruits mixed with the sweet-sour flavours of the black pasty sauce of local prawn paste. In some versions, local prawn paste or tamarind or black bean paste is mixed with sugar and lime where this is used as the base sauce. The fruits and veggies used in this dish are cucumber, pineapple, benkuang (jicama or ubi sengkuang), bean sprouts, taupok (puffy, deep-fried tofu) and youtiao (char kway). The dish is then drizzled with lots of chopped peanuts. A dash of finely chopped bunga kantan (Etlingera Elatior or Torch Ginger Flower – often used in Assam laksa and Nasi kerabu as well) is also added. This gives Rojak a lasting aroma and taste to it. Sometimes, patrons have it with century eggs! 

Rojak Buah remains to be a favourite snack among Singaporeans. Photo: sammekim
Rojak Buah remains to be a favourite snack among Singaporeans. Photo: sammekim

Pasembur/Indian Rojak/Rojak Mamak

The other version of Rojak is the Indian Rojak. In Malaysia, locals call it Pasembur. Singaporeans, on the other hand, call it Rojak Mamak. Unlike their fruity counterpart, a platter of Indian rojak generally contain an assortment of fried items. These include fried dough fritters, bean curds, boiled potatoes, prawn fritters, hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, cuttlefish and cucumber. But of course, it all depends on what you want in your plate of Rojak. Just like a buffet, you pick and choose your items. Add as much or as little and in variety as you like! Hence, a rojak plate differs from table to table. The thing that makes all the difference is the delicious peanut sauce. With the right colour, texture and flavour, it’s either an oomph! or a nay! for the paying customer! Can you already taste the wonderfully-flavoured sweet thick and spicy peanut sauce of the Indian Rojak? 

Habib's Rojak at Ayer Rajah Hawker Centre is a second generation rojak stall that has won praises from locals and tourists. Their sauce is one-of-a-kind!
Habib’s Rojak at Ayer Rajah Hawker Centre is a second generation rojak stall that has won praises from locals and tourists. Their sauce is one-of-a-kind!
Rojak Mamak is called Pasembur in Penang. Locals have it as a snack or a main meal of the day. Photo: L Joo
Rojak Mamak is called Pasembur in Malaysia. Locals have it as a snack or a main meal of the day. Photo: L Joo
Other smaller stalls found alongside roads in Malaysia sells Pasembur. This is the Rojak Telur at Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya.
Other smaller stalls found alongside roads in Malaysia sells Pasembur. This is the Rojak Telur at Damansara Utama, Petaling Jaya.

Rujak (Rojak) in Indonesia

History has it that Indonesia is said to be the birth place of Rojak. Hence, many more versions of rujak exist in a country of 260 million people! These versions are somewhat similar to the Rojak Buah but differ slightly in terms of fruits and sauces used. Here are some of Indonesia’s favourites:

Rujak Kuah Pindang

The Rujak Kuah Pindang is particularly popular in Bali’s Denpasar, Badung and Kuta. Here, local sellers use fish broth as the main sauce. Sardines or tuna are popular fish choices to make the broth. Along with the fish, shrimp paste, salt and chilli are also added. Sliced fruits like mango, guava, cucumber, yam, kedondong, starfruit and papaya are then mixed and soaked in a spiced fish broth. Simply a tangy combination!

Rujak kuah pindang, uses thin sweet and spicy sauce made of fish broth. This is particularly popular in Bali. Photo: Okkisafire
Rujak kuah pindang, uses thin sweet and spicy sauce made of fish broth. This is particularly popular in Bali. Photo: Okkisafire

Rujak Shanghai

Rujak Shanghai is a Chinese Indonesian delicacy made of pieces of water spinach, preserved squid, edible jellyfish, daikon and cucumber, served in thick sweet and sour sauce, sprinkled with peanuts granules and sambal. The dish was named after Shanghai Cinema (now closed) at Glodok, where the first Rujak Shanghai was sold in front of the cinema back in 1950s.

Today, the Rujak Shanghai remains to be popular particularly in the Chinatown area of West Jakarta. Rujak Shanghai is similar to Singapore’s version of Rojak Bandung or Rojak Sotong Kangkung.

Rujak Shanghai is usually found in Chinatown area of Jakarta. Photo: Gunawan Kartapranata
Rujak Shanghai is usually found in Chinatown area of Jakarta. In Singapore, the Rojak Power Bandung Stall at Ayer Rajah Hawker Centre sells something similar – Rojak Bandung or Rojak Sotong Kangkung. Photo: Gunawan Kartapranata

Rujak Cingur

Rujak Cingur originated from Surabaya. It is said that this type of rujak is a traditional dish of its people. Cingur means mouth or snout. Specifically, it refers to cooked buffalo snout. Other ingredients that make up this dish are yam, young mango, cucumber, kangkung, pineapple, cucumber, taugeh (beansprouts), lontong, tofu, tempeh, served in black sauce made from petis (black fermented shrimp paste), grinded peanuts, brown sugar, chilli and salt. The rojak is ready only when it is topped with fried shallots and krupuk (shrimp crackers)! 

Rujak Cingur, made from buffalo snout is a specialty of Surabaya's version of Rojak! Photo: Gunkarta
Rujak Cingur, made from buffalo snout is a specialty of Surabaya’s version of Rojak! Photo: Gunkarta

We’ve never tried buffalo snout before. It would certainly be a first to try the Rujak Cingur! Has anyone tried it though? Share your experience with us!

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