Chinese Rojak

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

I was busy stirring bowl after bowl after bowl of rojak sauce last weekend, trying to find one that 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/dressing 'cause it was way too watery.

I had to reduce the amount of water, and leave out the lime juice in the recipe, before I finally got a thick and sticky consistency.

Nailed it this time? Not yet, not so fast. 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 really juicy and ideal for eating straight, but not 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 took his word for it, and also picked up 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 – hey, the one Chow Yun Fat goes to!

It was a lighter version though, with less sugar and prawn paste – the way I liked it.

If you prefer a richer sauce, just add more of both and peanuts, and provide for more sauce.

Don't forget to toast the dough fritters and beancurd puffs till they're really crispy. That's the whole point of making rojak, to have you zha kueh and tau pok that go c-r-u-n-c-h! Plus, I can have as much green mango and jambu as I like! Plus, I don't have to wait – hey, the good places for rojak have electronic queue systems!

Was Chinese rojak invented by the Chinese? I hope so. It's a nice symbol of the old immigrants' assimilation into life in the 'South Ocean' with the use of ingredients from China and Southeast Asia. Even the name 'rojak', which means mix, is so apt. Do the 'new immigrants' know that, I wonder . . . .

(Recipe for 6 persons)

150 g mang kuang (local 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), toasted till crisp
4 pieces tau pok (beancurd puffs; 豆卜), toasted till crisp
Rojak sauce (dressing) – makes 1 cup
90 g fermented prawn paste (6 tbsp)
60 g tamarind paste (4 tbsp), mixed with 3 tbsp hot water and drained;
. . . seeds picked out and discarded (Orchid brand)
peel of ½ calamansi lime, finely minced
1 packed tbsp torch ginger bud (aka r ojak flower), finely minced
4 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp chilli powder, or to taste
½ cup toasted peanuts (80 g), skinless, and coarsely ground

The dressing is sufficient for about 1 kg (8 cups heaped) of ingredients. Besides those listed above, other popular choices include green apples, buah kedongdong, cured jellyfish, cured squid, and blanched bean sprouts and kangkong (water spinach). Choose whatever strikes your fancy. Everything should be peeled, trimmed, washed and thoroughly dried as necessary, then cut bite size, into thin wedges where possible.

To make rojak sauce, thoroughly mix all ingredients except peanuts. When sugar is melted, add all of ground peanuts except 2 tbsp and stir till evenly mixed. You should have 1 cup of sticky sauce that's as thick as peanut butter. Taste and adjust if necessary.

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


Blur Ting said...

I made this yesterday using your recipe and it was nice! I've just realised that I bought the Boy & Prawn brand of shrimp paste instead. It looks almost identical to your 2 boys brand. Aiya!

KT said...

Hiii Superwoman

Boy & Shrimp was the one I didn't like but that's just my view. :-)

Making rojak has made me realize: (1) fruits, cucumber and mang kuang should be cut in wedges because flat slices stick together; (2) there shouldn't be too much pineapple because it makes the sauce watery; (3) tau pok helps the sauce stay stick because it's absorbent; (4) the Balestier hawker provides a lot of sauce with tonnes of peanuts to help the sauce stay thick; and (5) ideally, fruits and veggies should have time to dry out a bit after they're cut/peeled/blanched.

'Everything happens for a reason.' I think I appreciate rojak better now.

Blur Ting said...

I don't like the Boy & Shrimp paste. The colour doesn't look right. I'm going to look for the 2 boys brand.

Rojak is something I ALWAYS order when I eat at the food centre. I always thought it's too much effort to make until I saw your recipe. You have a knack for making complicated recipes simple for us!

Anonymous said...

Hi, where did you buy your Two Boys brand shrimp paste? This looks delicious and would love to try and see if it's like the Whampoa Mkt rojak...Thanks v much!

KT said...

Hi roguebaguette

Two Boys is available at Kwong Cheong Thye (Geylang, Lorong 27, just next to the Aljunied MRT). Other than that, you'd have to look for it at minimarts or market stalls that sell Chinese groceries. You can call the distributor at 64568450. They'll tell you whether it's available in your neighborhood.

I recently had the Whampoa rojak, which I ate slowly and carefully so that I could compare it with the one I make. I think they've changed the recipe! It seemed like there was less sugar and assam. Probably because of higher costs? The assam I buy has gone up to 90 cents from 60 cents; sugar is now $1.30 instead of $1. And the rojak sauce had chilli padi, which I hadn't noticed before. Maybe chilli powder is too expensive? Even the quantity of sauce has shrunk! Hmm, I actually prefer the one I make!

rougebaguette said...

Hi, thanks for the reply :)
Will look for it or call the no u gave. It's a shame abt the Whampoa rojak -- that the quality has gone down. I stopped buying the rojak there after I saw the rojak maker (a woman) sneezing into a piece of tissue, then proceeded to make a plate of rojak without washing her hands! Ewwwww....

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