KitchenTigress: Chinese Rojak

Chinese Rojak


Chinese rojak is a popular snack food in Singapore and Malaysia. It's a medley of fruits, vegetables, beancurd puffs and dough fritters tossed with a sauce that's sweet, savory, spicy and nutty. It also has a special fragrance from finely minced rojak flower, which is the flower bud of torch ginger.

Last weekend, I tried my hand at making rojak. I stirred bowl after bowl after bowl of rojak sauce, trying to find one I liked.

The first mistake I made was with the tamarind water. I followed the rojak recipe in "The Best of Singapore Cooking", mixing a walnut size blob of assam with 80 ml of water. That totally spoilt the sauce because it was way too watery.

I had to reduce the amount of water, and leave out the lime juice in the recipe. Otherwise, I couldn't get a thick and sticky consistency.

My second mistake? The sauce turned watery again after I mixed it with fruits. The culprit this time was the (rather) expensive "crystal" pineapple I had bought. It was ideal for eating straight, but too juicy for making rojak.

The colour of the sauce wasn't right either. It should be almost black or very dark brown, but mine was more like a medium brown.

Also, the fermented prawn paste didn't taste right, in a I-can't-put-my-finger-on-it-but-it's-not-quite-right kind of way.

I was into my third bowl of rojak sauce – making, not eating – and on a roll. Off I trotted to a minimart to look for a different brand of fermented prawn paste.

"This is the one rojak hawkers use!" the friendly shopkeeper assured me, holding up a red and blue plastic tub that said "TWO BOYS BRAND".

"Really ah?" I bought prawn paste, plus a cheap, green and hopefully not so juicy pineapple.

On the fourth attempt, I finally nailed it with the help of the two new ingredients.

The sauce tasted quite similar to the famous rojak in Balestier (the one Chow Yun Fat goes to). Rojak mission accomplished!

Rojak sauce may be mixed with anything you like. Besides the ingredients listed below, other popular choices include green apples, blanched bean sprouts, blanched kangkong, buah kedongdong, cured jellyfish, cured squid, etc.

chinese rojak
INGREDIENTS
  • 150 g bangkuang (turnip, yam bean, jicama, 沙葛)
  • 150 g cucumber
  • 80 g under ripe pineapple
  • 80 g green mango
  • 100 g jambu (rose apples)
  • 1 pair you zha kueh (Chinese dough fritters, 油条) – toast till crisp just before serving, cut bite size
  • 4 pieces tau pok (beancurd puffs, 豆卜) – toast till crisp just before serving, cut bite size
Rojak sauce – makes 1 cup (enough for dressing 1 kg ingredients)
  • 90 g fermented prawn paste
  • 60 g tamarind paste (Orchid brand) – add 3 tbsp hot water, mix thoroughly, discard seeds
  • peel of ½ calamansi lime, finely minced
  • 1 packed tbsp torch ginger bud (bunga kantan, rojak flower), finely minced
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp chilli powder, or to taste
  • ½ cup toasted peanuts (80 g), skinless, and coarsely ground

INSTRUCTIONS
  1. To make rojak sauce, thoroughly mix all ingredients except peanuts till sugar melts. Add all ground peanuts except for 2 tbsp and stir till evenly mixed. You should have 1 cup of sticky sauce that's as thick as peanut butter. Taste and if necessary add more sugar or chilli powder.

  2. Toss everything, adding toasted dough fritters and beancurd puffs towards the end so that they don't turn soggy. Plate and sprinkle with remaining peanuts. Serve immediately.