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Saving Pulut Tetal From The Jaws Of Extinction

14/09/2021 01:41 PM

By Rohani Mohd Ibrahim

KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – Not many people seem to have heard of pulut tetal, a glutinous rice cake with a bluish tinge, the origin of which can be traced to the Peranakan culinary culture.

It was once upon a time relished as a dessert by the elite and wealthy women of the Baba Nyonya clan in Melaka (another name for the delicacy is tai tai which, in Chinese, refers to wives of rich men).

Its popularity, however, waned over the decades, probably due to its complicated preparation process. For the record, pulut tetal, also known as pulut tekan, is among the 213 Malaysian delicacies listed as heritage foods by the National Heritage Department under its intangible heritage category.

Making it to the heritage list in 2012, along with other Baba Nyonya delights such as bubur cha-cha, popia and pie tee, pulut tetal is on the brink of extinction, according to the National Heritage Department in a tweet it posted last year.

The butterfly pea flower... its juice is used as a natural dye in pulut tetal. --fotoBERNAMA (2021) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Pulut tetal, it said, was unique because its blue tinge comes from the natural dye of the butterfly pea flower or bunga telang. In the past, it was served often during feasts but today’s younger generation barely knows of its existence as few people make the delicacy, the department added.



Not wanting the delicious glutinous rice dish to fade into oblivion, one enterprising woman in Bukit Jelutong, Selangor, is making an attempt to popularise the heritage item by making and selling pulut tetal.

Rosmawati Abdul Ghani cutting the freshly made pulut tetal into small pieces. --fotoBERNAMA (2021) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Rosmawati Abdul Ghani, 48, who hails from Taiping, Perak, told Bernama the idea of starting the business came about during last year’s Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations when she tried to prepare her own pulut tetal, which incidentally was her husband Azman Mohd Yusoff’s favourite delicacy as his mother, who was of Baba Nyonya descent, used to make it.

According to Rosmawati, pulut tetal served with rendang (chicken or beef cooked slowly in coconut milk and other spices) or asam pedas (a spicy fish or beef dish) was a staple dish whenever they celebrated Aidilfitri with her husband’s family in Tengkera, Melaka.

Asam pedas daging goes well with pulut tetal. --fotoBERNAMA (2021) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Since her family could not return to Melaka for the celebrations last year due to the Movement Control Order, she decided to try her hand at making it.

“When my husband told me of his longing for pulut tetal, I tried to make it myself. Fortunately, he was satisfied with my ‘handiwork’,” she said.

Her husband’s thumbs-up motivated Rosmawati to improve its taste through trial and error. Finally, towards the end of 2020, she mustered the confidence to embark on her pulut tetal venture which she named Pulut Tetal Nyonya Zubaidah after her late mother-in-law Zubaidah Taib, who passed away in 2006.

Pulut tetal was given heritage food status in 2012, along with other nyonya delights like bubur cha cha, popia and pie tee. --fotoBERNAMA (2021) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Pulut tetal was originally eaten with seri kaya (a confiture made of egg, coconut milk and sugar) but in the case of my husband’s family, they usually ate it with asam pedas daging served on the side.

“My customers can order pulut tetal with asam pedas, pandan-flavoured seri kaya or serawa durian (durian flesh cooked with coconut milk and either brown or white sugar),” she said, adding that there is good demand for her pulut tetal which she promotes and sells online through her Instagram account.

“For most of my customers, my pulut tetal brings back memories of their childhood. They said they have not had the chance to eat it after their family members who were adept at making it passed away… that is, until they got to know Pulut Tetal Nyonya Zubaidah! I’m happy that my product has enabled them to reminisce on their beautiful memories.”



Norliza Abdul Rahman has fond memories of enjoying pulut tetal as a schoolgirl in Melaka. --fotoBERNAMA (2021) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Former journalist Norliza Abdul Rahman, 47, who is from Umbai, Melaka, said she used to enjoy pulut tetal during her schooldays.  

“I used to have it with seri kaya but it was not made by my family because the preparation process is complicated and lengthy. But after I left school and Melaka, I never got to taste it until now after I came to hear of Pulut Tetal Nyonya Zubaidah,” she said, adding that she had tried Rosmawati’s pulut tetal with seri kaya, asam pedas daging and serawa durian.  

Norliza, who now resides in Kajang with her family, said she found the pulut tetal served with asam pedas interesting and that the latter added more heritage value to the dish.    

To prepare pulut tetal, the glutinous rice has to be soaked for at least two hours before it is steamed. Then, the rice is mixed with coconut milk, salt and sugar and left alone for an hour before it is steamed a second time.

The juice of the butterfly pea flower is then added to the mixture which is then transferred to a tray or, in the case of Rosmawati, a special wooden box lined with a banana leaf. To get a firm, smooth and beautiful texture, the rice has to be pressed with the hands while it is still hot and steaming.

Pulut tetal can be eaten with seri kaya, rendang or asam pedas. --fotoBERNAMA (2021) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“If the glutinous rice is not hot, it will not stick well… this is because when the rice becomes dry it will become less sticky,” said Rosmawati, who leaves the pressed glutinous rice inside the wooden box for at least eight hours before serving.

Meanwhile, Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri praised the efforts taken by individuals to popularise Malaysian traditional delicacies that are nearing extinction.

She said the heritage food industry has the potential to be developed for the tourism market and can be highlighted in promotions aimed at attracting tourists to Malaysia.  

“Like Pulut Tetal Nyonya Zubaidah which has succeeded in placing a heritage food as its main product, my ministry is confident that the 212 other food items given national heritage status also have potential to be highlighted by food entrepreneurs,” she told Bernama in a statement recently.

 Pointing to Sarawak’s traditional kuih bahulu and layer cake, which are also listed as heritage foods, Nancy said the two items have been commercialised widely and are highly sought after in the market.

She also said that her ministry is always open to providing full support to entrepreneurs who wish to embark on a business involving heritage food and are in need of aid, advisory services, expertise and further information on heritage food items, including those on the verge of becoming extinct. 

She hoped the support extended by the ministry will encourage more food-based entrepreneurs, chefs, local restaurant operators and hotels to serve heritage dishes at their respective premises.


Translated by Rema Nambiar



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