Celebrated MasterChef Malaysia judge Johari Edrus grew up with a strict food-loving dad who taught him how to make Kedah-style Malay dishes


Johari learnt how to cook Kedah-style Malay dishes from his father, who loved cooking and eating these dishes. — Filepic

Celebrated MasterChef Malaysia judge Johari Edrus may be in his sixties now, but he still has crystal-clear memories of his late father Edrus Haji Abdul Rashid, who passed away in 1986.

Edrus was a teacher who eventually became a police officer. Consequently, he was constantly posted to different places around the country, which is why Johari spent his formative years with his grandparents instead. After his grandmother died, he went to live with his parents, which is when he got to know his father in earnest.

“My father was a very strict, disciplined man. Even at the table, he didn’t like people talking too loudly or saying bad things. I remember back then, having a large whole fish was a luxury and when we were all seated around the table, we would wait for my dad to eat his share of the fish first – we could only eat after he had taken it. Sometimes when half of the fish was gone, we still dared not turn it over – we would wait for him to do it, ” says Johari, laughing.

Edrus (second from left) was a good cook who taught Johari (extreme left) to make some of his favourite dishes. Here, the family is pictured in a photo dating back to 1959, when Johari was just four years old. — Photos: JOHARI EDRUSEdrus (second from left) was a good cook who taught Johari (extreme left) to make some of his favourite dishes. Here, the family is pictured in a photo dating back to 1959, when Johari was just four years old. — Photos: JOHARI EDRUS

Edrus was also a man who thoroughly enjoyed good food. When the family lived in Penang, there were a lot of British people there at the time, so the supermarkets sold imported products like high-quality butter and ice-cream and Edrus never missed a chance to buy these goodies for his family.

Although Edrus loved pampering his family with luxury treats, the family’s main meals largely consisted of Kedah-style Malay food like gulai ikan jenahak and cucur udang with kuah kacang – two meals that Edrus fervently loved.

“My father loved to eat gulai. And the gulai had to be made fresh, my mum had to use the batu giling and make the curry paste from scratch. Because we lived about 10km from the sea, we always had access to fresh fish like ikan kembong and ikan jenahak to make the curry. So that is what my mum normally cooked – every day was curry, curry, curry!” says Johari, chuckling.

Another dish that was a favourite in Johari’s home was cucur udang, a tea-time staple that his dad loved eating.

“My dad liked to have his cucur stuffed with cabbage and fresh shrimp. And because we are from Kedah, we eat our cucur udang with peanut sauce, which is made from ingredients like peanuts, palm sugar and belacan, ” recalls Johari.

Although his mum was the main cook in the house, Johari says his father was no slouch in the kitchen either. When his mother used to go back to her hometown for visits, his dad would take over the kitchen and rope in Johari to help him as well.

Gulai ikan was a staple in Johari's home when his father was around as he loved it so much that the family typically ate it nearly every day.Gulai ikan was a staple in Johari's home when his father was around as he loved it so much that the family typically ate it nearly every day.

“My dad was a good cook, so when my mum was not around, he did all the cooking. He would tell me what to get from the market and then he would teach me how to make his favourite dishes like gulai ikan and cucur udang.

“And sometimes we had extra bananas in the house and he would turn it into lemper pisang, with grated coconut and brown sugar, ” says Johari.

When Johari grew up – having learnt to enjoy cooking himself – he decided to enrol in a diploma in culinary arts at Institut Teknologi Mara (now called Universiti Teknologi Mara), and upon his graduation, he spent some time studying and working in Switzerland, before returning to Malaysia to progress his career.

Upon his return, his relationship with his father gradually changed, as Edrus – even though he never communicated this to Johari – was clearly proud of his son’s achievements.

By the time his father died in the 1980s, Johari and his father had forged a close bond and his dad had told all his friends that he was very proud of his son and his career.By the time his father died in the 1980s, Johari and his father had forged a close bond and his dad had told all his friends that he was very proud of his son and his career.

“After I came back, my father and I became very good friends and I realised he was a very friendly man. When I got offered a job in a hotel in Kuala Terengganu, I invited my parents to come and try the food and my dad really enjoyed it. He never told me anything, but I heard he told his friends that he was very proud of my career, ” says Johari.

Although his dad is long gone now, Johari says these days it is the little things that remind him of his father.

“My dad was very disciplined, so I grew up to be that way as well. Sometimes people will tell me, ‘Chef Jo, you are too-old fashioned’, but that’s just the way I was brought up.

“And nowadays, when I go and eat in people’s homes and see how the kids are with their parents – I realise just how different things are from when I was young and used to sit quietly at the dinner table with my dad!” he says.

CUCUR UDANG

For the kuah kacang

3 tbsp cooking oil

2 onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2.5cm ginger, chopped

1 tbsp ground chilli (cili boh)

2 tsp dried shrimp paste (belacan)

3 tbsp palm sugar (gula Melaka)

1 cup water

1 bowl fried groundnuts, finely ground

2 tsp diluted corn starch

salt and sugar to taste

To make

In a pot, heat oil and saute onions, garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add cili boh, belacan and gula Melaka and stir until absorbed into mixture.

Add water and groundnuts. Bring to a boil and add in corn starch. Leave to simmer for 10 minutes until sauce reduces and is concentrated. Season with salt and sugar to taste.

For fritter batter

500g wheat flour

1 large onion, sliced

1 bunch of chives, cleaned and cut into 2.5cm lengths

1 carrot, sliced matchstick-style

200g cabbage, finely sliced

100g bean sprouts

300g prawns, deveined and shelled

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tbsp lime water

salt and sugar to taste

enough oil for deep-frying

To make

Whisk the flour with all the other ingredients for the batter (except oil) until well combined. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Heat oil on medium heat, scoop one tablespoon of batter and place in pan. Fry over medium-high heat until golden brown. Use kitchen towel to remove excess oil. Repeat with the remaining batter and serve hot with kuah kacang.

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