Tapai by Hishamuddin Rais

Title/Author: Tapai/Hishamuddin Rais
ZI Publications

No. of pages: 266

ISBN 13: 978-967-5266-11-9

In a nutshell

Tapai is a collection of 40 stories of Rais’s adventures in less ventured, non-typical touristy places, in search for delectable food and free alcohol. Said he, “As a seasoned traveller, I prefer to eat and drink well than to pay expensively for snoring.” It’s difficult to summarise Tapai in a nutshell, as this book is about alot of things – yes, food as its main idea, but it also carries various meanings beyond food.

Tapai brings you from the nondescript streets of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to soup kitchens in Tokyo, Japan; from celebrating Christmas in Bangladesh to meeting the Darai of the band that accompanied the raising of the Jalur Gemilang on Merdeka Day. Yep, this book is not just about Rais satisfying his gastronomic desires, but it’s also a collection of Rais’s experience with food and culture from all over the world.

What I liked
The author’s wit, honesty, sharp observations, humour and sensitivity made this collection of stories such a joy to read. He draws his experience from his travels and pens them down vividly. I learnt a whole great deal about authentic Malay food more than ever before. It was after reading ‘The Man from Belacan’ that I found out, belacan-making was that tedious! It took this lady, Mak Cik Rajiah, with guidance from her mom, a couple of years to perfect this art! Oh and not to mention my learning of tapai in ‘Sign of the yeast’. My first encounter with tapai was last year in one of the Ramadhan bazaars. Because I’ve never seen it before, it caught my attention. Without hesitating, I got one for myself, not knowing at all what’s in it. I do remember asking the abang, if I could eat it right away or if i have to pre-heat it or cook it before consuming it, and I remember liking it. Now, thanks to Rais, I have now a deeper appreciation of tapai. (If only I could taste an authentically-made one!) Did you know that there are certain rituals that must be followed when making tapai? *wink*

In ‘Wedding bawls’, Rais also tell us about the long-forgotten Malay food and traditions pre and while Raya – like Hari membantai “that has been subverted by ‘daging kotak’, imported beef from India”, the vanishing of the announcement by the Penyimpan Mohor Raja-Raja Melayu – and the ‘gotong royong’ that takes place for kenduri kahwin (weddings) that has been replaced by a new culture – the caterer (You’d be able to get their name cards on the table you’re sitting at).

I had a somewhat different dining experience in Tokyo though. Rais mentioned Tokyo diners are “dead silent” but the places I dined at, they were mostly quite a talkative bunch. I guess it depends on which district of Tokyo you’re in? If I’m right, the “legendary pasar ikan of Tokyo” the author was talking about is called Tsukiji. (Which makes me wonder…why is its name not mentioned?) One thing though, from what I gathered, it’s rude to eat while you walk. There are signs in some of their food stalls which ‘suggest’ you to eat while standing/sitting in front their stall.

Rais’s stories make me want to explore every part of Malaysia to try every food he has tasted. Now, if someone could tell me where can I try a plate of mee pisang and a cup of janda pulang….and what’s this gulai lemak tempoyak lampan jawa that Rais wrote so fondly of??

PLUS, can someone tell me exactly where this ‘restaurant with no name’ is? I’d really want to try some Acehnese food!

What could have been better
Some of the pictures were kinda small! 😦 Such a pity, really….and…it’d help if there’s a glossary. This is such a great book for non Malaysians to read too.

My verdict: 4/5
**Burp** Full & satisfied!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. A book devote to food? It's going to be a best seller!


  2. A Bookaholic says:

    i believe so too! 🙂


  3. Josh says:

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