KUCHING: All over Malaysia at Raya, people take turns to open their houses and entertain and feed neighbours, family and other visitors.
It is common to see local non-Muslims made welcome at these open houses.
Tini Jali’s family goes a step further and invites passing tourists to join them.
The Jali home is in Kampung Boyan, a traditional Malay village of about 1,000 inhabitants, on the bank of the Sarawak River directly across from Kuching waterfront.
The village is renowned for its kek lapis, or Sarawak layer cake, and terubuk salted fish.
Mother-of-five Tini told FMT, “Lots of tourists come over from Kuching town by river taxi and then walk up to Fort Margherita.”
The white fort was built in 1879 to guard Kuching’s river approaches from pirates, and it saw many battles. Since 2016 it has housed the Brooke Gallery containing art and artefacts from the time of the White Rajahs. It is a must-see attraction for visitors.
“The path up to the fort goes past our house,” said Tini.
“Every year during Hari Raya, my parents wave and call out to passing tourists, inviting them in to enjoy our open house with us.
“Last year we had Western and Chinese tourists as our guests and we served them different kinds of local dishes and drinks,” she said.
According to Tini, in Sarawak it’s customary for all races and religions to celebrate Raya together.
“Malays, Ibans, Bidayuhs, Chinese and other races including Westerners all come together to celebrate and enjoy our local home cooking.”
Tini, a chef in a local restaurant, said she spends the fasting days when the restaurant is closed, at home preparing different dishes for Raya.
“We’ll have ketupat (traditional rice cake wrapped in palm leaf), lemang (glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in bamboo), nasi minyak (rice cooked with ghee), and daging masak kicap (soy sauce meat).”
International guests usually compliment her chicken curry most, as for many it’s the first time they have tasted the traditional home cooked Malay version.
“On the sweeter side, we also serve them various Sarawak layer cakes. There’s kek lumut (green moss cake), kek masam manis (sweet and sour layer cake) and Holiday Inn cake.”
A lot of visitors come to get a taste of “umai” which is a traditional dish popular at Ramadan, originally from the Melanau people, one of the earliest ethnic groups to settle in Sarawak.
“There are several varieties of umai. We have the “umai kaki ayam” (pickled chicken feet), “umai ikan pirang” (pickled pirang fish) and “umai obor-obor” among others.”
Tini shared the recipe for “umai obor-obor”, which she learnt from her mother.
“It is not difficult to prepare. You just soak salted jellyfish in hot water. When it has softened, take it out and mix it with red onions, garlic, large onions, chilies, sugar, and lime juice.”
Kampungs become magical places for Raya. Traditionally, village folk light up their homes by hanging oil lamps and colourful lights all around.
“In the past everyone redecorated their houses for Raya. You could smell fresh paint everywhere in the village. Now, they don’t do that so much. Maybe it’s because we’re all finding money tighter these days. We have to scrimp and save where we can,” she said.
But one thing never scrimped on is the variety of dishes to be shared at open houses in the true spirit of Hari Raya.
If you are an international visitor in Malaysia at Raya remember, like all Islamic months the exact date for the start of the celebrations depends on when the new moon is sighted by local religious authorities, so it’s not entirely predictable.
What is entirely predictable though, is that if you are lucky enough to be invited to an open house, you will be delighted by the truly scrumptious food you will be offered.
And in turn, your hosts will be delighted if you greet everyone there by saying “Selamat Hari Raya”.