We had Nasi Himpit or "compressed rice" as the main traditional dish during the recent Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, which my family and I celebrated in Kuantan, Pahang.
Every year my mum-in-law alternates the main dish to be offered to visitors on Hari Raya day between the nasi himpit and the ketupat.
Of course my preference has always been for the ketupat, although they both taste the same as they share essentially the same recipe. Except that the ketupat is boiled in a coconut leaf-woven "receptacle", and thus has a rather fresh smell to it.
But actually it’s no bother to me when my mum-in-law makes the nasi himpit the main dish.
This is because I know that I’ll get the ketupat early in the morning of Hari Raya when the neighbors send a little of their main dishes over, during the food exchanges.
And in fact I didn’t have to wait very long to get my first taste of ketupat that Raya morning.
This dish is really simple to make, with not much hassle for those new to cooking.
Once done, it must be left to cool naturally or a faster way is by putting it in the fridge.
It is however advisable to prepare the dish one day ahead to let it cool and harden the natural way.
So, here’s the simple recipe if any cook or chef out there wants to try.
This dish can be served with either the kuah kacang (also called satay gravy) or eat with the ever delicious chicken or beef rendang.
Sometimes this compacted rice is included in a dish known as "lontong", a soupy curry-like dish with veggies, popular in the Malaysian state of Johor.
In the old days (1960's) I remember for Hari Raya, my own mum would cook this compressed rice dish herself. It is just white rice boiled in water, and made a little bit softer by adding a little more water than usual when cooking.
Once cooked, the soft rice is spread about an inch thick into a tray ("dulang" or "talam") and covered with a clean white muslin or cotton cloth.
When the rice has cooled slightly, my mum would then put some heavy stuff like the big grinding stone ("batu giling") and the mortar and pestle ("batu tumbuk"), on top of the rice, and leave them for the night.
In fact I remember on one occasion she even put three thick volumes of our Grolier Encyclopedia on top of each other in place of the grinding stone.
The Grolier Encyclopedia books, wrapped in thick transparent plastic sheets as book–cover, fitted very nicely on the square tray used!
This old and traditional method of making the compressed rice will ensure that the rice will be really compacted and once cool and hardened it is easy to cut into small squares or cubes.
And that is actually how this traditional dish of the Malays got its name. "Himpit" in Malay means to compress or to compact or flatten, and various means are used to achieve it.
That is why this compacted rice dish is sometimes also called "nasi kapit" by the Malays.
Well, the Nasi Himpit is really simple to make, and rather filling when taken. And during the festival of Aidil Fitri we can always find this traditional Malay dish as a delightful alternative to the popular ketupat.
As always, from me ...