Aisyah Ahmad Abir

Genre: Technical Description
Title: The Ketupat and its Significance to the Malay Culture
Student: Aisyah Ahmad Abir
Professor: Lori Hughes


The key to writing an effective technical description is to ensure that it contains sensory perceptions, incorporates images when possible, and includes as many descriptive details as possible to the audience without being over-whelming, or crafting a procedural document, such as a manual. What I particularly admire about Aisyah’s description of the Malaysian dish, Ketupat, is her strong purpose statement, well-organized body paragraphs, clear headings, and explanations of the cultural significance of this artistic treasure. I learned (in a relatively succinct document) what Ketupat looks like, how it is crafted, and why it is so important to her culture—all great qualities of an effective technical description.

-Lori Hughes


The Ketupat and its Significance to the Malay Culture

Aisyah Ahmad Abir

In most cultures, during festivities and times of celebration, food plays a significant role. Whether Thanksgiving or Christmas, no less than a grand feast is expected. In Malaysia, food is arguably the largest part of its multiracial culture. While various regions in Malaysia prepare different dishes, the one dish common to almost all Malay households during festive times, is the Ketupat (pronounced Ke-too-pat).  Typically, diamond-shaped, the Ketupat is a dumpling made of rice filled into a woven leaf pouch [1]. While commonly found throughout Southeast Asian cultures under varying names, it is easier defined as “packed rice.” The purpose of this description is to provide to all a thorough description of the Ketupat, detailing its nature and cultural importance to the Malay race in particular. However, contexts such as details of how to weave the Ketupat and its richer origins are not discussed in the succeeding text.

The Ketupat’s Art

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Figure 1: Traditional Ketupat hung from a high surface(
Figure 2: A Close-up of Ketupat weave (

In its form, many regard the weave of the Ketupat as beautiful art. Young green leaves are used to create an interlocking crisscross pattern that envelops the diamond shape. Fresh leaves are used to provide both flexibility and strength, as well as provide a brighter and more vibrant color.

Techniques to weave the Ketupat are often passed down from one generation to the next, and are a skill no longer known to many modern Malaysian households. The most common leaves used to weave the Ketupat are coconut leaves due to its large size and flexible properties. Two long rectangular sections of the leaves are held with one leaf on each hand. These are then woven to intercross one another and ultimately create its final form. Depending on the skill level of the individual, the weaving process can take anywhere from less than a minute to ten minutes or more to construct a single Ketupat.

Figure 3: Process of weaving a Ketupat using ribbons (

Several steps are taken to prepare and serve the Ketupat. Once the outer shell is woven, rice grains are poured into the Ketupat, which is then boiled. When the rice cooks, it expands into the pouch and is compressed into taking the diamond-shape of the pouch. This process, although simple, can take hours until the rice is fully cooked. When serving this dish, the Ketupat is cut open, the outer leaves are removed, and the packed rice is cut into smaller cubes. This dish is never served alone; rather, it is always accompanied by other dishes, most commonly by a thick peanut sauce. The reason for this is that the Ketupat, by itself, tastes no different from normal rice. The sole difference is the texture of the food, as the Ketupat is thicker and stickier than the rice commonly found. Like white rice, it is bland and requires the sweetness, saltiness and spiciness of accompanying dishes to enhance the eating experience.

The Significance of the Ketupat to the Malay Race

Malaysia is a nation made up of three major races: Malays, Chinese and Indians. Malays are often referred to as the natives of Malaysia and are primarily Muslims. Therefore, due to its Islamic origins, it is understandable why the Ketupat is most prevalent in the Malay culture. [1]. While the Ketupat is eaten during other occasions, the dish is especially important during Eid al-fitr celebrations.  Much like Christians celebrate Christmas and Jews celebrate Hanukkah, Muslims celebrate Eid al-fitr, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan. During this month, Muslims fast from food and water from sunrise to sunset. Therefore, after a full month of fasting, one can imagine the importance of food as a component to this particular celebration. The Ketupat in particular is significant to Eid al –fitr due to its origins that trace back to the 15th century. The celebration of Eid al-fitr is a time where Malays are encouraged to return to their roots, and continue traditions passed down over generations. Thus, although other dishes may differ from household to household, the Ketupat remains as a continued tradition found across Malaysia.

Other Types and Uses

Although most commonly diamond-shaped, the Ketupat can take multiple other forms. The types of leaves used can also differ, such as the use of palm or pandan leaves. Ribbons are often used to produce Ketupat as decorations during festive occasions such as weddings or religious celebrations. While the tastes may vary slightly depending on which leaves are used, the biggest difference is regarding the aroma of the Ketupat. Pandan leaves are known for their sweet aromatic properties and is commonly found in Malaysian dishes. Moreover, varying grains can also be used, which can change the taste and textures dramatically.

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Figure 4: Triangular-shaped Ketupat made of palm leaves ((
Figure5: Ketupat served with other dishes  (

The Ketupat is a simple dish but represents a larger meaning to the Malay culture. It is a tradition and requires a skill that is passed down over many generations. Traditions are important to preserve, as they remind a culture of its values and roots, serving as a grounding force. Today, many Malay homes no longer weave the Ketupat; instead, they purchase the ready-made products available in local supermarkets. Thus, it is important to spread the knowledge of this tradition and continue this practice for many generations to come.

Work Cited

[1]  P. Nugraha et al. (2014). Muslims celebrate Lebaran Ketupat a week after Idul Fitr. The Jakarta Post. [Online]. Available:

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