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Traditional Malay recipes from Kedah

Traditional Malay recipes from Kedah

Chef Mohamad Zaidi is warm and instantly likeable, exuding a natural charm that comes from being incredibly humble and oh-so nice, despite holding the lofty position of executive chef at the opulent Majestic Kuala Lumpur.

In many ways, Zaidi’s affability is in keeping with his background, which saw him growing up in the town of Anak Bukit in Kedah, which was just a stone’s throw away from the royal palace.

There, a sense of camaraderie was present among villagers and Zaidi recalls how everyone would pool their money together (in a scheme called pakat) to pay for village weddings. There would even be a meeting with the villagers one month before the wedding, where major decisions would be made.

“Everyone would come and they would ask each person what they would like to cook for the wedding!” says Zaidi.

Zaidi’s late mother was an integral person in the village as she was the village’s pengolah (spice mixer). Every time there was a large occasion, she was in charge of mixing spices for all the curries and dishes, as she was famed for her cooking skills.

In fact, Zaidi’s mother was so well-known for her food that even the royal family sought her out! She was often tasked with making kampung food like nasi ulam and ikan pekasam for the palace, which was delivered on a sampan to the royal family.

“The late sultan liked simple kampung food, so there were often requests for home-cooked meals,” says Zaidi.

chef Mohamad Zaidi, Majestic KL, Malay food, Kedah

Zaidi grew up in Kedah with a mother who was an excellent cook (she even cooked for royalty). He continues to make her heirloom recipes to this day.

Zaidi himself learnt how to cook when he was eight years old, as his mother had a stall selling mee rebus and nasi campur and he was often asked to help out. When he grew older, he started working in hotels and over the years, moved up the rungs. Although he is doing incredibly well now, the food that his late mother cooked still remains such a perennial favourite that he now makes it for his own family.

Like his mother’s delicious ayam masak kunyit kering, for example. The dish features creamy, slightly spicy chicken that is so tender, that according to Zaidi, if you pick up a piece once it’s cooked, the meat should fall off the bone when given a good shake!

“This is something my mother used to make for Hari Raya. It is a must for us and is famous in my family,” he says.

Then there is her dish of gulai Siam. While there are many iterations of this dish, Zaidi says his mother’s version is different because she adds freshly sliced herbs, which give it a more herbaceous note. His mother used to make this often as the family lived near rice fields and paddy fish were in abundance after the rice was harvested.

“Once the rice was harvested, there were a lot of fish like snakehead fish, catfish and perch swimming in the water. So as a kid, I used to get an old oil can, follow the tractors, dunk the can in the soil and catch some fish! Sometimes we even caught snakes!” he says, laughing mischievously at the recollection.

Daging merah is another dish that Zaidi picked up from his mother. The dish features tender beef cooked in coconut milk, condensed milk and evaporated milk, resulting in a deliciously thick gravy that has spicy nuances and a prevailing sense of sweetness.

“Every time there was a wedding in the village, my mother would be asked to cook this dish and to this day, everyone in my family loves this dish,” says Zaidi.

While mee rebus (yellow noodles in a thick gravy typically made from beef, shrimp and sweet potato) is an undisputed Kedah staple (even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is said to be a fan!), no two recipes are the same. Zaidi’s mother’s recipe calls for both beef bone and beef brisket to be cooked together, resulting in a thick gravy that is aromatic, sweet and sumptuous, with other textures adding depth and dimension.

“While the ingredients are nearly the same, my mother’s version has ginger in it, so it’s a bit stronger. But this is something we always eat at festivals and family get-togethers,” he says.

All these recipes advocate for slow-cooking over an open flame which is something Zaidi says his mother and other villagers used to do often.

“The longer you cook it, the nicer it tastes. We used rubberwood, and the taste was more intense,” he says.

Ultimately, Zaidi says he hopes people will enjoy his mother’s recipes as much as he enjoyed her food growing up. “I miss her food so much! All her recipes are agak-agak, but I’ve tried to remember the taste of what she did and I continue to make them often so I don’t forget her heritage recipes,” he says.

ayam masak kunyit kering


Serves 8 to 10

2.2kg whole chicken, cut into 16 to 18 pieces
1.2 litre coconut milk
200g cili padi, thinly sliced
150g onions, thinly sliced
150g shallot, thinly sliced
100g ginger, thinly sliced
100g galangal, thinly sliced
100g lemongrass, thinly sliced
70g fresh turmeric, thinly sliced
2 turmeric leaves
salt and sugar to taste

To cook

Clean chicken thoroughly. In a pot, put chicken and all the other ingredients together, except turmeric leaves, sugar and salt. Braise on low heat for 3 to 4 hours until the mixture dries up. Once the gravy has thickened up, add salt, sugar and turmeric leaves and cook for a short while until flavours are incorporated.

Once done, pull the chicken meat from the bone with a fork. It should come off easily. Serve with rice or ketupat.

gulai Siam, Malay food


Serves 8 to 10

For blending together into a paste
40g onion
20g galangal
20g ginger
20g lemongrass

For pounding and dry toasting together
½ tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp fennel seeds

For boiling and blending into a chilli paste
20g dried chillies, boiled and blended into a paste

For cooking
20ml coconut oil
1 siakap (sea bass) fish, cut into small pieces
500ml coconut milk
2 to 3 pieces asam keping
salt to taste
20 daun kaduk (betel leaf), thinly sliced
10 daun cekur, thinly sliced
10 sweet basil leaves, thinly sliced
2 or 3 turmeric leaves, thinly sliced
5 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced

To make

In a kuali, heat coconut oil and saute blended ingredients until aromatic. Add dry-toasted spices and chilli paste and stir together until you get pecah minyak (a layer of oil emerges). Add fish, cook for 4 to 5 minutes, then add coconut milk. Continue cooking for 20 minutes, then add asam keping and salt and stir to mix evenly.

Finally, add the thinly sliced leaves and stir for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and serve hot.

daging merah, Malay food


Serves 8 to 10

For blending together into a paste
70g red onion
20g garlic
50g shallot
40g ginger
40g lemongrass

For cooking
oil, for cooking
80g tomato paste
2 tbsp kurma powder
2 tbsp chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 inch cinnamon stick
4 to 5 cardamom pods
4 to 5 cloves
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
600g beef (any cut)
40ml condensed milk
60ml evaporated milk
250ml coconut milk
salt and sugar to taste
4 tbsp deep-fried shallots

To make

In a pot over medium heat, add oil and saute blended paste until fragrant. Add tomato paste, powders and spices and cook for a while. Add beef and cook for 1 hour on low heat. Then add condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk and salt and sugar and simmer on low heat for another 30 minutes. Garnish with shallots and serve hot with rice.

mee rebus


Serves 8 to 10

For the stock
600g beef bone
200g beef brisket
150g small shrimp
400g sweet potatoes
15g ginger
10g garlic
2 litres water
4gm asam keping
4 tbsp chilli sauce
salt and sugar to taste

For blending
100g onion
30g ginger
30g garlic
30g dried chilli
80g groundnuts

For fritters
150g flour
100ml water
10g Chinese chives
30g bean sprouts
salt to taste
oil, for deep-frying

For noodles and toppings
600g yellow noodles, blanched
180g beans sprouts, blanched
6 pieces square bean curd, fried
20g spring onions, sliced finely
20g coriander leaves, sliced finely
20g red chilli, sliced finely
5 hard-boiled eggs

To cook

Pour 2 litres of water into a large pot and add all the ingredients for the stock, except chilli sauce and salt. Once boiled, remove from the heat.In another large pot, add oil and saute blended items till fragrant. Then add stock, tomato paste and salt and sugar to taste and simmer on low heat for 1 hour. Once done, remove beef bone and brisket from stock and blend the rest of the ingredients together in a blender.

To make fritters

Combine flour and all the other ingredients until you get a thick mixture (it shouldn’t be too watery). Shape into individual fritters and deep-fry until golden brown. Set aside.

To assemble

Add noodles to the blended gravy and top with the fritters and the rest of the topping ingredients. Slice brisket and add to the noodles. Serve hot.

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