Haliza Maysuri, the founder of popular hijab brand Bawal Exclusive. — Bernama photo
Sambal udang petai that was cooked by Haliza. — Bernama photo
KUALA LUMPUR: Haliza Maysuri’s Hari Raya open house always features this special dish – but it is not ketupat or rendang.
The 41-year-old founder of popular hijab brand Bawal Exclusive said that dish was ‘sambal udang petai’, a prawn sambal dish cooked with ‘petai’ or stink beans.
The dish is typically popular in Malay communities but the strong and pungent smell and taste of petai (Parkia speciosa) beans can be an acquired taste for others.
However, Haliza’s special raya dish is one that even her non-local neighbours look very much forward to.
“The sambal udang petai has been a must-have dish in my Hari Raya open house menu over the past 10 years. My Chinese neighbour loves it and my Bosnians and ‘mat salleh’ (Caucasian) neighbours are craving Malay traditional foods too,” she told Bernama.
Despite her multiple commitments as a businesswoman, she would go down to the farmer’s market (Pasar Tani) in Serdang herself so that she could select the freshest beans for the dish.
She would purchase around 40 ribbons of petai, each yielding 12 to 15 beans.
Sambal udang petai
Haliza uses tiger prawns for her sambal udang petai instead of the white prawn usually used for the dish.
“There is a sweetness to it and you get a beautiful colour once it’s cooked. The recipe for the sambal udang petai is something I came up with myself. I had no idea it would be so popular with my neighbours of other races.
“They said it was different from those they have tasted and that is why when they have it with white rice, they had to have more than one helping,” she said, adding that she would usually use up to 4kg of prawns for the dish.
Haliza would usually host two open houses during Hari Raya.
The first would be held in her husband’s family home in Pendang, Kedah on the second day of Hari Raya.
The second one would be held at the end of Syawal (the Islamic month in which Aidilfitri is celebrated on the first day) at their home in Bukit Puchong.
The second open house is to celebrate with her neighbours, staff, close friends as well as business acquaintances of the Bawal Exclusive brand, which she operates with her husband Mohd Rosli Awang, 47.
Today’s Hari Raya open house menu tend to revolve around more modern or Western dishes, but Haliza prefers to keep it traditional.
Among the dishes typically served at her open house are ‘rendang kerang’, ‘daging salai lemak cili api’, ‘rendang ayam kampung’, ‘daging bakar cicah air asam utara’, ‘sambal belacan’ and various ulam (local herbs and salad greens) Haliza keeps her recipes authentic, without feeling the need to create ‘fusion cuisines’ for the benefit of guests with foreign palates.
“I choose to serve traditional Malay dishes — the staple of (Malay) kampung people — because it is also as an opportunity to introduce the Malay culture, tastebuds and flavours to neighbours of other races and from other countries.
“I was pleasantly surprised to find my foreign neighbours trying out the kampung dishes and loving it. They would always go for it every time I host open houses,” she said.
Preparing it herself
Despite having two domestic helpers, Haliza cooks the dishes herself while her helpers assist only with the preparation of ingredients. Haliza does this to maintain the quality of taste of the dishes.
“I love cooking. No matter how busy I get, I would still come home to cook for my family and I do the same for my open houses.
“It is a different kind of joy seeing guests enjoy the food that we prepare ourselves. I find that it also helps strengthen the bond of friendship,” she said.
Given their busy schedule as the owners of a popular hijab brand, Haliza and her husband thought it best to set aside a time such as in Syawal to rebuild and strengthen their relationship with their neighbours.
“The atmosphere during the open house is merry and festive. It feels like we are all from one family,” she said.
A unique tradition
Open houses have become a Malaysian tradition during festive celebrations, said a senior lecturer at the Sultan Idris Education University (UPSI) Language and Communications Faculty, Associate Professor Datuk Paduka Dr Mohd Rosli Saludin. Open houses are held not only to celebrate Hari Raya but other festive celebrations like Deepavali and Chinese New Year as well.
Hosts would prepare meals according to their means and invite friends, neighbours and relatives to come over and enjoy the feast while rekindling friendships.
“The open house is a practice that dates back from before Malaya achieved its independence and now it has extended across cultures and celebrations.
“It is more than just a gathering with food. It is also a time for long-lost or distant friends, neighbours and relatives to reunite and catch up with each other’ lives and revisit old memories. Open houses are an effective platform to unite the people and it is a practice that should be preserved,” he said. — Bernama
Haliza will purchase ribbons of petai for Raya. — Bernama photo