An Ulam A Day…

loading Terung pipit, kacang botol, timun susu, selom and sambal belacan.

Healthy, ubiquitous, affordable – ulam (Malay salad) is the centrepiece of many a warung, and for obvious reasons. Usually taken raw on the side, lightly boiled or steamed – very much like any other salads – its vitamins and minerals are unaltered by the heat of cooking.

Ulam contains all sorts of nutrients that ward off gastrointestinal parasites, stimulate digestion and aids metabolic functioning. For example, petai (stinky beans) can influence renal function in kidneys and when dipped in sambal belacan, fermentation from the sambal enables healthy microbes to enter the gut, at the same time providing a supply of protein.1

The healthiest buffet you'll ever have.

Traditionally, ulam is a backyard crop or is grown wildly, so insecticides and growth hormones are generally not used. With growing demand, though, ulam is beginning to be cultivated in farms, albeit not on a large scale.

Restauranteur Abdul Aziz started to grow ulam after he found it difficult to procure from local markets or vegetable suppliers. “Demand for ulam has grown over the past 10 years. The cost solely depends on market price, which changes from time to time. We sell our ulam in bunches and price them at RM1 each. If the market price goes up, we reduce the quantity instead of increasing the price,” he says.

Abdul Aziz plants a variety of ulam on his farm in Singkir, Kedah. His restaurant, Awet Muda (“to stay youthful”) serves almost 30 types of ulam every day. On the menu are petai (Parkia speciosa); pegaga or pennywort (Centella asiatica); peria or bitter melon/gourd (Momordica charantia); selom (Oenanthe javanica); terung bakar or grilled eggplant (Solanum melongena); timun susu (Zehneria); kacang botol or Goa bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus); ulam raja (Cosmos caudatus); betik muda or unripe papayas (Carica papaya); terung pipit or pea eggplant (Solanum torvum); and more.

There is also the garden variety that Abdul Aziz buys from the local market, such as cucumber, okra and kangkung (water spinach).

A Perfect Combination

All kinds of sambal.

“The suitable pair for ulam is sambal – the dipping sauce. Every day, we serve four types of sambal: sambal belacan – pounded chillies, shrimp paste and tamarind juice; sambal tempoyak – a mix with fermented durians; sambal pelam, machang and kuinin – a mix with mango (pelam, machang and kuinin being the names of seasonal mangoes); and budu – a fish sauce, and one of the best-known fermented seafood products in Kelantan, Terengganu and southern Thailand,” says Abdul Aziz.

Ulam can also be made into kerabu, which is prepared by mixing several types of ulam – often basil, pennywort, Goa beans, selom, beansprouts and gajus (Anacardium occidentale). Ulam is where the eponymous nasi ulam comes from – and nasi kerabu as well.

The idea to sell ulam started when Abdul Aziz was diagnosed with diabetes. He began to consume ulam for his health. Each vegetable and herb has its own nutritional values, and the finest ulam is ulam raja, which is known to be high in antioxidants and has various medicinal properties, including anti-diabetic activity, anti-hypertensive properties and anti-microbial activity.2

Abdul Aziz says that some ulam are not widely known and are rare. He plants a few uncommon ones such as tongkat rasul (Cleronderum indicum Verbenaceae); tuju langit (Helminthostachys zeylanica); sirih air or water betel (Piper betle); belalai gajah or Sabah snake grass (Clinacanthus nutans); genuak/kerdas (Archidendron bubalinum); and jering (Archidendron pauciflorum) – the latter two, well-known in Kedah but unpopular in Penang, have nutrients similar to the petai, which is a storehouse of minerals such as potassium, manganese, calcium, iron and zinc. It is also a very good source of protein and is low in fat, dietary fibre and sugar, which makes it perfect for type-2 diabetes patients. 3

Kerabu mangga

kerabu bean sprouts with pucuk paku.

Ulam is traditionally a Malay dish, but has become very popular in other communities. According to Abdul Aziz, Chinese and expats who live nearby frequently patronize his stall – “Cekur, gajus and kacang botol seem to be their favourites. Some of the Arabs who study at the university nearby also enjoy our ulam and the local dishes that we serve here – we also serve grilled seafood and meats that can be paired with ulam.”

The idea of eating raw food is nothing new in the region. Most raw food is plant-based, such as vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts and grains – these are high in fibre, vitamins, antioxidants, proteins and healthy fats. Eating unprocessed foods is also a good way to cut out unnecessary food additives, leaving one feeling healthier and more energised. As for Abdul Aziz, consuming ulam has helped him with his health, and selling ulam is his way of helping others stay healthy too.

Restoran Nasi Campur Awet Muda is located at 795-B, Lorong Sungai Dua, Kampung Dua Bukit and opens Monday to Saturday, 10am-4pm.

Noorhasyilah Rosli is a publication graduate who is fascinated by books. She is an island girl who loves her beaches and hills.
1Ulam: The Healthiest Dish in Asia, dahmakan magazine
3Petai, jering dan kerdas. Ulaman busuk tapi sangat berkhasiat, Nopotif, 15 May 2017

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