Rojak is everything I love. Sweet, sour, salty, crunchy, fruity, fresh, and a riot of colour and textures to entice and savour. It’s the ultimate Asian fruit and veggie salad with the strangest yet most awesome-tasting salad sauce in the world.
I always wondered why Rojak failed to overtake the other popular contenders like Chilli Crab or Hainanese Chicken Rice to be Singapore’s top national hawker dish. I’ve always thought it is a personification of the melting pot that Singapore is;a melange of vibrant colours, exotic tastes and layers of delightful surprises. My guess is that this mishmash of fruit and vegetable salad is usually enjoyed as a humble entree and has never quite risen to be the star. There are way too many delicious hawker delights competing for our tastebuds from the crossroads of Asia—including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Rojak is what a group of diners in Singapore would order as a ‘sharing dish’ in addition to their mains. In that respect, rojak is definitely underrated! It remains one of my top favourite Singapore hawker recipes. Though it may play a supporting role to every main hawker dish of choice, it nevertheless is the stalwart of traditional Singapore hawker favourites.
When I make rojak at home I have it as a giant salad meal, really, and try to fool myself into thinking I’m eating healthy, ha. What. It’s got veggies and salad! And besides, we can make our own ‘You Tiao‘ now! Do you have an excuse not to toss up a good rojak for your family?
Rojak (Mixed Fruit & Vegetable Salad)
3 large red chillies (de-seeded)
2 tsp roasted belachan (pounded with red chillies to make sambal belachan)
3/4 C roasted peanuts (pounded into coarse grains)
1 C tamarind liquid (tamarind doused in about 5 T boiling water, strained for liquid)
1/2 C gula melaka syrup or 5 T sugar
3 1/2 T ‘hae ko*’ (fermented prawn paste)
salt, to taste
lime juice, to taste
1 ‘bangkuang’ (chinese turnip), peeled and sliced into wedges, then halved
1 lebanese cucumber, skin on, sliced into wedges, then halved
1/4 ripe pineapple, sliced into wedges, then halved
2 sticks of ‘You Tiao’ (deep fried dough fritters), sliced into 2-3 cm lengths
5 pieces of fried tofu puffs (toasted in oven till crisp), sliced into halves
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced into eight wedges, then halved
Slice all the vegetables and fruits into half wedges; it doesn’t matter if the pieces are uneven in size. Toss the bangkuang, cucumber, pineapple, You Tiao and apple pieces into a large mixing bowl.
Toast the You Tiao and fried tofu puffs till they are crispy. Then slice them up.
Prepare the Rojak Sauce by grinding the chillies with the belachan in a mortar. Season with some lime juice if desired. Add the strained tamarind juice, ‘hae ko’ and sugar. Stir in and blend to a paste.
Add the rojak sauce and half the roasted ground peanuts into the mixing bowl with the vegetables and fruits. Add the toasted You Tiao and toasted toufu puffs last, then mix it all up again.
Plate each serving individually, then toss the rest of the roasted peanuts on the top as garnish and for added crunch. Sedap! (‘delicious’; in Malay)
*hae ko is a thick, sticky dark paste made of fermented prawns, salt, sugar and thickeners. It is a type of pungent seasoning with a strong-smelling flavour. The two most well-known Asian recipes that make use of hae ko in Singapore and Malaysia are Rojak and Assam Laksa. Hae ko is easily available these days from most good asian grocery stores in Australia.
*Rojak is on the list of my personal Food Tribute to the late founding father of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew.