Most of us know that Pilipino (or Tagalog) shares many terms with the Indonesian and Malaysian languages. Sea-faring peoples from those countries came to our shores during pre-Spanish times to find new places to live, bringing with them language, cuisine, and other aspects of culture.
During visits to Singapore, Melaka, Yogyakarta, and Bali, I was delighted to find commonalities in language. It was easy for me to figure out that ruma makan meant restaurant, or that sendok, mangkuk, and kuali were kitchen terms with Tagalog equivalents that were easy to figure out.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that GULAY (gulai in Malay and Indonesian) did not mean vegetable! Rather, it is a saucy dish, usually made with meat or seafood, and occasionally with vegetables. The operative word in gulai is saucy, and by that is meant rich with turmeric, coriander, black pepper, ginger, garlic, shallots, fennel, cinnamon, and many more, in a whole slew of proportions and combinations.
Chicken gulai swimming in a rich sauce.
Now take the word ULAM. It’s what you eat with rice, correct? Dishes of meat, seafood, or veggies; meat with veggies; seafood with veggies; or meat and seafood with veggies.
In Malay or Indonesian households, ulam is a salad made of the herb called pengaga (Philippine name: takip-kuhol or yahong-yahong). You can have other daun (leaves), but the pengaga is a must.
The required herb for ulam salad.