Lontong



Lontong refers to compressed rice cakes, usually served as an accompaniment to curries and stews or as a side dish with peanut-based sauces.1 In Singapore, the term lontong also refers to a dish of vegetable stew in coconut curry, known as sayur lodeh, to which the compressed rice is added.2

Description
Traditionally, lontong is compressed rice wrapped in banana leaves shaped like a cylinder.3 The rice is infused with the aroma from the banana leaves, and also given a slightly green tint.4


To prepare lontong, banana leaves are first blanched for better pliability and then dried and cut into rectangular pieces. Each piece is rolled into a cylindrical shape, with one end either folded and secured with toothpicks, or tied up. The rice is washed and drained before being placed in the banana leaf. Either long or broken rice grains can be used. The rice should only fill about a third of the space, leaving ample room for it to expand as it is cooked. After filling it with rice, the other end of the “receptacle”, as well as its centre, is sealed.5

The wrapped rice is then lowered into a deep pot of boiling water and cooked for around four hours or until it is firm and fully packed with rice. When it is cooked, the rice is unwrapped, left to drain for about 10 minutes and allowed to cool. Lontong can be kept in the refrigerator for several days.6 Some choose to soak the rice in water for a few hours before putting it in the banana leaf – in this case, the cooking process can be shortened to approximately one-and-a-half hours.7 Before serving, the compressed rice is sliced into small cakes.8

Nowadays, cylindrical aluminium tubes are sometimes used to shape the rice, with banana leaves used to line the inside of the moulds. Another method is to connect two milk cans, each with an end cut out, to function as a mould. There should be holes pierced in the container to allow steam to escape. Similarly, banana leaves line the inside and ends of the mould.9

Nasi impit (or nasi himpit) is a variant of lontong where the rice is prepared without the cylinder and compressed by a variety of means. Rice, cooked with salt and pandan leaves, is mashed and packed into a tray lined with banana leaves. The tray is then covered with silicon paper or banana leaves, with another tray placed on top of it to compress the rice. Once the rice has cooled, it is transferred to another tray or dish and covered with a damp cloth. A second tray or dish is placed on it along with heavy objects for many hours to ensure the rice is compressed. The cooled nasi impit is cut with a wet knife, so that the rice grains do not stick to the knife.10


Cooked compressed rice is also sometimes referred to as ketupat. The latter, however, differs from lontong in that it is rhombus-shaped and wrapped in woven coconut leaves.11 Lontong and ketupat are both served as part of gado-gado (an Indonesian salad with peanut sauce), as accompaniments to soto ayam (a savoury chicken soup), satay (barbecued meats on a stick), curries and other dishes with gravy.12

Lontong (sayur lodeh)
Sayur lodeh (in Malay, sayur means “vegetables” and lodeh refers to having an ingredient cooked until it is soft) is a dish composed of mainly vegetables in coconut milk.13 In Singapore, lontong is commonly added to sayur lodeh, with the final product also referred to as lontong.14 Sayur lodeh found in Malaysia and Singapore often uses prawn stock, belacan (dried and fermented prawn paste) and hae bee (ground dried shrimp). These ingredients can be omitted for a vegetarian option.15

Vegetables commonly included in the stew are cabbage, carrots and long beans. Fried and firm soya beancurd (known in Chinese vernacular as tau kwa), eggplant and tempeh (fermented soya bean cake) may be included as well. The complex flavours of sayur lodeh are derived from a variety of herbs and spices such as turmeric, which gives the dish its golden hue, coriander, lemongrass, cloves as well as lime and bay leaves mixed with curry powder.16 In addition to the spices, candlenut, galangal (a type of rhizome in the ginger family of plants), chilli and onion are also mixed together with the belacan for more flavour.17 The rice cakes are then added to the vegetable stew. A hard-boiled egg, along with serunding (dry-fried coconut shavings) and sambal (chilli condiment), may be added at the end to enhance the taste.18

Lontong in Johor, Malaysia, may include sambal sotong (chilli squid) and uses peanut sauce instead of coconut milk gravy.19 In Malaysia, the vegetable stew is referred to as kuah (meaning “gravy” in Malay) and not sayur lodeh.20

While the Indonesian version of sayur lodeh does not include lontong, there is an Indonesian dish known as opor lontong. Opor is a chicken-based coconut stew, a distinct dish in itself, but this variety also incorporates rice cakes.21

It is not uncommon today to find lontong often replacing dishes that require ketupat, as they are much easier to prepare.22 Making ketupat is more time-consuming, as the rice has to be packed into elaborately woven coconut leaves. Furthermore, the cost of young coconut leaves has increased over the years.23


Lontong is typically eaten as a breakfast dish and also served during special occasions such as Hari Raya Puasa and Malay weddings.24



Author

Bonny Tan




References
1. Habibah Yahaya & Fadillah Yakin. (2009). Cuisine of the premiers (D. N. Bakewell, Trans.). Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan Negara, p. 136. (Call no.: RSEA 641.59595 HAB)
2. Naleeza Ebrahim & Yaw, Y. Y. (2006). Not just a good food guide: Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 647.955957 NAL); Mowe, R. (Ed). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 287. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
3. Naleeza Ebrahim & Yaw, Y. Y. (2006). Not just a good food guide: Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 647.955957 NAL)
4. Habibah Yahaya & Fadillah Yakin. (2009). Cuisine of the premiers (D. N. Bakewell, Trans.). Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan Negara, p. 136 (Call no.: RSEA 641.59595 HAB)
5. Brissenden, R. (2011). South East Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 164. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI); Habibah Yahaya & Fadillah Yakin. (2009). Cuisine of the premiers (D. N. Bakewell, Trans.). Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan Negara, p. 136 (Call no.: RSEA 641.59595 HAB); Mowe, R. (Ed). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 193. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU); Recipes. (1995, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Chan, M. (1995, February 26). Making lontong is as easy as boiling rice. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Recipes. (1995, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Brissenden, R. (2011). Southeast Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 164. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI); Mowe, R. (Ed). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 193. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
9. Chan, M. (1995, February 26). Making lontong is as easy as boiling rice. The Straits Times, p. 7; Recipes. (1995, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 193 (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU); Brissenden, R. (2011). South East Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI)
11. How to make ketupat bags. (1987, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Habibah Yahaya & Fadillah Yakin.  (2009). Cuisine of the premiers (D. N. Bakewell, Trans.). Kuala Lumpur: Institut Terjemahan Negara, p. 136. (Call no.: RSEA 641.59595 HAB)
13. Fernandez, R. (1985). Malaysian cookery. London: Century Publishing, p. 86. (Call no.: RSEA 641.59595 FER); Mowe, R. (Ed). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey through Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 287. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
14. Naleeza Ebrahim & Yaw, Y. Y. (2006). Not just a good food guide: Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 647.955957 NAL)
15. Ling, N. (1983, October 14). Lontong makes the long trip worthwhile. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chia, P. (2012). Peranakan heritage cooking. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International Asia, p. 138. (Call no.: RSING 641. 595957 CHI); Fernandez, R. (1985). Malaysian cookery. London: Century Publishing, p. 86. (Call no.: RSEA 641.59595 FER)
16. Naleeza Ebrahim & Yaw, Y. Y. (2006). Not just a good food guide: Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 647.955957 NAL); Brissenden, R. (2011). South East Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 75. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI)
17. Tan, S. (2014, April 27). Sayur lodeh. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
18. Naleeza Ebrahim & Yaw, Y. Y. (2006). Not just a good food guide: Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 68. (Call no.: RSING 647.955957 NAL)
19. Wong, J. (Ed.). (2007). The Star guide to Malaysian street food. Kuala Lumpur: Star Publications, p. 394. (Call no.: RSEA 641.59595 STA)
20. Hussaini Abdul Karim. (1999, February 2). Proper names: More food for thought. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
21. Chan, M. (1995, February 26). Making lontong is as easy as boiling rice. The Straits Times, p. 7; Recipes. (1995, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Brissenden, R. (2011). South East Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 164. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI)
23. Semono Salma. (1973, October 21). ‘Lontong bungkus’ gantikan ketupat utk hidangan Hari Raya. Berita Harian, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Rita Zahara. (2012). Malay heritage cooking. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine, p. 58. (Call no.: RSING 641.595957 RIT)



Further resource
Huang, L. (2009, September 27). Rice to the occasion. The Straits Times, p. 63. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 28 September 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Ethnic Communities
Heritage and Culture