Saturday, July 7, 2012

Kerabu Daging Mentah: Raw Or Cooked, It's A Meaty Affair

Kedah, like the other northern states in Peninsular Malaysia. has one way or the other influenced by Thailand. Many parts of Kedah, in the past, spoke Siamese on a daily basis. There are also cultural influences that can be found in Kedah, despite the urbanization and modernization today.

In certain village areas, they still maintain the tradition of slaughtering a cow for festive occassions, and the dishes they make for the feast, will have beef as its main ingredient.

I was at a kenduri in Pendang with my family and my mother, and true to its core, a cow was slaughtered in the morning. I was really rearing for the occassion as I was told that they made Kerabu Dagimg Mentah (Raw Beef Salad) as one of the dishes. I spent more than 2 decades hearing about this dish, and missed numerous occassions when they dish was served at a number of kenduris that I missed.

Some might think, "Raw Beef?" or even "raw beef for salad?" but this dish is simply a-must-try. It is traditional, and it is a one of the old Siamese influence in the Malay culinary world.

Kerabu has been loosely translated as salad, popular in South East Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore. Asian greens and herbs, meat and even seafood are combined and is usually healthy because it uses no oil. The Malaysian kerabu differ slightly from the Thais as it sometimes incorporates kerisik, which is grated coconut that has been toasted and later pounded until the oil appears. The Thai kerabu usually uses toasted nuts or cashews for fat.

I am sure many people have tasted this kerabu, but this is my first, and my relatives seem to notice it. They seemed to enjoy every one of my inquiries on the dish, and from what I gather, the dish is always made using fresh beef. The beef is usually wrapped in paper to absorb the blood. Once that is done, it is blanched in hot water for a very short period of time. I am guessing that this procedure cooks and seals the outer layer of the meat. The beef is then cut fine or minced, using knives. The term "mince" is used roughly here as the beef is, despite being cut fine, it is still chunky, not too fine like the machine-minced beef you might buy at hypermarkets. Onions, lemongrass, galangal and pepper, which have been finely ground is added to the beef and mixed together. Kerisik and lime juice is added as well, along with ground toasted rice. All of these produce a rich, fragrant and delicious kerabu. Maybe the term "salad" used being used too loosely here since the closest elements you get to vegetables in here are the herbs used to mix with the beef. I guess that's the closest I got to the recipe as I couldn't understand some of their slang. They are from Kedah, but living in a kampung where talk with a more Siamese-like slang which can be melodious, but slightly difficult to understand.

The kerabu was very good, and for first-timer like me, I enjoyed it so much, even without rice. The beef was so tender and with all the spices and herbs, you won't even know that the beef is raw. The taste and texture resemble a lot like kerabu perut (cow tripe salad), except for the fact that it uses raw beef.

We had 4 dishes for the white rice, and 3 of them are beef: Beef (with liver) curry, a soup made of other cuts of the cow's meat such as tripe, lungs and other, the kerabu daging mentah and wild bamboo shoot cooked with spices. We were enjoying the dishes while other guests outside were already enjoying their tea time, ketupat and beef rendang.

The dishes are simple, yet hearty. The curry and soup doesn't use much spices in there but I have mentioned before, fresh beef is the star of the show. I would understand that people who takes health seriously will give this a miss. But I always prefer kampung-style kenduris compared to the stereotypical town kenduris where nasi minyak, ayam masak merah are always the main dishes. Even the beef curry was prepared in a typical kampung-style instead of the usual indian-influenced style of the city.

I am glad and happy to be related to people who are still of the Malay-Siam culture. The rich combination yielded many a great thing, especially in the culinary world. I am not sure about elsewhere but I can be sure that kerabu daging mentah is not sold in restaurants. If it is, please tell me where. If you are in a kenduri where they serve Kerabu Daging Mentah, try it.

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