If you come to Penang and order a plate of rojak, expect a mixture of fruits in a thick, sticky pungent sauce and a sprinkling of roasted nuts.
Only in this northern state, the rojak mean the local version of a fruit salad. It also does not refer to the savoury dish of deep-fried prawn fritters and bean curd served with an orangey spicy sauce that is called pasembur here.
The Penang rojak is a favourite snack that is easily prepared with a mixture of cut fruits which are then tossed together in a thick, gooey black sauce.
Rojak connoisseurs insist on nothing less than a thick, rich, sweet, spicy and slightly salty sauce that has finely ground and fragrant roasted nuts.
The commercialised and bottled rojak kuah (rojak sauce) is easily available in grocery stores and supermarkets. However, these bottled rojak sauces will not please any rojak fan who is used to the homemade version where the paste is mixed by the hawker.
The biggest novelty is the secret to a good rojak sauce. A typical rojak sauce is made mainly from shrimp paste (also known as heh koh in Hokkien) spiked up with sambal (ground chillies), palm sugar, a smidgen of tamarind or lime juice and some dark soy sauce or salt to taste.
As its ingredients suggest, the sauce is a combination of sweet, spicy, salty and a tiny bit of sour.
Due to the shrimp paste, be prepared for the strong pungent smell of the sauce but don’t worry, it is not in the least off-putting as the fruits somehow give the whole mixture a fresh flavour.
A plate of rojak, expect to see bite-sized pieces of jicama (sengkuang), guava, pineapple, cucumber, umbra (ambarella) and green mango which is a combo of sweet, sour and crunchy.
These bite-sized morsels are first stirred into dollops of the thick rojak sauce before being piled onto a plate, no rojak would be complete without a few sprinkles of chopped or crushed peanuts to fulfil this yummylicious fruity snack and in some cases, roasted sesame seeds, roasted dried shrimps and belacan powder.
There are also rojak stalls that include water apples, deep fried beancurd puffs, deep fried Chinese crullers and blanched cuttlefish in the dish.
Be sure not to miss this popular and local Penang-style fruit salad, check out these stalls:
Hock Seng Rojak King @ Macallum Street (2pm-5pm)
Medan Renong @ Padang Kota Lama, Esplanade (5pm-midnight )
Roadside stall @ Penang Street (12pm-4pm)