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What Is Rojak?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2016
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Rojak is a spicy salad dish made with sliced or shredded fruits and vegetables common in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Typical ingredients include cucumber, sweet turnip, spinach, green apple, pineapple, green mango and guava. Deep-fried soybean cakes, fried dough fritters and cuttlefish may be added. A sauce made of tamarind pulp, lime juice, ground chili and shrimp paste is a crucial ingredient. Rojak, Malay for “wild mix,” is typically served as an appetizer or a meal in its own right. The dish is called rujak in Indonesia.

This dish is standard fare for street vendors but recipes and ingredients vary widely between regions. It is common for street vendors to prepare and peddle their rojak from modified sidecar motorcycles and mini trucks. However, rojak is widely available throughout Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and many families will have their own ways of preparing it.

In addition to the traditional fruit ingredients, the Malaysian and Singaporean version of the dish can include fried dough fritters, boiled potatoes, and hard boiled eggs. Cuttlefish, tofu, and shrimp fritters are also typical. This type of rojak is usually topped with roasted crushed peanuts.

A version specific to Penang, Malaysia is called pasembur and includes guava, honey and squid fritters. Pasembur emphasizes tartness with fruits like green apples. Poached jellyfish are sometimes used as a garnish and the sauce is made from sweet potato.

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There are many types of Indonesian rojak or rujak like serut, tumbuk and cingur. The typical Indonesian version includes many tropical fruits like wax or water apple, pineapple, mango, jicama, and kedondong. In some cases, the ingredients are mashed together rather than sliced and mixed or shredded.

Sauce is most crucial component of a successful rojak. Typical ingredients include sugar, tamarind, chili, and shrimp paste. Lime juice and thick soy sauce may also be added. The amount of sweet or spicy can be adjusted to taste. Some versions of rojak are made with sweet potato sauce, peanut sauce with mayonnaise, or soaked in fish broth.

Pineapple and cucumber are ingredients common to most types of rojak. However, these fruits are juicy and can make the salad soggy once the sauce is mixed in. The salad should therefore be consumed as soon as possible after plating to prevent a mushy and runny dish.

In part because it is a dish that combines many ingredients, the term “rojak” is a Malaysian and Singaporean colloquial expression for an eclectic mix of things or people. In parts of Indonesia, this salad dish is served to pregnant women at a prenatal ceremony held during the seventh month of gestation. It is believed that a spicy salad means that the baby will be a boy whereas a sweet salad heralds the birth of a girl.

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