Walk Hey 01: It's not raya without sambal goreng

A table set for a small-scale hari raya feast. A casserole dish with sambal goreng, a plate of ketupat, a bowl of lodeh.
Raya for two: sambal goreng, ketupat, lodeh, oatmeal cookies, Zappel (why yes that's an iron behind the cookies) (I too do not know why)

What makes an occasion taste 'right' to you? Maybe it's not Christmas without biryani, or not Chinese New Year without homemade hot pot with extra mushrooms.

For me, it's not hari raya without sambal goreng. Ketupat and lodeh are highly recommended. Sambal kacang and ayam masak merah optional. But if there's no sambal goreng, something becomes unsettled in me, like I hadn't marked a passage in time. Side note: that passing of time, is also one of the reasons why I insist on weaving my own ketupat every year (the other reason is that so I don't forget how). Anyway. Sambal goreng firmly announces to me that yes, Ramadhan is over, and I can resume guilt-free daytime eating for the remainder of the year.

I have a complicated relationship with sambal goreng, like all things to do with my mother. Sambal goreng, if you don't know, is a Javanese-influenced dish with potatoes, tempe, chicken giblets or beef offal, all fried with a heady combination of aromatics and chillies. It's a dish from her side of the family, and the dish that she was tasked to make every year for raya when my grandmother was still alive and we all gathered at her house. Her sisters were given different dishes each, and in the few days leading up to raya, the kitchen extension of the house would be filled with women slicing and stirring and catching up on the past year's news. As one of the apprentices, I would sit in the kitchen with my cousins, peeling various vegetables that would go into various dishes, observing in awe at the well-oiled machine of my ma, her sisters, and my grandma moving about the kitchen with certainty and grace.

Their version is full of lengkuas and halia, julienned so impossibly thinly that it almost melts into the potatoes and protein. There's also tiny shrimp peppered throughout, and a healthy dose of fried suhun. No two families make it alike, and these days I've developed my own version for raya. Mine doesn't have the shrimp (I'm too lazy to clean small shrimp) and instead has petai if the seasons coincide, along with diagonal slices of long beans, and some Chinese caramel cooking sauce to give it a dark color to contrast against the pale lodeh.

As persnickety as my elders can be about it, sambal goreng can also be as simple as you want it to be. When I used to buy whole chickens, I'd squirrel away the giblets in the freezer, and when I had 3-4 chickens' worth, I'd make a pantry cleanup sambal goreng with whatever aromatics I happened to have on hand. What's non-negotiable to me is the tempe, which makes it taste unmistakably Javanese, unmistakably like home in the midst of all that didn't feel like home.

Now, but wow!

Every post (issue?) of Walk Hey will be accompanied by a 'Now, but wow!' section, inspired by one of Spilled Milk's segments. Mine will of course have recommendations, and/or news of things I recently published.

This time around I'd like to recommend, well, Spilled Milk. This very funny, very long-running podcast is hosted by Molly Wizenberg and Matthew Amster-Burton, and they dedicate each episode to a single subject pertaining to food. One of my favorite episodes is about Spouseless Eating, which is exactly what it says on the tin.