Kampung Experience

Facade of kampung home in Kampung Batumas, Pengerang
“Wow!  Today I saw the man cut the rubber tree and the white water came out!” read the first line of a message by a 9-year old visitor to Kampung Batumas in Pengerang, Johor.  The “white water” was just his way to describe the latex that flowed out from the rubber tree.  

A brief tour of the village plantation and first-hand experience with local trees and fruits in the kampung or Malay village experience must be a fascinating eye-opener for city folks and overseas visitors.

Message written by a young guest
In another part of his message, this youngster said: “It was also the first time I used my bare hands to eat food.”  Coming from another culture, he was understandably shocked when he was not given a spoon or fork to eat and had to use his hands.  Another visitor wrote: “I’m glad to have savoured not just the warmth of the people here but also got to expose my 4-year old girl to something she’ll never encounter anywhere else."

The people he mentioned are Mahya Mohd Yusof, 53, and her family who opens their family home for kampung tours and had been doing so for the last 10 years. 

While the men folk guide visitors around the plantation to get acquainted with local trees and fruits, Mahya cooks and serves a typical kampung meal for lunch.  After the plantation tour, guests are invited into their living room to sit on the floor and savour lunch the traditional Malay way, by eating with their hands. 

Mahya Mohd Yusof [Front Row Left]
with some family members
There are no ceiling fans or air-conditioning in the wooden village house but surrounded by shady trees and built with strategically positioned windows, it feels naturally cool inside the house.  With their cotton curtains pulled back, light breezes stream through open windows with good cross ventilation to keep the house cool.  A wooden trellis on the upper reaches of the wooden wall also enhances the natural coolness in the village house.

Before eating with hands, they should be washed and this is done with a traditional portable hand-washing pot called kendi that comprises a teapot that rests on a receptacle that catches the water as you rinse your fingers above it. 

There is an art to using the kendi where fingers should be held within your palm while rinsing to avoid a big splash.  After the meal, it is all right to lick your fingers as it is believed that this is how you can benefit from vitamins and enzymes, before you use the kendi to rinse your hands clean.

This is how you gently rinse your fingers
using a kendi
The meal at Mahya’s home starts with sipping a tumbler of black tea brewed with fragrant pandan leaves and ends with another tumbler of black kampung coffee, fondly called kopi-O, that are both already sweetened.  These are served at room temperature but it’s interesting that fresh whole kampung coconut served as part of dessert, is chilled in its husk!  After drinking its refreshing juice, just ask Mahya who will get the coconut split apart for you to savour the tender flesh inside.

A typical menu in the kampung set lunch is white rice eaten with dishes like ikan masak lemak chilli padi or fish cooked in spicy coconut milk, fried chicken, fried salted fish and mixed vegetables with a spicy condiment of sambal belacan.  Locally grown bananas are used to make the dessert of fried banana fritters or jemput-jemput pisang. During the various fruit seasons, guests will have the opportunity to sample a variety of local fruits.

Spicy sambal belacan is a popular item in the menu
“Korean visitors liked my sambal belacan so much that they even asked for a refill,” said Mahya, adding that she happily obliged their request.  At first she was surprised that they could appreciate the spicy condiment but soon realised that they are familiar with spiciness because their traditional food, kimchi, is also a spicy dish.

Mahya said her family started to open their home to visitors through the encouragement from friends in the Pulai Desaru Beach Resort & Spa who were seeking nearby attractions for their guests to experience a taste of local culture and heritage. 

Fresh coconut is split open to savour the tender flesh within
The drive to the kampung may take about 45 minutes from the Resort but it allows guests to enjoy a scenic view of the area before they arrive for an authentic kampung experience.  She recalls that their largest group of guests was 40 Russians and they had to be separated to accommodate one group for lunch in the house and the other in an outdoor gazebo. 

As dessert is served, guests are invited to write comments about their experiences in the guest book.  A flip through several guest books reveal pages filled with amusing comments and interesting messages from guests on their memorable kampung experiences here. 

Visitors learn more about rubber tapping in the kampung tour
A typical menu in the kampung lunch includes fish, chicken and vegetables
Enjoy thirst-quenching, chilled fresh coconut!
Cool comfort with cross ventilation in the kampung house

While a range of cultural activities are usually organised for large groups, reservations for Kampung and Sightseeing tours for a minimum of 4 guests can be made through the Resort’s Sports & Recreation Desk on Tel: 607 – 8222 222.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 30 April 2013

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