Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dare to be different

Fancy a Tapaiccino? Check it out at Simply Tapai.
TAPAI, a traditional recipe of fermented glutinous rice, takes on a new twist under the hands of an innovative entrepreneur.
Suggest serving tapai with chocolate sauce or as a topping in an ice blended drink and high chances are your elderly makcik will think that you have completely lost your marbles.
Slurp it up: Mazlina, flanked by her team members Fauzi (left) and Misfani, enjoying tapai at their cafe.
But to Mazlina Mohammad, marrying the old and new is seen as a nouveau way of reintroducing this traditional fermented snack to the younger generation.
Not only has the 31-year-old sole proprietor of Simply Tapai Enterprise come up with the likes of fruit and ice-cream toppings to go with the fermented glutinous rice, she also has a trademarked drink called Tapaiccino, which is ice blended Penang white coffee with tapai.
Looking into the taste test of Mazlina’s ideas would inevitably yield comments ranging from ‘yucks’ to ‘yum’.
This is hardly surprising as tapai, by itself, is an acquired taste.
Colourful: Fruit toppings on tapai lend a contrast to the mushy texture.
Those who have partaken of the sweet, tangy and yeasty flavoured dessert of glutinous rice will attest to it.
“It’s like having your nose tweaked,” comments one diner in regard to the sharp sour notes.
“The smell has the quality of regurgitated rice,” comments another of the yeasty whiff.
But just as the pungent durian will have its following, the same is the case for tapai. And for the connoisseur, the seductive aroma and taste is likened to an awakening of the senses.
Some diners have reported experiencing a slight floaty feel in the after-effects but this varies from one individual to another and one’s tolerance level to alcohol, a result of the fermentation process.
And that is talking about tapai on its own ...
With extra dressing, the effect is nothing short of spectacular!
Interesting: Hot chocolate on tapai with a cherry on top makes a rich and fulfilling dessert.
Forget about mundane toppings like fruit cocktail. Well, it is an option for those who like a fresh, crunchy feel to contrast the mushy texture of the fermented pulut.
But from a personal opinion, hot chocolate topping on tapai is an indescribable luxury which justly gives reason to the term ‘sinful temptation’.
As for ice blended drinks with tapai toppings, this is something a young palate may appreciate.
The grainy feel of the fermented rice answers to the ‘snack and drink’ combo which was made popular by the bubble tea concept some time ago.
The Tappaiccino will definitely agree with coffee lovers and for those who are not partial to exposing their taste buds to new sensations, the berry flavoured blend with tamarind answers to this call.
Now note that while tapai may have very strong characteristics on its own, these traits invariably take a back seat in the blended drinks.
The same also happens when it is served with toppings like ice-cream, chocolate or fruit.
Everything becomes sweet and in these instances tracing the piquant character that is associated with tapai practically takes some effort.
According the Mazlina, these nouveau ways of serving tapai is her way of educating the public on the alternative ways to enjoy this traditional dish.
Still, in order to gain universal acceptance, this young entrepreneur who comes from a family of padi planters in Alor Star, Kedah, says that quality control must come from the base product itself.
When she started Simply Tapai last year with her own funds, she and her team took 11 months to tweak their tapai into the required taste before releasing the product into the market.
“We were aiming for the ‘universal taste’, a broad base appeal. As you know, the making of tapai is full of taboos.
“In the olden days, the makers had to refrain from talking as it was believed that it would make the tapai sour.
“There is truth to this as saliva droplets contain bacteria which will contaminate the tapai. One of the telltale indicators of contaminated tapai is its sour taste. A good tapai will be sweet.
“To achieve this, we have to practise strict hygiene standards and employ methods such as precision cooking so that there will be no change in taste in all the batches,” explains Mazlina of this ‘sensitive’ product.
As most homemakers of the yesteryear will agree, tapai making is mostly a hit-and-miss affair with no surety that the end product will turn out to the cook’s expectations.
Even a slight change in weather will leave an effect on a jar of fermenting tapai.
But where Mazlina is concerned, she is confident that she has found a niche market by mass producing this traditional favourite.
And though this is her first entrepreneurial venture, Mazlina intends to leave her mark in the food industry.
“Of course there have been downtimes and obstacles but I have never felt unsure of myself. No doubt, this is what I want to do. Giving up is not an option as this is one reason why most businesses fail,” concludes this tapai maker.
For those interested in selling Mazlina’s tapai, call 012-425 6558 or visit the factory at 6, Jalan Bukit Jati 5, Taman Bukit Jati, Klang, Selangor.

Graceful Form Of Self defence

ONE may liken ‘silat pulut’, (a series of self defence moves stylised into a ceremonial dance for celebratory occasions performed to the strains of traditional instruments) as our very own version of capoeira – the Afro-Brazilian combination of martial art, game and dance.
For silat exponent Baharudin Ghani, 48, a Kelantanese who migrated here in 2000 to open a laundry business, the whole affair is one big exercise to remind the new generation of their roots.
Baharudin pours lime water on a student's head to symbolise spiritual cleansing after a sparring.
Recently, a silat pulut graduation ceremony held at the Seri Samudra flats along Jalan Samudra Timur 1 in Batu Caves, revealed how the art of self defence can also present itself as a graceful dance form.
The father of four, who is also the leader of a dikir barat troupe, also sees this as an opportunity to engage his community in some sort of activity. According to Baharudin, one must realise that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.
Blowing his horn: Shafic Aminuddin playing the serunai to inspire the exponents.
“The core lesson taught here is how to control one’s emotions. Another important aspect that we want to impart is for the young to uphold values such as courage, discipline, fairness and to maintain harmony. If you notice, before every silat performance, the exponent will shake hands with the audience to seek their blessings,” he explained.
Baharudin added that after each bout, the exponents will hug each other as a sign that the confrontation in the arena has been forgotten and they will not hold grudges against each other.
Offerings: Bunga telur, yellow glutinous rice and roasted meats to give thanks for safety and goodwill within the arena.
In explaining how ‘silat pulut’ got its name, Baharudin surmises that it may be due to custom that requires the offering of yellow glutinous rice as gifts to the ‘pesilat’ (silat exponents) during the graduation ceremony.
Another influencing factor may have its links to the exponent feeding newlyweds or VIPs with sticky rice upon completing his steps.
Facial expression: An exponent needs to convey moods as Abdullah Abdul Kadir, a practitioner of the art for 18 years, demonstrates.
But far from being a showy attraction at public events, Baharudin reveals the ‘silat pulut’ is in actual fact a sport that requires skill and agility. Though the soft movements may appear harmless and satirical, it hides an intricate game of steps and techniques that could be devastating when applied in combat.
Dwelling back into history, Baharudin reveals that the martial arts was developed as an avenue for practitioners in colonial times to fool others into believing that it was merely a harmless folk game.
Seeking blessings: The silat exponents must get the blessings of the audience before a sparring round.
At a time when the colonial masters were receiving opposition from Malay freedom fighters, silat teachers were cautious in letting these defence skills out in the open for fear that they may be used against them in times of battle. Thus, in order to preserve tradition, teachers disguised the steps as a dance form so that the art may live on.
Today, rather than teaching his students on how to engage in combat, ‘silat pulut’ has become an effective form of exercise to nurture body and soul. As for adult practitioners, not only have they found a way to de-stress but an opportunity to be the star of their own performance at weddings and VIP receptions.

Pretty Graffiti

IT WAS an obvious question, but many may have been uncomfortable asking it. Besides, it was a great chance to rib graffiti artists Zulkifli Salleh, 24, and Sharane Mat Zaini, 31.

So I asked: "The theme of this graffiti art exhibition is supposed to be Disko Elektro. Why then are your works dominated with images of the female face? Has Cupid struck you with his arrow?"

True enough, Sharane aka Tha-B, reacts with an 'ouch', and though Zulkifli aka Kioue (pronounced as 'Kayu') maintains his composure, he had visibly turned a little pink on the cheeks.

There was a bit of denial, and noticeable nervousness, but eventually the truth comes out.

Super Sunday's Tha-B (left) and Kioue.
In Tha-B's case, the female subject entitled Kiss Me (homepage thumbnail) is a portrait of a girl he met on the interactive website MySpace. And yes, they've been out for a date and no, the subject is not for open discussion. By the way, her name is "A ... a", short for Alicia.

In Kioue's case, he would claim that the subject of a girl with the dripping rouge marks and orange polka dots entitled, Keputusan (Decision), is nothing but a show of his artistic skills. But sotto voce, he reveals that the inspiration had been gleaned from his 'friends' list on MySpace and the simple explanation was, "I like her face". Full stop.

Still it is anybody's guess that these two young self-taught artists, both who are obviously in the prime of their lives, are on the lookout for someone special.

But being the professional businessmen that they are, both are keen to expound the technical workings of presenting graffiti on canvas rather than to dwell on dating details.

Samurai Geisha by Tha-B
And lest you, the reader, receive the wrong impression, the duo moves in with the story behind their latest collection.

Firstly, the choice of the female form was made for the feminine appeal and for the challenge it posed.

"It is not easy to make a picture of a woman look beautiful. While you may argue that it is the same with the male form, I'd suppose that as long as the picture turns out, the audience will still consider it as okay. The same cannot be said for the female form," offers Kioue.

What of the disturbing expressions? Samurai Geisha by Tha-B and Menjerit by Kioue are cases in point.

"Samurai Geisha is symbolic of the complex female character. She sheds tears but laughs at the same time. She looks fierce on the outside but deep within, one can sense tenderness. It is my depiction of what a brave, strong woman should be like," says Tha-B.

Meanwhile, Kioue maintains that Menjerit has nothing to do with angst but a show of the finer points of graffiti art.

"Menjerit is a study on strokes which has leanings towards the realist side. Unlike my other works which has mainly featured throw ups on concrete walls, Menjerit has been a challenge of my skills where technique is concerned," says Kioue.

For a behind-the-scene glimpse, Kioue reveals that he had to do a 'rehearsal' run on a smaller canvas before working on the bigger picture simply because there is little room for mistakes.

"Graffiti on canvas is unlike working on a concrete wall. If one makes too many sprays on canvas the surface becomes uneven," explains Kioue.

Keputusan by Kioue.
And herein, arises the crucial question of speed and drip control. Aerosol paint, unlike oil and water colour, can be very unforgiving.

Exert too much pressure on the nozzle and the excess spray will mark the unwanted areas with the unintended colour. In the event where the artist is besieged by a weakened forefinger, there will be a tell tale sign in the form of uneven colour intensity.

If he gets reckless, dripping happens and ruination is certain. And in addition to forefinger strength, a swift hand must follow or the lines will present unevenly.

And that is why, according to Kioue, though the spraying technique is faster than the conventional brush stroke, it is not necessarily easier. In short, confidence, precision and daring is the order of the day where graffiti art is concerned.

In Keputusan, the idea of the dripping carmine rouge on the female subject shows technique control on Kioue's part and the subtle shadings of the female's features provide a contrast where the audience can look to as reference points in graffiti techniques.

And contrary to public perception that graffiti is only about hip hop, Tha-B would spring a surprise with Kepulauan Melayu (A Malay Island), depicting a tongkang on a backdrop of a tranquil sea and a fishing village on water.

Mixed reactions garnered from critics have amounted to comments ranging from 'soulless' to 'What's he trying to do?'

"It was not easy to achieve the kind of feel with aerosol spray especially when it came to the expressing the texture of the fishing boat. Still, this is one of my favourite pieces because it connects me to my roots," says Tha-B of this not-very-grafitti-ish piece.

The idea of presenting graffiti on canvas was originally initiated by the Central Market management somewhere around October last year.

The creative process for this body of work begun somewhere in November around the same time these artists had met their muses.

And herein, maybe the reader would like to know that these artists had taken their fair ladies to an art exhibition for their first dates.

Kioue and Tha-B are behind The Super Sunday, a group of graffiti artists. To date, Tha-B and Kioue's work can be seen along the bank walls of the Klang river, car parks and the inside of public toilets. Visit The Super Sunday Concept Store at 4, Monorail Station Bukit Bintang, Jalan Sultan Ismail, 55100, Kuala Lumpur.