singapore’s status as a trading port explains why the origin of much of its popular cuisine lies beyond its borders. there are four major cuisines that hold sway and are deeply entwined with its history - chinese, indian, malay and peranakan. the latter is unique to singapore as it emanates from the straits traders who married local non-muslim women. i have already written about indian food, eating dessert and coffee culture in singapore but felt compelled to write a distinct post on murtabak. this is because murtabak neatly illustrates the fluid exchange of food cultures.
|maxwell park food centre|
i had assumed that murtabak had sub-contiental origins, as it is essentially a stuffed paratha. but it turns out that murtabak gains its name from the arabic ‘mutabbaq’ which means folded. it originated in yemen and the hejaz region of saudi arabia and arrived in malaysia, singapore and indonesia through the movement of traders. in malaysia murtabak is sold by mamak (tamil muslim) sales men who were responsible for bringing it to singapore as well. our first experience of eating murtabak was at hajmeer kwaja muslim food at the maxwell centre food park.
true to the word it originated from, murtabak is constructed by folding white flour dough that has been stretched to a translucent thinness. savoury ingredients such as minced chicken and egg are used to stuff the roti, that are secured by the folding over of the dough to a square shape. it is cooked on a hot plate with a shimmering oily surface. murtabak shares an unmistaken resonance with paratha but is much lighter than it on account of the thinness of the dough and the method of cooking. the aloo (potato) and keema (beef mince) parathas i grew up eating were denser because they were made with whole-wheat flour and were rolled thicker.
|the making of murtabak|
|stretched dough with filing|
|the folded murtabak|
|a glimpse into the layers of murtabak|
the murtabak is served to us at our table. it is seared golden brown and is accompanied by a curry sauce that has a concentrated meaty and tomato flavour. i like that it has been scored into bite-size squares. we dispense with cutlery using our hands to dip the squares into the curry and scooping into our mouths. four of us shared the murtabak that night as o and i were joined by a colleague of his as well as sung of eats noodles love noodles fame. it is through his blog that i first came to know about this calorific delight but it never occurred to me that we’d be eating it together half away across the world. the world truly is a global village.