Banana Leaf Rice
The tradition of having banana leaf rice comes from Southern India where rice is more commonly consumed compared to 'roti' or naans. Due to the large South Indian ethnic community in Malaysia and Singapore, banana leaf rice restaurants are widely available in both countries.
If you are familiar with Indian Rice Thali which is served on round metal plates, banana leaf rice has a similar concept whereby several dishes such as vegetables, pickles, 'rasam' (sour soup), curries and 'papadam' (crispy crackers) are served along with rice. However, all the dishes are served on a piece of banana leaf instead of a metal plate.
Banana leaf is not only an organic choice but it also imparts a mild fragrance which makes the dish more appetizing. Recently, some restaurants opt for plates that are shaped like banana leaves as they are reusable and more cost-effective.
Eating banana leaf rice with fingers
Banana leaf rice is often enjoyed using the fingers instead of cutleries. This act is culturally historical in Indian culture whereby eating is treated as a sensual activity. One will be able to touch and feel the food using the fingers. This brings eating to a whole new level where food is enjoyed with all the senses.
Using the left hand to eat is regarded as being rude. Actually, it is more due to sanitary reasons as cleaning up after a visit to the toilet normally involves using the left hand. So, whether you are left or right handed but have decided to enjoy banana leaf rice using your fingers, just ensure that they are thoroughly cleaned. All banana leaf rice restaurants provide a wash-basin and soap for this purpose. However, it is absolutely not a problem if you choose to eat banana leaf rice with fork and spoon.
Folding banana leaf after the meal
The way banana leaf is folded after the meal carries significant meanings. Once you are done with the meal, fold the banana leaf towards you to show appreciation to the cook and host. If the banana leaf is folded outwards, it shows that you are not satisfied with the meal. It also expresses condolences if one is at a funeral.
Banana leaf rice restaurants are often favourite food spots for Malaysians. Just like 'Mamak', the setup in these eateries is very casual and they remain opened till the wee hours in the morning. One would be able to choose from a wide variety of curries and dishes to be served on a piece of banana leaf.
As it is a casual eatery and is often located in residential areas, feel free to simply walk in to secure a table. Usually, you will be served with a standard selection of dishes and white rice initially. There are also other dishes which you may add on for an additional price. For a variety of flavourful dishes and a relaxing atmosphere, banana leaf rice restaurant is a fantastic place to have a satisfying meal and amazing dining experience.
Why banana leaf rice?
Unlimited refills. Yes, you read it correctly. Once seated, a piece of a banana leaf will be placed in front of you. Rice will then be provided and there will also be 2 to 3 types of vegetables served. 'Papadam' and 'rasam' (sour soup) are the next must-have side dishes. Lastly, you will be given a choice of curries to pick, ranging from fish head curry, chicken curry and dhal . If you are unable to make up your mind, just have them all together! The best way to enjoy banana leaf rice is to flood the rice with the curry of your choice. Pour large spoonfuls of curry onto the rice to allow it to soak up the flavours.
All the dishes that are initially provided can be requested to be refilled. However, should you need more variety, you may place an order at an additional price.
Types of dishes in banana leaf rice
The dishes available in a basic "plate" of banana leaf rice may differ from restaurant to restaurant. Here is an example of dishes which you will definitely get besides rice:
- Papadam - Spiced cracker which is either made from black gram bean flour, rice flour, or lentil flour.
- Cucumber raita - Chopped cucumber in yogurt
- Deep fried snake gourd/bitter gourd
- Potato curry
- Rasam - Sour soup cooked with a selection of spices and tomatoes
For add-ons, choose from a large selection of dishes such as fried fish or chicken, seafood, tofu and more.
Banana leaf rice recipes
It is possible to cook so many dishes and make your own banana leaf rice at home. All the recipes are listed below. Use the "save recipe" function to keep them all in your recipe box.
To make it easier, prepare the recipes in the following sequence to optimize time.
- Cucumber raita - Prepare over night or few hours before Cut and prepare all ingredients before cooking.
- Rasam - Once boiled, set aside. Reheat shortly before serving.
- Fish head curry - When fish head is removed from the pot, proceed with the rest of the recipes while allowing the curry to simmer.
- Papadam - Fry and set aside.
- Deep fried snake gourd - Fry in the same oil used for frying papadam.
- Stir Fried Cabbage with Turmeric - Prepare this dish just before serving.
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Published: April 13, 2018
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