Dining Out 1 minute 22 August 2016

Kitchen Language: What Does Jelak Mean?

This Malay colloqualism is the perfect way to describe that cloying feel you get when you've had too much of a good thing.

What is Jelak?
Jelak is a Malay word meaning bored, but via jelak makan, or “sick of eating”, it’s come to be used in description of overwhelmingly rich foods, especially greasy deep-fried foods or those containing coconut milk. Less commonly, it also describes foods that are extremely sweet, salty, greasy or starch.

How to avoid it
The feeling of jelak is important for letting you know when to put down the fork, so the foremost way of avoiding it would be to refrain from consuming large amounts of extreme foods.

If you really must indulge, a little acidity can help to cut through the richness. Many coconutty foods like laksa and nasi lemak benefit from the addition of sour ingredients like tamarind or lime. If not, reset your palate throughout the meal with sips of lime juice or tea.

A little acidity from a squeeze of lime can help to cut through the richness
A little acidity from a squeeze of lime can help to cut through the richness

The science of jelak
The feeling of jelak arises not from physical fullness but from sensory overstimulation, which leads to “habituation”. The leading theory is that our senses get used to a certain level of stimuli and respond less and less to the taste, texture and flavour of foods. When this happens, the pleasurable flavours and mouthfeel ceases to mask the richness or greasiness of the dish.

This happens especially quickly with meals that are rich or somewhat monotonous, or both, like mac and cheese. People who are more sensitive to the taste of fat reach this point sooner, while those who aren’t tend to consume more fatty foods, more saturated fat and more calories overall.

“That's quite enough murtabak, thank you. Jelak already."

Further reading: Click here to read more from our Kitchen Language series.

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