Ketupat



Ketupat is a diamond-shaped rice cake. This Malay food staple is made of cooked rice compressed and wrapped in woven coconut leaves.1 Originating from Indonesia and Malaysia, ketupat is often consumed as an accompaniment to meat dishes such as satay (skewered barbecued meat) or stews, although the traditional version has become less common in Singapore.2 It is served during special occasions such as Hari Raya Puasa and Malay weddings, but can also be eaten during regular meals.3

Description
Ketupat (alternatively called ketupat nasinasi meaning “rice” in Malay) is made of plain rice shaped into a rhombus by wrapping it in intricately woven coconut leaves.4

The rice is washed before being drained and spread out on a tray. The leaf wrappings are then prepared, often using coconut leaves from the tree’s lower fronds.5 The leaves are stripped before being woven into a box-shaped packet, which is then partially filled with rice – usually four-fifths to three-quarters full, depending on the type of rice used – to leave sufficient space for the rice to expand as it cooks. The ends are subsequently woven in to seal the ketupat.6

Bundles of ketupat are immersed in boiling water to simmer for about four hours. Water in the pot should be refilled accordingly such that the ketupat remain fully immersed during this time. The cooked ketupat is then cooled before serving, or kept for later consumption.7

Some cooks shorten the simmering process by precooking the rice in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed. The rice is then wrapped with leaves or foil, rolled and steamed.8

The longer the ketupat is cooked, the longer it can be kept. Ketupat can remain edible for at least two days if left in a cool place, or longer if refrigerated. Some choose to steam the ketupat before cutting it open, or eat it cold. The ketupat is sliced vertically or cut into cubes, and can be served with or without its leaf wrapping.9

Tradition and current practices
Ketupat is central to several festivals in Indonesia, such as Badka Kupat (or spelt Bada Kupat) and Lebaran Ketupat (also known as Lebaran Topat). These festivals celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month. During Badka Kupat, which is celebrated in Central Java for a period of five days after the conclusion of Ramadan, ketupat is used as an offering that symbolises forgiveness. After the rituals, which include visiting a holy grave, the ketupat may be consumed or taken home as a charm for blessings.10

In Singapore, the ketupat is an integral dish served during Hari Raya Puasa and at Malay weddings. It is a side dish to the many sweet, savoury and rich foods commonly found at these celebrations.11 Ketupat is not only ubiquitous during Hari Raya Puasa as a dish but also as a form of decoration. Malay mothers pass down the tradition of weaving ketupat cases to their young children, and ketupat cases woven from colourful ribbons typically adorn Malay homes during festive periods.12

By the 1970s, ketupat had become less common and was gradually replaced by lontong – also compressed rice cakes, but wrapped in banana leaves – in regular meals. Some attribute this to the higher cost of young coconut leaves used for making ketupat. Another reason is that it is much easier to make lontong than ketupat, as weaving is not involved in the former.13 Ketupat is especially associated with satay and its accompanying peanut sauce,14 and many bemoan that traditional ketupat has now become uncommon at satay stalls. Those that can be found are said to be either wrapped in plastic or banana leaves.15 Nowadays. plastic-wrapped ketupat, also known as “instant ketupat”, can be easily bought.16 Pre-woven empty ketupat cases can also be purchased for quicker preparation.17

Variants
Ketupat bawang uses janur – younger coconut leaves from the higher fronds that are believed to be more pliant.18 In Java, ketupat woven with coconut leaves are only used for ceremonial purposes, while those commonly eaten are wrapped with banana leaves instead. Ceremonial ketupat packets have intricate designs of various shapes, including animal designs, found particularly in Bali and Brunei.19

Ketupat pulut is eaten in the northern Malaysian states of Penang, Kedah, Perlis and Kelantan. As its name implies, this version uses glutinous rice (pulut). Sometimes known as ketupat daun palas, its woven packet is made of palas (a fan palm tree also known as the Licuala) leaves. It is triangular, as it is first shaped into a cone in which glutinous rice half-cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with salt is stuffed.20 Ketupat manis (sweet rice cake) is often eaten on its own, while the plain ketupat is eaten with stews like rendang, condiments such as serunding (fried coconut shavings) and brown sugar.21

Depending on its shape, ketupat can also be interpreted as male or female.22



Author

Bonny Tan



References
1. Brissenden, R. (2011). South East Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 165. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI); Panca Nugraha & Suherdjoko. (2014, August 5). Muslims celebrate Lebaran Ketupat a week after Idul Fitri. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
2. Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 166. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU); Chan, M. (1992, April 5). Stick up for street savvy. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Zaleha bte Osman (Interviewer). (1999, June 1). Oral history interview with William Thian Hock Gwee @ William Gwee [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002136/08/06, p. 43]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
3. Mohd Ismail Noor (Ed.). (2000). Food of ASEAN. Kuala Lumpur: ASEAN-COCI, p. 40. (Call no.: RSING q394.10959 FOO-[CUS])
4. How to make ketupat bags. (1987, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. How to make ketupat bags. (1987, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Tan, L. L. (1979, August 23). Ketupats – fancy or plain – to make for the festive season. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 194. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
7. Tan, L. L. (1979, August 23). Ketupats – fancy or plain – to make for the festive season. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 194. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU); Basan, G. (2006). The food and cooking of Malaysia & Singapore. London: Aquamarine, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING q641.59595 BAS)
8. Basan, G. (2006). The food and cooking of Malaysia & Singapore. London: Aquamarine, p. 66. (Call no.: RSING q641.59595 BAS)
9. Mowe, R. (Ed.). (1999). Southeast Asian specialties: A culinary journey. Cologne, Germany: Könemann, p. 194. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 SOU)
10. Panca Nugraha & Suherdjoko. (2014, August 5). Muslims celebrate Lebaran Ketupat a week after Idul Fitri. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved from Factiva; Ganug Nugroho Adi. (2011, September 14). ‘Syawalen’ and more blessings. The Jakarta Post; Sudherdjoko. (2008, November 14). ‘Ketupat’ more than just a tradition. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
11. Mohd Ismail Noor (Ed.).. (2000). Food of ASEAN. Kuala Lumpur: ASEAN-COCI, p. 40. (Call no.: RSING q394.10959 FOO -[CUS])
12. Tuminah Sapawai. (1996, February 19). Hari Raya: Traditional practices retain their grip. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Not packets for satay. (1950, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Semono Salma. (1973, October 21). ‘Lontong bungkus Bungkus’ gantikan ketupat utk hidangan Hari Raya. Berita Harian, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Party time. (1990, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Brissenden, R. (2011). South East Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 164. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI)
14. Not packets for satay. (1950, July 17). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Brissenden, R. (2011). South East Asian food. Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, p. 164. (Call no.: RSING 641.5959 BRI)
15. Chan, M. (1992, April 5). Stick up for street savvy. The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Zaleha bte Osman (Interviewer). (1999, June 1). Oral history interview with William Thian Hock Gwee @ William Gwee [Transcript of cassette recording no. 002136/08/06, p. 43]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
16. Tuminah Sapawi. (1997, February 6). Ready-made taking the toil out of festival. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Ketupat man at Geylang Serai. (1992, April 4). The New Paper, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. How to make ketupat bags. (1987, May 26). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Kruger, V. (2006). The ketupat connection. The Bali Advertiser. Retrieved from The Bali Advertiser website: http://www.baliadvertiser.biz/articles/food/2006/ketupat.html
20. Fairy Mahdzan. (2003, November 26). Making ketupat daun palas. MyIndo.com. Retrieved from MyIndo.com website: http://www.fairy.mahdzan.com/content.asp
21. Kruger, V. (2006). The ketupat connection. The Bali Advertiser. Retrieved from The Bali Advertiser website: http://www.baliadvertiser.biz/articles/food/2006/ketupat.html
22. Kruger, V. (2006). The ketupat connection. The Bali Advertiser. Retrieved from The Bali Advertiser website: http://www.baliadvertiser.biz/articles/food/2006/ketupat.html



Further resources

Ganug Nugroho Adi. (2011, September 14). ‘Syawalen’ and more blessings. The Jakarta Post. Retrieved from Factiva.

Reich, A. B. (1950s). Malays weaving ketupat for wedding ceremony, Malaya [Image no. 20120001503-0049]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/



The information in this article is valid as at 26 October 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>>Food
Ethnic foods
Heritage and Culture

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