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Chef Mohd Farid Hafiz may have grown up in Kuala Lumpur, but his heart clearly belongs in Johor, where both his parents are from. Now a sous chef at the salubrious Westin Kuala Lumpur, Farid says he cooks all kinds of food all the time in the hotel but when he goes back to his family’s hometown of Muar for Hari Raya, it’s his parents’ food that he longs for.

“My dad is from Muar and has Bugis lineage so he has in-depth knowledge of Johor food, especially Bugis specialties. My mother is from Endau-Mersing, which is also in Johor, but has strong Pahang influence. So my dad taught my mum how to make all kinds of delicious Johor food, and he still does quality control checks!” says Farid.

Growing up, Farid’s mother frequently cooked Johor staples like laksa Johor and mee bandung. But there were special dishes that were only reserved for Hari Raya. Even now, the entire clan returns to Muar for Hari Raya and on the third day of Raya, they serve their signature Johor dishes, which have become treasured family recipes.

“There are so many of us who come back for Hari Raya, so we divide the cooking duties because my dad’s siblings are great cooks too,” says Farid.

One of the mainstays of the family’s Hari Raya menu is the alluring Bugis-influenced dish of ayam masak lengkuas (galangal), a sensational meal composed of chicken slow-cooked in a spice paste, coconut milk and grated coconut.

This dry chicken dish is slightly spicy with rich coconut nuances that give it additional depth. It is an incredibly easy meal to fall in love with, so it’s not hard to see why the family has to have it every year.

In Farid’s family, ayam masak lengkuas is traditionally eaten with burasak, a Bugis dish which features rice wrapped in banana leaf and slow-cooked in coconut milk. The resultant rice parcels are creamy and satin-soft with the flavours of coconut bursting forth in each mouthful.

Every year, Farid and his extended family prepare all their favourite Johor dishes for their annual Hari Raya celebration in Muar.

“Most Bugis people in Johor eat burasak, which is like a cross between lemang and ketupat. Burasak has coconut milk, ketupat doesn’t but it’s cooked the same way. Lemang has coconut milk, but uses glutinous rice, so it doesn’t taste exactly the same. Taste-wise, burasak has a unique ‘lemak’ taste because of the coconut milk,” says Farid.

Lontong sayur is also something that makes an annual appearance on the family’s Hari Raya table. “My mother makes this often and it’s like a side dish that we must have. It’s also very popular in Johor,” he says.

Then there is the fiery, powerfully addictive ikan asam pedas sayur jeruk, a dish that Farid says is a must for Hari Raya back home as it is deeply entrenched in his father’s village of Kampung Panchor in Muar.

“They make it with sawi jeruk (pickled mustard greens) in my dad’s kampung – it goes well, and the taste is just right. I’m not sure how the recipe came about, but from the time I was young, I was taught to eat this – my grandmother and all my relatives made this dish,” he says.

Farid also adds that choosing the right fish is key to nailing all the flavour elements of the dish, especially as the sayur jeruk can overwhelm certain fish.

“You have to use a suitable fish – kembung and tenggiri are good for this dish but stingray is not. At home, we often use ikan terubok and cook it until the bones are really brittle, like the bones of tinned sardine,” he says.

Slow-cooking is at the heart of many of the Hari Raya dishes that Farid’s family makes, and although it may require a time investment, Farid says the food is worth the wait.

“It’s easy to make, it just takes a long time to cook because most of the recipes require slow-cooking over low heat.

“Like the burasak, you have to cook it on low heat because otherwise there is a possibility that the banana leaf will split,” he says.

As all his family’s recipes hold a strong pull on Farid to this day, he hopes they will prove as appealing to home cooks looking to prepare meals this Hari Raya.

“Johor food is something I think people can easily accept and love, so try it!” he says, laughing.

AYAM MASAK LENGKUAS

Serves 10

For blending
100g shallot
50g garlic
50g ginger
20g cili padi
30g turmeric

For cooking
150ml cooking oil
100g lemongrass, grated finely
120g galangal, grated finely
200ml coconut milk
900g chicken pieces
1 tbsp coriander seed
2 pieces asam keping
50g kerisik
salt and sugar to taste

To make

Blend shallot, garlic, ginger, cili padi and turmeric until it forms a smooth paste. Set aside.

In a pot, heat up the oil and saute blended and grated items until fragrant. Add coconut milk, and stir to combine. Then add chicken, coriander and asam keping and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated.

Add kerisik and cook for about 5 minutes until it is fully absorbed. Season with salt and sugar and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and serve hot.

BURASAK

Serves 10

200ml water
3 pandan leaves
300ml coconut milk
700g rice
banana leaves, for wrapping rice

To make

In a pot, add water, pandan leaves and coconut milk and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and add rice to the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes, letting the liquid fully coat the rice.

Remove from heat. Ladle the rice out from the pot and place in a bowl. Leave to cool slightly. Keep the coconut milk mixture as you will need it later.

On a banana leaf (approximately 25cm in length), place 50g of the rice. Wrap rice with banana leaf and secure with string. Repeat with the remaining rice.

Bring the coconut milk solution to a boil again and gently place the rice parcels in the liquid. Simmer on low heat for 2 hours.

Remove from the heat and serve with ayam masak lengkuas.

LONTONG SAYUR

Serves 10

For blending
20g dried shrimp, blended
40g red onion, blended
20g garlic, blended

For cooking
500ml water
400ml coconut milk
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 stalks lemongrass, smashed
40g carrot, cut into 2cm sticks
50g turnip, cut into 2cm sticks
1 pack hard beancurd, cubed
1 piece tempeh, cut into long sticks
100g cabbage, sliced
20g glass noodles
30g fuchok
4 red chillies
80g long beans, cut into 2cm length

salt to taste

To make

Blend dried shrimp, onion and garlic until it forms a paste.

In a large pot, add water and coconut milk. Add blended paste, turmeric powder and lemongrass. Stir for awhile to combine.

Add carrot, turnip, beancurd, tempeh and cabbage and cook until vegetables soften slightly. Then add glass noodles, fuchok, red chilli and long beans and cook for a few minutes until noodles are cooked and beans are slightly tender. Remove from the heat and serve hot with rice.

TENGGIRI ASAM PEDAS SAWI JERUK

Serves 10

For blending
80g onion
40g garlic
30g ginger
20g belacan
2 lemongrass stalks
10g fresh turmeric
120g dried red chilli

For cooking
30ml cooking oil
15gm ginger flower
15g sweet basil leaf (daun kesum)
70g tamarind paste
600g boneless tenggiri fillet, cut into slices
150g sawi jeruk (can be found in supermarkets)
500ml water
salt to taste

To make

Blend onions, garlic, ginger, belacan, lemongrass, turmeric and dried chillies until it forms a smooth paste.

Heat oil in a pot and saute the blended paste for about 2 to 3 minutes until it is aromatic. Add ginger flower, basil leaf and tamarind paste and stir to combine. Add the fish and sawi jeruk and stir to distribute evenly.

Add water and simmer on low heat until the fish is cooked. Add salt to taste, stir to combine and remove from the heat. Serve hot.

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