Domicile of Da' KRUsader's Mind Crafts…

Rita Zahara’s “Malay Heritage Cooking” Book Launch…


Have you ever been left feeling at a loss over what to cook for the family daily or simply have no idea how to whip up a simple Malay dish if you’re alone or abroad??? I’m sure many of you out there must have gone through those moments of dilemma from time to time. I used to hear that from my mother before I got married, and now the whole cycle repeats itself with the queen at home asking the same set of questions almost every weekends. For a family that eats just a simple dish daily, perhaps they might not face this problem, but when you have different family members with different taste-buds and preferences (or dislikes) for certain dishes, more often than not, the person doing the cooking will be cracking their heads over what to cook, just so they could please everyone at home. Fret not, because the recently-launched “Malay Heritage Cooking” book, written by Rita Zahara, is the answer to your cooking needs.

The book, which is published by Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) in hardback, is the third publication from the “Singapore Heritage Cookbooks” series, which showcases delicacies from the different communities in Singapore, the Indian, Peranakan, Malay, Eurasian and Chinese communities. The cookbook contains sixty different known and traditional recipes, synonymous with our Malay community. The heritage cookbook series aims to document and preserve the cultural and culinary heritage of the different ethnic communities, passed on with passion from generation to generation and this particular book was inspired no less by the recipes taught to the author by her late mother and grandmother. Additionally, readers get the value-added feature of learning the history of Rita‘s family and their contributions to society, particularly her late grandmother, Che’ Zahara, whom she was named after, who was a well-respected philanthropist and a moving force behind the proliferation of the Women’s Charter in Singapore. Not surprising that this book is well-backed and supported by our very own National Heritage Board.

Introducing Rita Zahara – The author of the “Malay Heritage Cooking” book…

For those still wondering who the author is or have some vague memories of her, well you might have seen her covering news events on location or reading the news on News 5 Tonight on Channel 5, ChannelNewsAsia or Berita @ Suria on Mediacorp Suria some years ago. For a period of time, she was also one of the anchors for ESPN‘s Sportscenter programme on ESPN Star Sports channel. What many of us do not know, me included, is that Rita Zahara has been a guest judge / panelist in several food festivals in Singapore and Malaysia. Reading the “About The Author” section of her cookbook, I also learned that she is also heavily involved in humanitarian work for Muslim communities in Asia, empowering women and children with access to education. Certainly an influential person in our community, an asset that we should be proud of.

This book launch might have been more than a fortnight old, but memories of how grand and regal it was are still fresh in my head. As I had told the author of the aforementioned book herself when she was signing the cookbook for my missus and mother, this was one of the, if not THE grandest book launch I’ve ever attended. For those who know Rita well enough, they would acknowledge that any production that she comes up with, she will pull out all the stops to ensure guests have something memorable they could go home with, and this book launch was certainly one of them. From the decorations outside the Vanda Ballroom of Marina Mandarin Hotel where the event was held, to the ones inside, the tight four-piece percussion band playing traditional / classic hits, the opening dance item by Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts Ltd., right down to the glorious spread of food, it was a launch fit for a king and was attended by about 250 people, some of whom are distinguished personalities in our community lending their support.

The hosts: Adi Rahman and Steve Dawson

The amazing part about this book launch was that it was conceived and planned within three weeks by Rita and her sisters, Rita Zarina and Rita Zuhaida, that too taking into accounts the Christmas and New Year holidays. They were certainly blessed with the kind help from no less than twenty-eight sponsors and friends, who came forward to help one way or another to ensure that the launch was a resounding success. The goodie bags that we received upon buying the cookbooks contained, a Satay set and a $30 voucher by Tupperware, a brand name which is no stranger to us. Besides the items sponsored by Tupperware, there were also a book on microwave cooking and a publication by Marina Mandarin Hotel. With that kind of goodwill support from the various sponsors, it was no wonder that during her speech, Rita made the effort to thank each and everyone who had helped from the time the book was conceived, to the day of its official launch.

A feature of the book launch was the live recording of the semi-final rounds of Queen Juara Memasak, the reality cooking show currently shown on Mediacorp Suria and produced by Mediamorphosis. The segment of the semi-final round, was recorded in front of the audience and it required the four semi-finalists to weave the ketupat, something which most of us from the younger generation have no idea on how to go about doing it, me included. Out of respect for the show, I did not take photographs nor recorded the segment, and for those who had missed out on watching it when it was aired last Tuesday, you can do so by going to the XinMSN/catchup website. The best part about this segment was when Rita herself joined in weaving the ketupat and she did it all in two minutes!!! She started weaving slightly later than the contestants and finished doing it much earlier than them, a sign that the years of helping out in the kitchen with her late mother, did not go to waste at all. It is quite a skill to learn and execute, and my word, that was impressive!!!

Rita answering questions during the Q&A session…

Lest I forget, the winner of the Queen Juara Memasak programme will be featured in Rita‘s upcoming cookbook, which will feature contemporary Malay dishes by successful / influential Malay personalities in their respective fields, across Asia. The “Malay Heritage Cooking” book is now retailing at $38 (before GST) from good stores such as Kinokuniya, Times and Popular. You can also get it online via NoQ. Amazon will start to sell it from February 2012 onwards. An added feature that will be introduced in the not-so-distant future will be the cookbook being made available on e-book format. A simple click on a particular recipe and one would be able to view how the cooking is done or how a dish is prepared. That is how technology has evolved and we’re able to enjoy the interactive features introduced to us.

The missus tried out one of the recipes, “Mee Telur Daging“, and I have to say, it was heavenly. No, I’m not saying this because I have to say nice things about her cooking or give face to the author, but because the cookbook, was really helpful in introducing us to a new dish we are able to try out and enjoy. I’m sure the other dishes that my wife will whip up in future from the cookbook will be delectable as well. Even though I have only tried out just one recipe so far, I strongly recommend you to get this as this is very useful for cooking beginners, for those abroad missing simple Malay dishes and even for those who are new to our dishes. Not only does the book have recipes, but the author took great pains to talk about each and every single one of them, relating how the dishes are linked to the community, its history or even memories whilst helping her late mother in the kitchen.  Like what the guest-of-honour of the book launch, Dr. Fatimah Lateef, had mentioned in a television interview, this book is indeed a treasure…

Snapshots of the Book Launch

Symbols of our culture and heritage greeted us at the front door…

Guests lining up to buy the cookbooks outside the event venue…

Guests awaiting for the event to begin…

A familiar face spotted amongst the list of guests is local actress Ariati Tyeb Papar

Another one was Marina Yusoff, seen here with her equally famous parents-in-law flanking her…

So too was Nurul Aini, the host of Queen Juara Memasak

Adi Rahman looking suave in his traditional outfit…

While Steve Dawson was all business-like…

The event was graced by the traditional Malay dance item performed by Sri Warisan Som Said Performing Arts group…

Rita Zahara with her opening speech…

She broke down when she was speaking about her mother, I too felt a lump in my throat and tears welled in my eyes at this point…

The guest-of-honour, Dr. Fatimah Lateef, MP for Marine Parade GRC

The cake cutting ceremony. The cake was made to look like the cookbook. A pity I did not get a snapshot of it, as many people had gone up to see and eventually taking a piece of it to eat…

The percussion band that played traditional and evergreen hits…

Madam Som Said and daughter-in-law, Marina Yusoff, endorsing the book…

Rita signing the book for my mother…

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