I was busy stirring bowl after bowl after bowl of rojak sauce last weekend, trying to find one that I liked. The first mistake I made was with the tamarind water. I followed the rojak recipe in The Best of Singapore Cooking, mixing a walnut size blob of assam with 80 ml of water. That totally spoilt the sauce/dressing 'cause it was way too watery. I had to reduce the amount of water, and leave out the lime juice in the recipe, before I finally got a thick and sticky consistency.
Nailed it? Not yet, not so fast. The sauce turned watery again after I mixed it with fruits. The culprit this time was the (rather) expensive 'crystal' pineapple I had bought. It was really juicy and ideal for eating straight, but not for making rojak. The colour of the sauce wasn't right either. It should be almost black or very dark brown, but mine was more like a medium brown. Also, the fermented prawn paste didn't taste right, in a I-can't-put-my-finger-on-it-but-it's-not-quite-right kind of way.
I was into my third bowl of rojak sauce – making, not eating – and on a roll. Off I trotted to a minimart to look for a different brand of fermented prawn paste. 'This is the one rojak hawkers use!' the friendly shopkeeper assured me, holding up a red and blue plastic tub that said 'TWO BOYS BRAND'. 'Really ah?' I took his word for it, and also picked up a cheap, green and hopefully not so juicy pineapple.
On the fourth attempt, I finally nailed it with the help of the two new ingredients. The sauce tasted quite similar to the (famous) rojak in Balestier – hey, the one Chow Yun Fat goes to! It was a lighter version though, with less sugar and prawn paste – the way I liked it. If you prefer a richer sauce, just add more of both and peanuts, and provide for more sauce. And don't forget to toast the dough fritters and beancurd puffs till they're really crispy. That's the whole point of making rojak, to have you zha kueh and tau pok that go c-r-u-n-c-h! Plus, I can have as much green mango and jambu as I like! Plus, I don't have to wait – hey, the good places for rojak have electronic queue systems!
Was Chinese rojak invented by the Chinese? I hope so. It's a nice symbol of the old immigrants' assimilation into life in the 'South Ocean' with the use of ingredients from China and Southeast Asia. Even the name 'rojak', which means mix, is so apt. Do the 'new immigrants' know that, I wonder . . . .
(Recipe for 6 persons)
150 g mang kuang (local turnip; yam bean; jicama; 沙葛)
150 g cucumber
80 g under ripe pineapple
80 g green mango
100 g jambu (rose apples)
1 pair you zha kueh (Chinese dough fritters; 油条), toasted till crisp
4 pieces tau pok (beancurd puffs; 豆卜), toasted till crisp
Rojak sauce (dressing) – makes 1 cup
90 g fermented prawn paste (6 tbsp)
60 g tamarind paste (4 tbsp), mixed with 3 tbsp hot water and drained;
. . . seeds picked out and discarded (Orchid brand)
peel of ½ calamansi lime, finely minced
1 packed tbsp torch ginger bud (aka rojak flower), finely minced
4 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp chilli powder, or to taste
½ cup toasted peanuts (80 g), skinless, and coarsely ground
The dressing is sufficient for about 1 kg (8 cups heaped) of ingredients. Besides those listed above, other popular choices include green apples, buah kedongdong, cured jellyfish, cured squid, and blanched bean sprouts and kangkong (water spinach). Choose whatever strikes your fancy. Everything should be peeled, trimmed, washed and thoroughly dried as necessary, then cut bite size, into thin wedges where possible.
To make rojak sauce, thoroughly mix all ingredients except peanuts. When sugar is melted, add all of ground peanuts except 2 tbsp and stir till evenly mixed. You should have 1 cup of sticky sauce that's as thick as peanut butter. Taste and adjust if necessary.
Toss everything, adding dough fritters and beancurd puffs towards the end so that they don't turn soggy. Plate and sprinkle with remaining peanuts. Serve immediately.
Why not make some Stuffed tau pok with rojak sauce as well? Click here for the recipe.