Rojak is a local salad of mixed vegetables and fruits, drizzled with a sweet and sour sauce comprising local prawn paste, sugar and lime.1 Rojak in Malay means "mixed",2 but the dish exemplifies the cultural diversity of Singapore, including both Chinese and Malay elements in its ingredients. Often eaten as a side dish or as an appetiser, rojak can also be served as a main meal.3
It is uncertain how rojak originated.4 There are different vegetable salads that are unique to the Malayan archipelago. However, while the Indonesian gadoh-gadoh has a thick peanut-based sauce, vegetables such as long beans and proteins like eggs, rojak comprises cut vegetables mixed with the sweet-sour flavours of the black pasty sauce of local prawn paste. The flavours of these salads are far from similar, although they are often grouped together as Asian salads.5 Singapore rojak is also distinct from Indian rojak, sharing only its name and some of its ingredients.6
This Asian salad is a rich mix of vegetables and fruits. Fresh vegetables, such as kangkong (water spinach) and taugeh (bean sprouts), are blanched. Others, such as cucumbers and Chinese turnips, are sliced in an angled fashion to add crunch.7 Sour, tangy flavours come from other ingredients such as sliced pineapple, although sometimes starfruit, young mangoes or unripe rose apples (jambu) are also added.8 Chinese rojak includes bite-size yu tiao (a crispy length of deep-fried flour),9 and sometimes toasted beancurd.10 The mark of a good rojak is its sauce – particularly the prawn paste, or hay kor, used.11 The sticky paste is mixed with a little water, lime juice and a lot of sugar.12 Chilli paste or freshly pound chillies may be added for some spice.13 A dusting of ground peanuts gives further texture. The paste is then mixed thoroughly, traditionally in a large wooden bowl with a wooden spoon.14 Only when the sauce is complete are the ingredients added and thoroughly mixed with the paste.15 Finally, the mixture is garnished with a dash of finely cut ginger flower.16
Rojak in Singapore
Until the 1980s, rojak peddlers could still be found, often illegally, moving through neighbourhoods on bicycles – as compared to using pushcarts in the 1960s.17 These carts, whether on bicycle or as a mobile stall, often had a wooden box where the fresh ingredients could be seen through glass panels. The peddler's only tools would be his cutting board, a knife and the large mixing bowl. Ingredients would be cut and mixed on the spot.18 Before the days of paper plates, the ingredients would be packed in daun upeh, a leaf folded into the shape of a cup.19 Toothpicks pierced through the first few vegetables served as forks. There are more variations of rojak today as new ingredients are creatively added to the spicy, sweet and sour black sauce. The dish can be found in hawker centres or food courts and are often prepared by the Chinese.20
1. Djoko Wibisono and David Wong, The Food of Singapore: Authentic Recipes from the Manhattan of the East (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 1999), 50 (Call no. RSING 641.595957 FOO); Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore, Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled: Decoding 25 Favourite Dishes (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine, 2015), 134–35. (Call no. RSING 641.595957 SIN)
2. Susheela Raghavan, Flavors of Malaysia: A Journey Through Time, Tastes, and Traditions (New York: Hippocrene Books, 2010), 89. (Call no. RSING 641.59595 RAG-[COO])
3. Wibisono and Wong, Food of Singapore, 50.
4. Classic Peranakan Cooking: Recipes from the Straits Chinese Kitchen (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Cuisine, 2010), 59 (Call no. RSING 641.59595 CLA-[COO]); Tee Hun Ching, “Salad with Many Flavours,” Straits Times, 3 June 2001, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Raghavan, Flavors of Malaysia, 89; “Peng's English,” Straits Times, 1 February 1981, 10; Tee, “Salad with Many Flavours.”
6. Ghillie Başan, Recipes from Singapore & Malaysia: Traditions, Techniques, 80 Classic Dishes (London: Aquamarine, 2013), 127 (Call no. RSING 641.59595 BAS); Tee, “Salad with Many Flavours.”
7. Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore, Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled, 134–35; Tee, “Salad with Many Flavours”; Raghavan, Flavors of Malaysia, 89–90.
8. Tee, “Salad with Many Flavours.”
9. Wibisono and Wong, Food of Singapore, 50.
10. Raghavan, Flavors of Malaysia, 90.
11. Wibisono and Wong, Food of Singapore, 50.
12. Başan, Recipes from Singapore & Malaysia, 127.
13. Raghavan, Flavors of Malaysia, 90.
14. Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore, Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled, 135.
15. Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore, Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled, 134–35
16. Temasek Polytechnic, Singapore, Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled, 134; Mah Kan Keng, “Rojak with the Right Toss,” Straits Times, 2 October 1994, 17. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Chua Wei Ying, “Ever Taste Vegetarian Rojak Paste?” New Paper, 29 July 2007, 30; “Wherever Chinese Live There Are The Hawkers,” Straits Times, 18 August 1935, 5 (From NewspaperSG); Mah, “Rojak with the Right Toss.”
18. Tee Hun Ching, “Rich and Thick Shrimp Paste's the Tramp Card,” Straits Times, 3 June 2001, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Thien, “Wild about Cooking with Leaf Wrappers,” Business Times, 21 November 2002, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Tee, “Salad with Many Flavours”; Mah, “Rojak with the Right Toss.”
Djoko Wibisono and David Wong, The Food of Singapore: Authentic Recipes from the Manhattan of the East (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 1999), 50 (Call no. RSING 641.595957 FOO)
Rosalind Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialities: A Culinary Journey (Culinaria: Konemann, 1999), 149. (Call no. RSING 641.5959 SOU)
The information in this article is valid as at May 2019 and correct as far as we can 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.