Dark and sticky, the salad may not look very appealing at first; but tuck into this culinary marvel and you’ll be amazed by the delicious mix of sweet and savoury.
Rojak means an “eclectic mix” in colloquial Malay, and the dish sure lives up to its name. Its ingredients reflect the cultural diversity of Singapore, bringing together disparate items with strong flavours into a harmoniously tasty blend.
It is a local salad of mixed vegetables, fruits, and dough fritters that is covered in a sticky black sauce and garnished with chopped peanuts and finely-cut fragrant ginger flowers for a piquant taste.
The mark of a good rojak is its sauce, made up of fermented prawn paste, sugar, lime and chilli paste. It must be an appetising mix of sweet, sour and spicy.
The sauce is traditionally mixed in a large wooden bowl with a wooden spoon. Only when the sauce is complete are the ingredients added and thoroughly mixed.
These include blanched kang kong (water spinach) and beansprout, crunchy raw cucumber and Chinese turnip, tangy-tasting fruits like sliced pineapple, young mangoes or jambu (unripe rose apples), fried dough fritters and toasted beancurd.
No one really knows the origins of rojak as Asia boasts many variations of the dish. These include the Indonesia gado-gado with rice cakes and vegetables drenched in a peanut sauce to the Indian rojak whose peanut sauce is fiery orange in colour and used as a dip for its ingredients like fried dough, potatoes and steamed squid.
Rojak is typically sold by Chinese hawkers. Until the 1980s, rojak sellers could still be found, often illegally, moving through neighbourhoods on bicycles. Today, they have found a home in most food centres throughout the city.