15 October 2008

A Princess' Touch

Air Tangan Tengku Puan Pahang : Masakan Tradisional Pahang

Publisher: Pahang Museum Board in cooperation with Pahang Fama

This tome of a cookbook on traditional Pahang cuisine is ”a gift” from a princess to her people. It tells of the culinary journey of Tengku Puan Pahang, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Iskandar, the wife of the Pahang Crown Prince, who scoured every nook and corner of of the State to collect authentic recipes.

A gift from a princess

This modern-day princess travelled far and wide to mingle with her rakyat (people) and to cook with them.

More significantly, she overcame many difficulties to come up with a cookbook of traditional Pahang recipes to be preserved as part of the State’s heritage. If not for her, the womenfolk would probably not have parted with their recipes.

She modestly regards the compilation as ”a priceless gift” and a three-in-one project. ”I got a chance to see the whole of Pahang, meet the people and indulge in my passion for cooking,” she said.

To accomplish her task, the princess and her entourage rafted, climbed hills and travelled to the most rural areas in the state, such as Kg Bantal, Jerantut. She set aside palace protocol by refusing a helicopter and instead travelled by boat (with her group) along a dangerous river for more than three hours.

The princess cooked every dish in the cookbook to get an idea of what they tasted like. ”I spent about three to four days in each district literally cooking up a storm,” she said in her book. From cooking three dishes a day, she progressed to 10 to 15 dishes daily, sometimes staying up until 1am. She also learnt the secrets and taboos of food preparation of some communities.

Traditional Pahang cooking is very healthy as it involves lots of boiling, grilling and very little deep-frying, said Tengku Puan Pahang in her book. The cooking style of each district is influenced by neighbouring states. The cooking style of Rompin is influenced by Johor while that of Kuantan, by Terengganu. ”Real” Pahang food is found only in Lipis, Jerantut, Temerloh and Pekan.

The book’s emphasis is on locally-grown produce. Recipes using imported ingredients like tomatoes, cabbage and potatoes are omitted. Likewise, curry dishes using curry powder are excluded but gulai (curries in coconut milk) are featured.

The cookbook project was mooted by Ahmad Farid Abdul Jalal, the director of the Pahang State Museum.

Kulat Sisir Masak Lemak Paku is a dish enjoyed in Jerantut.

In August 2001, he approached Tengku Puan Pahang to be the patron of a cookbook on traditional recipes of Pahang. She consented but wanted to be directly involved with the project.

In January 2003, a meeting was held and she suggested that each district supply authentic recipes. Following this, Rosli Zakaria of Fama was roped in.

The princess embarked on her culinary journey the following month. At her first stop in Temerloh, eight recipes were collected. By the end of the project, after 10 months of travelling, some 500 recipes were gathered. In all, it took two-and-a-half years before the book was published.

On the first day, she ”just watched” as everyone else cooked and helped out by measuring the ingredients.

”On the second day, I decided that I just could not stand by idly while others had all the fun. I wanted to be in the thick of the action. The next 10 months were spent cooking,” she said.

Villagers were surprised that ”not only could a princess cook but she could also extract coconut milk, use the pestle and mortar and batu giling (stone grinder)”.

At the tender age of eight, Tengku Puan Pahang, the fourth child of the Sultan of Johor, was already taking cooking lessons from her mother, Sultanah Zanariah of Johor, a good cook. Although she was sometimes chased out of the kitchen, which was deemed no place for a princess, she turned out fine as a cook.

It is said that there is no idiomatic phrase in English to best describe air tangan, which encompasses both the cooking style and skills of the chef. The term also refers to the food prepared to correct ingredients and measurements.

In the Malay culture, air tangan ibu broadly refers to mother’s cooking and it is to describe that ‘’special touch” that makes food tastier.

The book’s title is said to reflect the devotion of a princess for her people and the bond between a ruler and her subjects.

The cookbook packs in 155 recipes from 11 districts (Temerloh, Lipis, Jerantut, Raub, Rompin, Cameron Highlands, Bentong, Pekan, Kuantan, Maran and Bera).

In addition, Tengku Puan Pahang generously shared her royal household recipes. The 25 recipes offer an insight into the favourite foods of the Pahang royal household and palace guests. She bemoaned the fact that many priceless royal dishes disappeared with the passing of her mother-in-law. Nevertheless, she managed to interview a number of long-time palace cooks for some recipes of palace dishes.

Recipes like Temosa Raja (Royal Curry Puffs), Puding Baulu Raja (Royal Sponge Pudding) and Dadar Tengku Ampuan Afzan hint at their royal origins although Jeneral Mahbob (Mabuk) or Crazy General, a dessert, leaves you guessing.

Puding Baulu Raja

Tengku Puan Pahang even managed to gather recipes from the orang asli (natives) of Pahang. There are about 60,000 orang asli from nine tribes. Of the 60 recipes contributed, 20 were picked for the cookbook.

The Pahang orang asli source their ingredients from their surroundings or the wilds and use simple cooking methods – baking, grilling and boiling. Their food remains authentic but they have included asam, sugar and coconut milk to add flavour.

An unusual recipe is Sambal Biji Getah (Rubber Seeds Sambal); who would have thought that rubber seeds were edible? Another recipe, rice cooked in ”Monkey Cups” (referring to the tropical pitcher plant), is rather innovative but urbanites may have to go to the jungle in search of monkey cups. Interestingly, the pitchers got their name because monkeys drink from them.

Much effort has been put into this cookbook, particularly the recipe collection. But Tengku Puan Pahang never seems to tire of her culinary pursuit.

”There are plans to publish a compendium of the entire collection of recipes, which will serve as the definitive compilation of Pahang cuisine,” she said.

Air Tangan Tengku Puan Pahang (RM158.60) can be purchased from the Pekan Royal Museum and selected bookstores. For more details, call Junainah (09-4221371).


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