Malaysian food is often a result of cross cultures and the way different ethnic groups prepare the same kind of food in their own unique way.
Take the Penang pasembur which is basically known as “Indian rojak”, spicy salad dish elsewhere in Malaysia. Yet, here, it is vastly different from those found outside of this state.
In Penang, when we refer to rojak we mean the one made with fruits and a thick, black sweet sauce while the pasembur has deep-fried fritters, julienned vegetables and a thick, rich orange-coloured spicy sauce.
The Penang pasembur is an Indian Muslim dish that is often served along with the mamak mee goreng (Indian Muslim fried yellow noodles) as a sort of appetiser.
Many mee goreng stalls offer pasembur too due to the similar sauce that they use in both dishes. Pasembur is a popular Penang hawker food usually taken as a side dish during lunch and dinner time.
Due to the popularity of the dish as a snack or even as a meal on its own, there are also specialty pasembur stalls in various food courts and hawker complexes.
These stalls can easily be spotted because they are the ones where trays of deep fried fritters and every deep fried food imaginable are stacked up for customers. You can choose from a menu with everything from fishball, crabstick, crab, fish, squid, hardboiled egg, fish cake, potatoes, beancurd, and many types of deep-fried fritters such as cucur udang, cucur kacang, cucur Kupaai and crab. Each item is priced individually, do check the price before picking up the item as some may be costly.
The chosen ingredients are cut into bite-size and topped with blanched bean sprouts, strips of fresh cucumber and turnip before drizzled with sweet and spicy peanut sauce.
These are the industrious pasembur stalls who cleverly prepare more choices for their customers.
A normal plate of pasembur will have a layer of cucumber strips, turnip (mangkuang) strips and blanched bean sprouts on the bottom.
On top of the mixed vegetables, bite-sized deep fried bean curd, crispy fritters, prawn fritters, boiled potatoes and a hard boiled egg are arranged to create a small pile of mostly golden morsels of food. Spoonfuls of the thick, rich gravy are then poured on top of the mixture.
The gravy is a concoction made with sweet potatoes, chillies, a tiny bit of tamarind extract and most importantly, finely ground roasted peanuts but the flavour varies between stalls as some use different ingredients or have their own added “special” ingredient.
Despite all the variations, the gravy is usually sweet, thick and little spicy, and has the fragrance of the crunchy ground peanuts.
There is also a Chinese-style pasembur that is called cheh-hoo which in Hokkien literally means “raw fish.”
The gravy, though also made from almost the same ingredients, is lighter and not as spicy with more of a reddish tint to it.
Here are few pasembur stalls to try out in George Town,
Stalls @ Medan Renong, Esplanade, Jalan Tun Syed Sheh BarakbahEsplanade (5pm – 11pm)
Sri Weld hawker center @ Beach Street (12pm-5pm)
Kareem Pasembour @ Union Street (11am-6pm)