10 Malaysian leaf-wrapped rice you should know about

Before there were tiffin tins or plastic containers, our ancestors had a more sustainable way of packing their food, especially rice – they used leaves.

Leaves were also used as plates to serve food.

Being a multiracial country, Malaysia is blessed to have variety of food including leaf-wrapped rice.

Some of these leaf-wrapped rice shared some similarities especially the ones that come from East Malaysia.

Here are at least 10 Malaysian leaf-wrapped rice dishes you should know about:


Illustration by Arabarabara

Perhaps the most popular type of leaf-wrapped rice is from the Malay community, the ketupat.

It is a rice dish packed in a diamond-shaped container of woven palm leaf.

Usually served during Hari Raya celebration, ketupat is a staple food in place of plain steamed rice.

It is made from rice that has been wrapped in a woven young palm leaf pouch and boiled.

When the rice cooks, the grains expand to fill the pouch.

This gives the ketupat its signature diamond-shaped characteristic.

Similar to ketupat is nasi himpit, which literally translates to ‘compressed rice’. Unlike ketupat, cooked rice is compressed into a pan or a container overnight to make nasi himpit.

These two dishes are the common accompaniment for rendang and curry.


Illustration by Arabarabara

While the Malay community is known for their ketupat, the Chinese community is famed for their zongzi.

In Malaysia, zongzi is also called bakcang or bacang, a term commonly used among the Hokkien.

The westerners called them rice dumplings or sticky rice dumplings.

It is basically a rice dish made of glutinous rice stuffed different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves.

They are cooked either by steaming or boiling.

Even though it is common to find zongzi being sold on daily basis, it is traditionally eaten during Duan Wu Jie or the Dragon Boat Festival.

3.Hor Yip Fan

Illustration by Arabarabara

Another leaf-wrapped rice dish from the Chinese community is the hor yip fan or lotus leaf-wrapped rice.

This fragrant and savoury dish commonly makes its appearance during Chinese wedding banquet.

The lotus leaves are usually sold in dried form so they must be boiled until soft before using them.

In order to shorten the cooking time, it is best to partially steam the glutinous rice before cooking them with the filling.

Speaking of the filling, the common ingredients are lap cheong (Chinese sausages), mushroom or char siew.


Illustration by Arabarabara

This Malaysian leaf-wrapped rice is known by many names in Sabah and Sarawak but the common name is kelupis.

The glutinous rice is boiled in coconut milk until it is half-cooked before wrapping it in leaves.

It is usually eaten as a snack. Some enjoy it with dried coconut while other have it simply with sugar.

This delicacy is similar to Kayan people’s serupi or pitoh.


Illustration by Arabarabara

Speaking of the Kayan people, here is another leaf-wrapped rice from this indigenous community of Sarawak called serukong.

To make a serukong, the uncooked glutinous rice is tightly wrapped in a palm leaf in a triangular shape and then the leaf is tied in a knot to secure the rice within.

Then these small triangular-shaped pouches are boiled in water for at least an hour.

It is commonly served during large gatherings such as Christmas celebration, wedding and funeral.

To peel off the leaf, you can untie the knot to unwrap the serukong or make your life easier by cut it in half.


Illustration by Arabarabara

Also known as burasa or burasak, this Malaysian leaf-wrapped rice is quite similar to lontong.

It is basically rice cooked with coconut milk packed inside a banana leaf pouch.

Compare to lontong, buras has a richer, intense flavour derived from coconut milk.

Originally, it is a traditional food of the Bugis and Makassar people of Indonesia.

However, you can still find them the Bugis diaspora in Malaysia especially in eastern Sabah.

It is made by steaming the rice until half-cooked then proceed cooking in coconut milk mixed with daun salam (a type of bay leaf) and salt.

Once the coconut milk is absorbed into the rice, the mixture is wrapped inside banana leaves into pillow-like shapes.

The wrappings are then secured using strings. Traditionally, strings made from banana leaf fibre are used.

Today, raffia string is used instead.

These rice wrappings are them steamed until they are cooked.

The common accompaniment for buras is serundeng, a type of condiment made from grated coconut.


Illustration by Arabarabara

In the olden days, instead of using containers, the Kadazandusun people would bring rice wrapped in typically tarap leaves for their ration while working in the farm.

Today, you can find this Sabahan traditional cuisine during festival or wedding.

This traditional way of ‘tapau’ is the best way of green living because the wrapping is 100 per cent biodegradable.

The equivalent of a linopot from the Sarawak Bidayuh community is songkoi tungkus.

8.Nuba Laya

Illustration by Arabarabara

From the highlands of Borneo, we have a Malaysian leaf-wrapped riced called nuba laya.

It is made by cooking and mashing the rice into a soft consistency, almost like mashed potato.

Then it is wrapped using leaves scientifically known as Phacelophrynium maximum plant.

The Lun Bawang and Kelabit peoples usually enjoy it with other traditional dishes such as beef cooked with wild ginger and dried chilli and shredded fish.

This rice dish is almost similar to Kayan’s kanen amo.


Here is another Malaysian leaf-wrapped rice from Sabah.

Sinamazan is a traditional food from the Kadazan Dusun community specifically the Dusun Puawang from Kota Marudu.

It is made from rice, sweet potatoes and wrapped using a type of leaves locally known as wongian leaves.

To prepare sinamazan, cook rice and sweet potatoes together before mashing them together.

Then, wrap the mixture using wongian leaves.


Instead of sweet potato, tinapung uses banana to make.

Soak white rice in water until it expands and drain it.

And then mash the rice into a flour-like texture before mixing it together with mashed bananas.

This mixture is then wrapped using irik leaves and then steamed to cook.

Tinapung is a traditional food of the Dusun Tatana community in Sabah.

Do you know any other Malaysian leaf-wrapped rice? Let us know in the comment box.

Patricia Hului

Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight.

She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science.

She is currently obsessed with silent vlogs during this Covid-19 pandemic.

Due to her obsession, she started her Youtube channel of slient vlogs.

Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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