'Pak, may I take this?' asked 52-year-old housewife Yuliana of an old man who was filling dozens of plates with a kind of spicy porridge on Tuesday.
'Wait please,' replied the old man.
So, Yuli returned to her family sitting in the yard of Masjid Raya Medan waiting for the time to break their fast. She came with her husband and grandchildren. They had come all the way from West Pasaman, Padang, West Sumatra to the mosque to taste a famous traditional dish, bubur pedas.
Bubur pedas is a yellow, savory Malay dish generally eaten only in Ramadhan throughout North Sumatra. Made from various tubers and special spices it takes a long time to prepare.
Yuli first tried it about four or five years ago, when her Malay neighbors, who came from Tanjung Pura, North Sumatra, brought back snacks of bubur pedas. 'At first I did not like its strange look, but it tasted good. Not as spicy as its name anyway,' she said.
Therefore, this Ramadhan, Yuli and her husband took the time to stop by Masjid Raya Medan - specifically to break the fast with the bubur pedas that characterizes the mosque.
Masjid Raya Medan is known as one of the mosques in the city of Medan that provides free bubur pedas as break-fasting food every Ramadhan. It has been a tradition since the time of the Sultanate of Deli.
'Bubur pedas has become hard to find lately. In Padang nobody even sells it. Yesterday I saw on the TV that [Masjid Raya Medan] was providing bubur pedas for the break-fast menu,' said Yuli. However when the time to break the fast had almost come, and all visitors finished scrambling for the bubur pedas provided by the committee at a special table, Yuli was disappointed. 'The bubur pedas I've eaten before was not like this color. It's completely different,' she said.
Yuli received porridge made from rice and mixed with potatoes, carrots, meat, kurma and anyang, a kind of salad that uses bean sprouts and papaya flowers.
Haji Zulkifli, the old man who had been asked by Yuli admitted that what Masjid Raya Medan now distributed as a fast-breaking main dish was not bubur pedas. The 61-year-old man explained that breaking the fast with the original bubur pedas had been a tradition since the beginning of the mosque. However, as the demand got greater and the process of making the original bubur pedas became much more difficult, the tradition changed. 'The porridge shared here is actually usually pureed soup,' Zulkifli said.
Not far from the mosque, in the area around the Maimoon palace, Tengku Khaira, 54, sells the original bubur pedas. She is the sister in-law of Sultan Tuanku Muda, a direct descendant of the Sultan of Deli.
Khaira claimed the original bubur pedas was somewhat difficult to find in Medan. 'The process to make it is hard and takes a long time. Not many people today are patient enough to make it,' said Khaira.
There are about 44 ingredients in bubur pedas, including tubers such as potatoes, carrots and sweet potatoes. There are also raw bananas, bean sprouts, baby corn and a few other things. Everything is first cut into cubes the same size and then boiled.
Not to mention the time it takes to create the special flavor of the porridge. The seasoning is mixed with the materials that have been boiled earlier. It is said that it is made from 99 different types of sun-dried spices and then pulverized. 'It is harder to make the marinade with so many ingredients,' said Khaira.
Among the ingredients are coriander, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, lemongrass, cumin, lime leaves, cardamom, pegagah leaves, temu mangga, ginger, bowl leaf, turmeric, kincung, sikentut leaves and more. Khaira takes a week to make the marinade. 'Finding the ingredients is difficult, and not all people today want to bother with it,' she added.
Because of that, Khaira is only able to make three pots of bubur pedas for sale every day. However Khaira is never disappointed because her bubur pedas is always sold out. 'Alhamdulillah, there are many people who are looking for bubur pedas, especially in Ramadhan' she said.
One of them is Siti Bainun, 43, she has been a fan of bubur pedas for years. 'Every Ramadhan I specifically look for bubur pedas for the break-fast meal for my family,' she said. She agreed with Khaira that the spicy porridge was rare in Medan itself.
According to Bainun, who is a native Malay, the complexity of making the special flavor became an obstacle to the porridge's fame. Although it is rare to find bubur pedas makers, Bainun admitted to having many acquaintances who could make it. 'But we must be willing to order in advance,' added Bainun.
However Bainun is disappointed at Medan people who still call the pureed soup in Masjid Raya Medan bubur pedas. 'It's obviously so different,' she said. According to her, it could threaten the existence of the original bubur pedas.
Haji Zulkifli agreed with Bainun. As a native Malay, he also was disappointed with the media constantly proclaiming that bubur pedas was supplied by Masjid Raya Medan as a break-fast meal.
'A few days ago there was a TV station covering the event here. No matter how many times I said that the porridge was pureed soup, they still broadcast it as bubur pedas. Native Malays must know that it is not bubur pedas distributed here, but what about those who do not understand how it is made?' said Zulkifli.
' Photos by Aulia Adam