It's back-to-back posting about food this week.
On my travel from KL to JB on the North-South Expressway, I would normally make a rest stop at Pagoh RnR. Apart from being located at about halfway of the total distance, the other main reason for stopping here is to taste the nasi ambang sold at one of the foodstalls. In all my travels up and down the NSE, there is only this one stall that sells it.
Nasi ambang is a speciality of Malay kampung folk of Javanese ethnic origin. It is basically plain rice with portions of beef rendang or chicken, sambal goreng tempe (a mix of vegetables and soybean cake), serunding kelapa (fried grated coconut), salted fish and sambal belacan (pounded chilli and prawn paste), all served on a piece of banana leaf. Sometimes a small portion of mee goreng is also added.
I have fond childhood memories of nasi ambang (sometimes spelled as nasi ambeng, because of the specific way to pronounce it). We lived in a neighbourhood of mixed communities but with a fairly large number of orang Jawa. Almost every month, there would be khenduri or thanksgiving feasts, and the ones held by my Javanese neighbours were those I most look forward to... because the nasi ambang they served were simply delicious.
After recital of the surah Yasin and prayers, the meal would be served in large round trays (dulang or talam, in Malay). Plain rice would be packed on the tray and layered with a piece of banana leaf, cut to a round shape slightly smaller than the tray. The other delicacies (meat, chicken, vegetables etc.) are then placed on the leaf. Four persons would share to eat from one tray but we were not supposed to finish it because the balance is meant to be packed and taken home. The task of splitting the stuff on the tray into four equal portions, so that no one party feel deprived, is actually quite enviable. The person who does it has to make sure that one guy doesn't get more meat or chicken from another. In the end, it is the spirit of cooperation and semangat bertimbang rasa that wins the day. That's why the relationships among neighbours were so close in those days.