“Pukul Mati” in Malay literally meant “Beat/Whack Die” or “To beat or whack until you die.” I would prefer to interpret it as to eat until you are full.
In my generation, those “pak cik” or Malay uncles coined the phrase “pukul mati” refering to the consumption of Indian banana leaf curry rice.
One reason is that a typical Indian banana leaf curry rice is usually served with generous amount of plain rice – mountain of plain rice. The rice, vegetables, curry, daal, and rasam are free flow. Only the main dish is not.
When I tell those Malay pak cik that I’m going to Tekka for “pukul mati” they acknowledge straighaway. I tried the same with some of my younger Malay colleagues in their 20s but they were at a loss. Those in their 20s are not aware of the significance behind the phrase “pukul mati.”
Unlike those days where banana trees were common, it is now a luxury item which need to be imported from neighouring countries. Most eating outlets have replaced banana leaf with laminated paper sheet.
Hot steaming rice with hot spicy curry placed on a fresh piece of banana leaf not only enhance the flavour and aroma, it’s also environment friendly especially if you also use your own hand to eat.
“Pukul Mati” requires no paper, styrofoam or plastic fork and spoon. Imagine if everybody uses hand to eat their meal on a piece of banana leaf, the world’s environment will be less damaging.
Using hand to eat “pukul mati” is an art that needs little practice. To eat with fork and spoon or worst with plastic utensils is to kill it’s enjoyment.
Let me illustrate my point more graphically. On a hot humid afternoon with temperature of 37 deg C, you walk out of the bathroom fresh from a cool shower. After a while, your body still perspire and feel damp and sweaty.
Same here with eating “pukul mati.” Hot steaming white rice with hot spicy curry served on a piece of banana leaf draws out the organic enzymes. The mixture of delicious aroma is irresistible and tempting.
No matter how thorougly you dry your hand after washing, your hand (palm and fingers) will still “sweat” and “perspire” when it touches the steaming hot food. That adds another twist to the mixed aroma. That is why the food is always tastier when you eat with your hand.
Always use your right hand to eat your food. Left hand is reserved for toilette. Use your hand to squeeze, mould, scrape, shove and push the food into your mouth with your thumb as pivot. Hand and fingers are so much more dexterous and versatile than those cold inhuman utensils!
If it is a huge banana leaf – a one big piece which is a rarity here unless you live in a village with banana plantation – the sharp pointed end should be on your left. The bigger side of the leaf on your right.
If it is a half banana leaf, the stem should be placed nearer to you with the curve end away from you.
After you have finished with the “pukul mati” meal, remember to fold the banana leaf in the correct manner. Always fold it towards you NOT outwards. It signals that the food is good and delicious.
To fold outwards is a sign of disrespect to your host or displeasure with the food. In other words, the food you have just eaten is lousy and you did not enjoy it.
The above etiquette need to be observed when you use your hand to partake a banana leaf meal.