Monday, June 14, 2010

Kenduri Food With A Difference

It is the time of the year again, 2 weeks of school holidays. Cars, motorcycles and vans filling up the highways and roads, good restaurants crowded with people you don’t recognize, traffic jams outside my office…yes, the holidays have arrived, and I have piles of Invitation Cards to weddings of cousins, nephews, nieces etc. I guess that also adds to the reason why many people travel outside of Kuala Lumpur during the school holidays.

Who hasn’t been to a Malay kenduri? In Malaysia, nowadays, the kenduri has become synonymous with nasi minyak, ayam masak merah, kurma daging, dhalca and acar. I must say that will be the stereotype kenduri menu in towns and major cities. My favorite invitation is always to a kenduri in kampong areas. I remember in the 1980s, kenduris in the kampong area of Pendang means white rice, catfish curry, fried salted fish, ulam and sambal, and boy, that was a major feast.

This time, I had an invitation to a kenduri in Kuala Nerang, about 30km north of Alor Setar, and the kenduri location is about 8-10km after Kuala Nerang town itself. The kenduri itself was a grand celebration by itself: pencak silat, the traditional serunai and drums and the huge crowd. The food is really something worth braving the distance and the crowd.

The white rice, fried salted fish, roasted chicken and air asam were excellent, but behold the piece de rĂ©sistance, the Gulai Daging Batang Pisang, or Beef Curry with Banana Trunk Stem. I believe that there are those who have tasted this wonderful dish, and I know that even this dish can be found sold in certain places in Alor Setar. I’ve bought it numerous times from numerous traders, but usually end up being thrown out.

The food is prepared by the kampong people themselves; no commercialized catering food here. The curry is a bit more watery compared to the normal curries, and almost soup like, with not too much spice. The beef is fresh, and the “secret ingredient” here would be the banana tree trunk stem, which is the centre stem or fiber of the banana trunk. Once cooked, the risa is soft and the beef tender, some falling off the bone.

The banana trunk stem, or “risa” as it is known up north, must be taken from a young banana tree which has not produced any flower of fruit yet. If the risa is a from a banana tree which has produced fruit before, then it will be tasteless when it’s cooked. The risa is cooked together with the beef curry to produce the tasty, right-tasting dish which is enjoyed by the hundreds of guests throughout the kenduri.

After 2-3 kenduris in town area, this dish alone is a refreshing change from the heavy nasi minyak and ayam masak merah dishes.

As the dish is prepared by a group of people, coordinated by the head cook, early in the morning, it was quite difficult for me to figure out the process step by step. I guess this must be the kenduri food which I wouldn’t mind being invited to again and again. It is much, much, much better than the Gulai Daging Batang Pisang that is sold at the Bazaar Ramadan during the fasting season. But whatever it is, I doubt I can muster the skills of finding the right type of risa to make the curry.

I am not sure whether this curry is available at kampongs outside of Kedah, but I am sure that other kampongs in Kedah and all other states in Malaysia will have a unique recipe of their own.


  1. Mr. Syed....I'm very privileged to have tasted this unique dish in Tanjung Dawai years ago. We were attending a kenduri there...we were so amazed to find out what it was..hey...I didn't know that the risa was made from a 'virgin' pokok pisang!!!
    Another similar dish I have tasted is Gulai Lembu with buah ara, had this in a kenduri somewhere in Kelantan...I wouldn't mind going to any nooks of the kampung as long as I get to taste all these wonderful dishes.

  2. Thank you Zuha, for sharing your experiences. I did get to taste Gulai Lembu with Buah Ara in Kelantan somewhere in the late1980s. I must say it is a taste that you remember always...and every now and then, try to emulate.

    Again, we thank you very much for sharing your wonderful experience with us.