Rediscovering Traditional Arts and Handicrafts of Kelantan

The Hidden Arts and Malay Culture programme, is intended to publicise the less known Kelantan Malay traditional crafts for future preservation.

The Hidden Arts and Malay Culture programme, is intended to publicise the less known Kelantan Malay traditional crafts for future preservation.

The picturesque state of Kelantan is not only popular for its magnificent landscapes, but also stunning handicrafts and culinary offerings. Some might call the state as the Land of Cik Siti Wan Kembang, others might call it as Red Warriors territory but the late Allahyarham Nik Aziz, the great Malaysian politician and Muslim cleric, preferred to call Kelantan a verandah of Makkah.

The State Director of Tourism Malaysia Kelantan, Nor Aida Ismail said that she was honoured to have the local media experience the uniqueness of Kelantan and pointed out that the program is held to expose Kelantanese handicrafts that have remained hidden all this while.

“Tourism Kelantan attempts to discover what we have here which is only known to some people but not the public. Kelantan is definitely famous for its food, crafts, and heritage but what we are concerned more is the dwindling number of master craftsmen and their legacies. We believe that they could go far if we further market their products via the local media,” added Nor Aida Ismail.


Also read: Discover Kota Bharu, Capital Of Kelantan & The Cradle Of Malay Culture


Kalimi Kite

After we checked into the hotel and briefed by Tourism Kelantan about the programme, we headed to Kalimi Kite in Kota Bharu, about 25 minutes from the hotel by van. The workshop did impress us with its collection of exclusive kites’ designed by the owner himself, Ahmad Kali Mollah. Kelantan is well-known for its wau (giant kite) and there are only two master kite craftsmen still remain: Pak Syafie and his student Pak Kalimi.

We were stunned by the latter’s talents in making the kites, crafting it from scratch until it can be flown in the air. The prices of the kites depend the kites’ sobek (the layers and patterns) that range from RM250 up until thousands. Pak Kalimi welcomes both local and foreign tourists to come and stay for a few days to master wau-making skills at an affordable fee. Of course, the wau nowadays have been modernised but there is also still demand for traditional kites.

T: +6 013 9064 401

1584 Jalan Tok Semian, 15300 Kota Bharu, Kelantan


Nasi Kerabu Golok

We started our first Kelantan delicacy with nasi kerabu golok (the blue rice served with fresh vegetables and roasted chicken/beef) with somtam pauh (mango with vegetables mixed with vinegar) and solok lada (chili stuffed with grated coconut). The locals here prefer to have nasi kerabu with roasted chicken/beef wrapped in banana leaf compared to nasi kerabu in Kuala Lumpur, which is normally served with rendang ayam/daging (spicy chicken/beef gravy cooked with spices). Nasi kerabu is one of Kelantan’s more popular dishes.

+6019 992 9909

Lot 341, Kampung Huda, Jalan Sutan Yahya Putra, 15150 Kota Bharu Kelantan


Warung Pak Mat

Tourism Kelantan then took us to experience the famous honey iced tea with bubbles at Warung Pak Mat located in Pulau Pisang. We were impressed by the frothy bubbles that top the ice. This eatery also serves many kinds of curry and soup that we usually have them for lunch but the locals here eat them for breakfast! They are all almost enticing but we need to save our stomachs for the next stop.

+6 013 919 8131

Pulau Pisang, Jln Kuala Besar, 15350 Kota Bharu, Kelantan

Bengkel Pertukangan Besi Abe Ghani

I bet not all of the people have any idea on how traditional weapons are made, and being in Kelantan gave us the picture how exactly the knives, swords and keris (traditional Malay weapon) are produced. Having to experience weapon-making ourselves, we learned that the weapons are made from different kinds of metals depending. As for keris, the experts require over two days to get the right pamor (the outlines formed on the surface of the keris) together with its hulu (the handle). Interestingly, the pamor was made from layers of several kinds of metal – the more pamor lines are created, the more expensive the keris becomes. The skill to make weapons require good pair of hands – everyone could whack the metals but not all can shape it well according to design and function. The owner, Abdul Ghani, receives loads of orders coming from corporations and individuals to make the weapons for all kinds of events, especially when royalty is involved. Abdul Ghani invites young people to come and learn from him the art of making weapons, especially the keris, to ensure the craft’s continuity.

T: +6 019 9358 651

Kampung Perangkap, Bunut Susu, Pasir Mas, Kelantan

Ayu Fashion Perusahaan Batik Tekap / Blok

About 30 minutes from Bunut Susu, we arrived at the only workshop that provides batik cop (printing of designs onto fabric using carved blocks) in Tumpat. Having batik as one of Malaysia’s identities, the printed batik fabric is a must-buy for travellers. Ayu Fashion is the only company that preserves the block printed batik craft. During the trip, we were exposed to the process of making batik cop from the beginning until the end and ready to be sold at the gallery, including the chance to make our own batik cop as souvenirs. Thousands of blocks can be found hanging in the workshop, arranged according to the years they were carved. Md Ghani Abd Rahim, the block master craftsman working at Ayu Fashion, received the Adi Guru (Master Craftsman) 2011 award from Kraftangan Malaysia for his 36-year experience in crafting batik printing blocks. On top of that, his blocks designed with Allah and Muhammad Arabic inscriptions were also awarded as the best carved metal during a traditional craft competition in Kelantan.

Phone +609 7196 178

Jalan Meranti, Kampung Talak, 16210 Tumpat, Kelantan

Restoran Kahfi Wakaf Baru

For lunch, we were invited to try out eel soup, somtam sotong (squid) and the famous coconut ice cream located also in Tumpat, just a few minutes’ drive away from Ayu Fashion. The famous coconut ice cream is favoured by both natives and tourists alike because it is made from coconut and served in coconuts as well! The ice cream is indeed refreshing, especially during a hot sunny day. The restaurant is also highly recommended for its many mouth-watering dishes comprising different kinds of somtam, for example somtam pauh (mango), somtam kangkung (Chinese watercress), somtam sotong (squid) and somtam betik (papaya), which are all difficult to find in Kuala Lumpur. As we were leaving, the place started to be packed with locals having lunch.

T: +6 019 926 9008

Jalan Wakaf Bharu, 16200 Wakaf Baharu, Kelantan

Kelantan Malay Traditional Shadow Play

We then proceeded to the suburban area of Kelantan in Palekbang to visit the shadow play gallery and workshop. Shadow play is one of Kelantan’s major products besides batik, handmade crafts and cuisine. Wayang kulit or shadow play that is normally accompanied by traditional songs and music has regained popularity over the years. The art seems to keep up with times yet preserves its integrity. Muhammad Dain or best known as Pak Dain is the only living expert in wayang kulit making and performing. He has performed shadow play at many countries such as Singapore, Canada and Indonesia, including Milan, Italy in May 2015. He was the one who monitored three teams of shadow play performers and two teams of shadow play craftsmen to ensure that wayang kulit is conserved. The shadow play crafts, which are mostly characters depicted from the Ramayana epic, are shipped to interested collectors all over the world. Due to government restriction, he is not able to ship the crafts out since they are made from rawhide, known as belulang in Malay. Pak Dain then improvised the crafts by using quality plastic instead. Though all of the wayang kulit craftsmen are veterans, they have succeeded in modernising the shadow play by recently collaborating with budding shadow play performers and performed Star Wars. We were really amazed by the shadow puppet play collection and managed to bring back belulang that we cut out during the visit as mementos.

Phone +601 7977 8929

No. 5, Simpang 3 Morak, Palekbang, 16040 Wakaf Bharu, Kelantan

Restoran Suriani Nasi Kukus & Nasi Ulam

Back at the hotel and getting ready for dinner, we were told by the tour guide that we will be eating tomyam kelapa (spicy seafood gravy served in coconut). Originated in Thailand and commercialised in Kelantan, the tomyam kelapa was impossible to resist a second helping. We personally think that the idea of putting the tomyam into the coconut is innovative since you can taste and dig the coconut flesh directly after eating the gravy. We were so engrossed with the tomyam and other dishes like somtam kangkung and spicy chicken cooked in soy sauce, complemented with refreshing mango juice. The price of the tomyam kelapa is also reasonable and the employees at the restaurant are friendly.

+6 017 655 6551

Berek12 (Jalan Pekeliling), 15200 Kota Bharu, Kelantan


Seru Nine Enterprise 

As early as 8:00 a.m. in the morning, all of us checked out after a quick breakfast. Our first stop for the day was located 20 minutes’ drive from the hotel. For music lovers, this is the right place to know more about traditional musical instruments. Seru Nine Enterprise, owned by the legendary Cikgu Awi, is the only place that makes traditional instruments for musical troupes in Kelantan as well as those in Japan, Sabah, Sarawak and more. He is also the one who is in charge of music for tomoi (a performance originated from Thailand), silat (traditional Malay martial arts), and dikir barat (a group of people singing and moving their upper bodies uniformly while singing) in Kelantan. He plays serunai (traditional Malay flute) for events as well. At the workshop, we learned how the original wood from pokok pauh (mango tree) is cut, carved, and tied with rotan (rattan) to be turned into percussions. All materials for the instruments are sourced locally, especially lamb skin in making the percussions’ beating surfaces.

Phone + 6019 9273 705

Lot 1220, Kampung Pulau Tebu, Batu 5, 16010 Kota Bharu, Kelantan

Kedai Emas Pok Su Roni

In Kota Bharu, we can see hundreds of shops selling gold but interestingly, Pok Su Roni’s gold shop is the only one that openly demonstrates the process of gold smithing, besides displaying finished gold products. The process of repairing, crafting and carving gold can be seen behind the counter. What’s more attractive about the shop is Pok Su Roni’s ability to tarik emas (pulling gold) which he has been doing for years. The act of pulling gold means that he has the gift of regaining gold from various things, including the tools at his shop and even garbage bin. According to Pok Su, the garbage from the shop is kept every day before the gold dust is extricated from it. He even soaks the shop’s carpet every week to make sure that the gold dust is not thrown out – the amount of gold dust collected is even enough to make one standard ring! Luckily, two of his six children are following his steps in the art of tarik emas, making sure that the legacy continues.

T: +6 012 9583 709

Wisma Dato Wan Hasan, No-2, 818 Tingkat bawah, Jalan Che Su, Kota Bharu, Kelantan

Restoran Nasi Ulam Cikgu

Restoran Nasi Ulam Cikgu, situated in Kota Bharu, is also a must visit for those who want to try various types of ulam, budu and tempoyak (traditional Malay food), including gigantic African catfish together with ikan patin singgang (iridescent shark cooked in ginger and turmeric stew). The place is located next to Tourism Kelantan office. You can also find gift shops along the lane leading to the restaurant. Restoran Cikgu is favoured because of its diversity of ulam like ulam raja, ulam pucuk gajus, daun pegaga served with budu and tempoyak.

Besides Nasi Ulam Cikgu, along the way to Kota Bahru, Tumpat, Bunut Senu and along various trunk roads, travellers can also find nasi tumpang (cube rice with numerous dish wrapped together with eggs, beef, chicken, etc.), plus nasi dagang packaged in daun pisang (banana leaf) containing plain rice with rendang daging and ayam (caramelised beef and chicken curry).

+6019 961 6665

Kampung Kraftangan, Jalan Hilir Kota, 15300 Kota Bharu, Kelantan

This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 10.1. Read the magazine HERE.

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