The word ‘Rojak’ (pronounced ‘Ro-jah-k’) is a word held very close to the heart of every Malaysian. In its literal sense, it is a melange of crunchy fruits and vegetables, coated in a sticky sauce made of fermented shrimp. It is sweet, salty, sour, crunchy and spicy all at once. It’s not a dish that people would be able to slowly ease themselves into… you have to jump right into the chaos and decide only later if you like it or not.
On the more figurative side, ‘rojak’ describes our culture too. The jarring combination of flavours somehow works, just as much as the varying sights, sounds, smells and personalities of Malaysia come together in a harmonious pot of culture.
Another common version of Rojak is Indian Rojak. The only thing that makes it similar to the Nyonya-style rojak I’m sharing, is the concept of ‘everything’! Indian Rojak uses a thick sweet peanut sauce and often features prawn fritters, tofu, boiled potatoes and shredded cucumber.
This vegan version of Nyonya Rojak replaces fermented shrimp paste with fermented soybean paste, also known here as ‘tauchu’. It is a popular condiment here which adds a unique umami aroma and flavour to meat (especially fish), vegetables and noodle dishes. In this rojak sauce, taucu replicates a distinct pungency that lures you into getting some of your daily intake of fresh fruit and veggies the Malaysian street food way.
This sauce is extremely concentrated, so if you’re doing a taste test, don’t be alarmed by its intensity! When mixed in with the other ingredients, the juices from the salad will help to temper the overwhelming flavours of the sauce. To be safe, add the sauce sparingly. The recipe can use any fruit and vegetable that holds its shape and crispiness well after cutting, including starfruit, unripe papaya, water apple or western apple, and if you are up for trying, maybe even celery!
A plate of Nyonya rojak is not complete without a sprinkling of ground peanuts! Toasted sesame seeds is also a common addition.
Get ready to welcome a bowl of Malaysia into your home and tuck into a salad like no other!
Nyonya Rojak (Savoury Fruit and Vegetable Salad)
A quintessential part of the Malaysian food experience, this unique salad can be eaten as an appetizer, snack, a teatime treat, or as a meal on its own.
- 1 jicama (turnip)
- 1 large guava
- 2 small young mangoes (green and unripe)
- 1 cucumber
- 1/2 a pineapple
- Crushed peanuts (preferably roasted)
- Sesame seeds (optional, preferably roasted)
- SAUCE INGREDIENTS:
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste with seeds (or 1/2 tbsp seedless)
- 1 tbsp Chinese fermented soybean paste (taucu)
- 2 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 3 tbsp jaggery / palm sugar (Gula Melaka)
- 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 - 1 tsp chilli paste (Optional)
- Step 1 Remove skin from jicama, mangoes and pineapple if necessary.
- Step 2 Cut all fruit and vegetable ingredients roughly into bite-sized pieces. Place into a bowl and set aside in the fridge.
- Step 3 Mix all all sauce ingredients into a bowl until even.
- Step 4 Transfer sauce into a cooking pot and cook on low to medium heat for 20-22 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce thickens to a glue-like consistency.
- Step 5 Remove pot from heat and allow the sauce to cool for 10 minutes.
- Step 6 Bring out the salad bowl from the fridge and add sauce. Stir evenly.
- Step 7 Top with peanuts and sesame seeds.
- Step 8 Serve immediately with a fork or bamboo skewer sticks.