By Wilfred Pilo
KUCHING, May 24: Rojak Ayam is a savoury dish loved by many. It is a tasty, pleasing dish that transcends culture, popular with people from all walks of life who are looking for an appetising, nutritious, savoury and sweet dish which hits all the right notes in terms of taste and texture.
It usually comprises deep-fried chicken, long bean fritters, fried bean curd, blanched bean sprouts, shredded fresh cucumber and a segment of a hard-boiled egg, generously topped with and immersed in a bath of smooth, creamy sauce made from sweet potato and peanuts.
A plate of this filling dish is ideal for mid-morning meals but can be enjoyed any time of the day.
There are many versions to be found in Kuching, usually at Muslim Indian or Malay stalls. One version which has gained widespread approval as one of Kuching’s best can be found at Rojak Kucei Asgar-Annuar Hassan at Batu Lintang Hawker Centre. The long queue which can often be found in front of the counter each morning is testament to the popularity of this dish.
The writer recently spoke to Rashid Khan, Rojak Kucei’s present owner and a third-generation specialist in this popular dish in his family.
“The recipe has been in the family for many years. My late father brought the dish to another level by adding his deep-fried chicken to the rojak menu.
“Until this day, the menu stands and is very popular. I guessed he (my father) wanted to provide a better dish,” he disclosed.
“By adding chicken, the dish is more filling to the belly. Naturally, people prefer to have a plate full of scrumptious food.”
“When eaten with the savoury dressing (sweet potato and grounded peanut sauce), the dish appealed to just about everyone. Patrons liked the dish. That is how our Rojak Ayam took off,” he elaborated.
Rashid said adding deep-fried chicken to the rojak transformed the dish, and that its success was proven when other stalls followed the move.
“Because of this legacy, we have a product that we are very proud of but we feel modest about the matter. I thank my father for his culinary foresight for this dish. It had become an icon in the local food scene. Our dish tastes different to that found in other places or other stalls serving it,” he added.
“As for the rojak, the preparation and our recipe is a guarded secret. I believe other vendors have theirs too.”
Asked what kept customers coming back for more of their delicious Rojak Ayam, Rashid pointed that it is the sauce.
“The most crucial component of the dish is the sauce. We have to prepare the sauce in a steel cooking pot. I customise it with the attention of a craftsman. After mixing the ingredients, we simmer our sauce up to three hours and more.
“The work to prepare the dish is labour-intensive. I want to make sure the dish tastes the same every time,” Rashid highlighted.
“The most important is that I am happy. I like it when my customers love the food I cook. If the customer remains happy, I am too,” he said with a big smile.
Rashid’s personal philosophy is to “Be Happy” and to continue to ensure his family’s culinary tradition lives on.
When asked about his favourite dish, he confessed he had none.
However, he suggested that the best way to devour Rojak Ayam is with sliced chillies to add extra spice, and an iced or hot black coffee.
“That is how I eat the dish. Everybody has their preferences. But the most important is they love my dish,” he added.
Rashid said Rojak Kucei was fortunate to have caught the attention of many patrons and VVIPs.
“The famous patrons include the current Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin. I am delighted to have him as a customer.
“I am pleased that our dish has captured the taste buds of so many people. It’s phenomenal. During good days, the queue is long. We have to turn away customers when we run out of the dish.
“But the customers never complain and come back the next day,” he shared.
Apart from Rojak Kucei’s famous Rojak Ayam, Rashid disclosed that the eatery also serves Rojak Ayam with noodles, Curry Noodles and Briyani Rice.
“These other dishes are to provide more choices for diners. Our Briyani Rice dish for instance, is only available on Saturdays. I plan to have it available daily soon,” he added.
When asked about the meaning behind the name “Rojak Kucei”, Rashid replied that his late father nickname was Kucei.
“When his Rojak Ayam became well known, people craving for the dish simply said, “Let us eat Rojak Kucei”.
He also revealed that the name “Rojak Kucei” is trademarked to prevent other people from using it.
“It is a legacy for my late father. It is to remember him and his dish by his name.
“That is how ‘Rojak Kucei’ became synonymous with the rojak we sold. It has become a household name. People just remember ‘Rojak Kucei’ for any rojak that we sold,” he said.
Rojak Kucei Asgar-Annuar Hassan is not only a must-go place for delicious Rojak Ayam but a testament that good food is able to unite food lovers, Sarawakians and non-Sarawakians alike.
The eatery opens daily from morning till noon and is closed on Sundays and public holidays. — DayakDaily