My grandmother, my ‘ah ma’, came from a fishing village in a neighbouring country. She left a family, a home, there when she came to live with me. As a child I would visit every year, but as work took up more and more time, the time between visits grew longer. It was a seven hour drive from home, but that was seven hours too long for a family that had other things to deal with. But I still remember those days – my grandmother and my extended family would feed me warm sweet soups at night when the chilly sea breeze got caught in our cheeks. And so, I consumed copious amounts of pulut hitam before I learned what a risotto or a rice pudding was. My first risotto made me wonder if the chef had confused salt and sugar –was this pale pulut hitam meant to be savoury?
This dish seems unassuming but it is so many things at once. It is the pandan we plucked from the gardens outside. It is the heartwarming suppers. It is us driving seven hours playing songs from my parents’ generation. It is us singing along and stopping for traditional snacks every hour or so. It is having family fussing over me. It is us going out on my uncle’s fishing boat, it is my grandma tucking me to sleep, and it is of waking up to sounds of the sea. It is the quests I went on as a child, and it is the place I have lived and loved. Some people collect stamps, some postcards. Food is how, I think, I collect my adventures.
And every time I want a piece of that memory, this is what I turn to. It is the panacea for days that have gone awry, on days where angry words have been exchanged, and on days where forgiveness and compassion is desperately needed. It is also easy to make with only a handful of ingredients and minimal preparation needed. Warm, sweet, sticky rice, carrying just a hint of pandan, sweetened with coconut cream.