Having a policeman for a father meant that as a child, Datin Sri Zainah Ibrahim spent her formative years in states like Wilayah Persekutuan, Negri Sembilan and also Perak. But the food that the family prepared for Hari Raya every year was a mixture of traditional Negri fare as well as Perak staples (courtesy of her mum, who hailed from the state).
“When I was small, we had nasi impit – those days, we didn’t buy the instant one, we did our own nasi impit and put something heavy on top of it overnight and that’s the very conventional way of doing it – that’s why it’s called nasi impit, I guess. “And of course, we had rendang and the rendang would be a mix of rendang tok from Perak and also rendang from Negri Sembilan but specifically from the Rembau region, which is a very dark rendang. I normally call it rendang hitam.
“And then the day before Hari Raya, normally my grandfather will make soup from cow’s ribs (sup rusuk) and we will have that to eat on Hari Raya, ” she says.
After her marriage, Zainah switched things up a little, still maintaining traditional dishes while introducing some new ones of her own.
“I still have the rendang Rembau and I also make rendang Kuala Pilah (which is greenish-coloured). I also make masak lemak umbut kelapa, which is a traditional Negri dish, sambal udang petai and masak lemak ikan tenggiri with daun gelugor. And I will do my special dish, which is mee curry, ” she says.
Zainah’s mee curry is something she is extremely proud of, as it has since become a firm favourite in her family. The curry makes use of various spices, herbs and aromatics and also incorporates both fish curry powder and meat curry powder for an added flavour bomb.
“That’s my specialty – most people like it and my children really like it too. I normally even make the noodles myself and keep it in the freezer, where it will last about a month, ” she says.
Every year, Zainah enlists the help of her adult two daughters, or “assistants” as she calls them, to help her with the preparations for Hari Raya.
“I don’t have any other helpers, so my daughters are the ones who help me. So normally I’ll cook the night before Raya and do all the necessities and the basics. For the mee curry, I will do the gravy and everything so the next day it is just about blanching the vegetables. And in the morning, after prayers, it just takes about an hour or so to cook everything before we have our proper sit-down lunch. After that, we will have non-stop makan until the night, ” says Zainah.
200g shallots, blended
100g garlic, blended
5cm ginger, blended
350g fish curry powder
200g meat curry powder
10 tbsp cooking oil
2 stalks curry leaves
5 cardamom seeds
3 pcs star anise
5cm Ceylon cinnamon
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised
6 shallots, sliced thinly
500g medium sized prawns, boiled with 2 litres water, prawns used as condiments (reserve prawn stock for use)
300g fish balls
500ml thick coconut milk
12 pieces tofu pok
2 tamarind slices
1 tbsp chicken or ikan bilis paste
salt and sugar to taste
1kg yellow noodles, cooked
200g bean sprouts, blanched
300g bak choy
2 pcs hard tofu, fried with salt and turmeric powder
2 pcs fish cake, sliced thinly
200g boiled chicken meat
5 hard-boiled eggs, halved
2 red chillies, sliced
2 green chillies, sliced
green onions, cut thinly
fried shallots, for garnish
Mix blended ingredients A with the curry powders.
In a large pot, heat up cooking oil and put in all the ingredients in B. Stir until aromatic. Add ingredients A and stir occasionally until the oil separates from the paste.
Add prawn stock. When the gravy is piping hot, add the fish balls and coconut milk. Add tofu pok as well as the tamarind pieces and chicken or bilis stock. Add salt and sugar to taste.
Once done, serve curry hot with condiments.