Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Low cost travel then

Long before Tune Air introduced the concept of low cost travel with their air and hotel service, Malaysian families have been doing it albeit with land travel. Even in the eighties, it was cheaper for a family to take public transport even though they had a family car as the cost of fatigue by driving in pre-PLUS highway era took a tremendous toll on the family so much so they may be too tired to enjoy their destination. Thus the relative luxury of travelling by express bus and train as compared to the car was very much evident. You have to remember that while there was no so-called executive bus service as such except for first class rail service, cars were definitely much smaller in passenger space compared to current cars. In fact when KTMB had their Rail Bus service between Ipoh and KL at one time, it was a very quick trip as once taken by my brother and I in our teens as it was the precursor to the intercity fast commuter service they have now. The only difference is at the time it was diesel railcars instead of the current electrified trains. So overall you arrived in much better condition and was well rested to continue your travel in-city. The thing was that the city taxi service at the time was great, reasonably priced with helpful drivers that usually do it with a smile. No profiteering surly drivers that pick and choose their passengers and destinations, just say where and you are on your way. The best thing is that this was really door-to-door service as you can hail the taxi from anywhere, without the hassle of finding parking space thrown in.

As for hotels, you did not need to go the way of TV8’s Destinasi Bajet show to stretch your hundred dollar for a three day two night stay, as you can get family rooms in a reasonable hotel well enough. This does not mean the shop house hotels that are now basically fronts for brothels, but bespoke imperial style service. This was available from the old Station Hotel and Majestic Hotel at reasonable cost, as somehow such service were no longer fashionable then as people were at this time flocking to modern hotel service as offered by Hilton Hotel and such. Ironic isn’t it that since then such service has come back with a vengeance with the rise of boutique hotels that now charge top dollar. Yet at the time large hotel rooms that you could play football in, poster beds, decorative plaster fittings and fine china room service were available at reasonable cost. As we preferred travelling by train as it was not as monotonous as a bus ride, second-class of course, the default hotel we stayed in was of course the Station Hotel but we did stay at the Majestic if my late father wanted to splurge a bit. Later when these hotels started to become run down and ultimately closed, we started to travel by express bus instead and this time we stayed at the Palace Hotel in Jalan Masjid India, a well run budget hotel before its time that has managed to survive to this day. This was because it also offered the convenience of a central location not only close to Pudu Raya Bus station and surrounded by the shopping areas of Masjid India and Jalan TAR but was also within striking distance to Benteng. At that time Benteng by the river in front of Masjid Jamek was the Bangsar of the day, a food haven for KL. More on this later but one thing that has always puzzled me is why my late father never chose to stay at the legendary Coliseum nearby, maybe because he disliked shop house type hotels.

As for meals, the first night dinner always meant Tiffin food packed by me mom for the journey. Favourites were fragrant fried chicken, veggies and rice. Fried noodles somewhat lose their lustre packed this way but somehow the aforementioned food when packed in a Tiffin seemed to absorb certain flavours and aromas from each other, and thus by pleasant permeation these dishes always tasted better. Mind you this was yet the age of microwave ovens so the food was eaten cold, but it was something to savour so much so that even now I prefer my rice to be served cooled down than hot. Even now I envy those families that you can still sometimes see picnicking with their Tiffin food at roadside rest areas, and I am sure their food is much better than the food sold at the stalls. Definitely a more economic but still good tasting meals for the families. We only went out for meals at night if it was an extended stay as hospital visits usually meant an overnight trip only though we did not lose out on a good meal as the hospital’s cafeteria at the time served great briyanis with luscious plump peas. This may be why unlike most kids I loved eating peas. Nighttimes then usually meant going to the Benteng night hawker stalls, where even though I had equated it with the current Bangsar food haven the prices are not as stratospheric. The main meal would be Sate Majid before it went upscale as Satay Aneka. Those who managed to taste this sate before the family chain restaurants went belly up must agree that it was the best sate in town, even better than any Kajang Sate that actually remained anonymous to me until my adult life. Other than sate, dinner would be the other hawker specialties, cheap but satisfying. Another place we frequented was the night hawker stalls in a large vacant area behind Jalan Masjid India that has since been demolished to make way for the existing shop houses. I still remember the stall people calling out to people to patronise their stalls, the more daring even went to the extend of pulling them to sit at their tables marked out as their territory. Dirty looks would be given if you dared to order something that the stall has to offer from a different stall if you are sitting at their tables, with the ruder stall keepers actually evicting you. So it made good sense to order only some specialties from other stores if you know what’s what. But I have to say that generally the standard of food was good and you really have to be extremely unlucky to not get a good meal as the competition kept the stalls on their toes.

Finally on the occasions that my mother did not follow us on non-hospital visits trips, as she actually hated hotel stays and preferred to room with relatives in KL that was also a norm for families at the time, my father would take the opportunity to order room service or dine at the western restaurant at the Station Hotel or The Majestic that my mom considered as wasteful. Since he was a gentleman of the old school, this was something he would love to do to satisfy his cravings since mother never deign to dine at such establishments. I was once non-plussed when mom claimed that father never dined out until I remembered that he only did it with the kids. Thanks dad for opening up our taste buds that have stood us in good stead till now. A memorable meal that I remember till now was when once for supper in our hotel room my father took out a foot long banger, which was the first time I had a taste of real western style sausage. At the time you could still taste a difference in the taste of the sausages, as the spice mix was different than now, European style I guess even for Ramly Burger sausages. I never had the chance to find out from where he bought it but I suspect it from the Majestic, across the road from the Station Hotel we stayed in.

All in all, travelling effectively as a family unit at that time was still a cheap and comfortable affair. It was also much more fun and adventurous than taking to the road by the family car or by air as is the norm nowadays, and it definitely reduces the fatigue of the driver, namely me. But looking at the high risks of accidents associated with express buses and the high cost of rail and air travel for the family nowadays, even by the company that claims that now everybody can fly, makes me stick to the self-driven highway trips for now.

Fishy Claim Ahead

I don’t know what it is about Singapore’s predilection to claim many common favourite dishes as originating from their little island as I may have reflected previously. Recently I was watching an Asian Food Channel show that tried to trace the origins of Fish Head Curry that is claimed to have been originated from there as was also featured in other international food shows including Bobby Chin’s World Café Asia. The difference here was that the show at least showed that there was three possible sources of origin, though the claim was still that fish head curry was invented there.

The show started with the assiduous restaurant claim to the invention, supposedly by the patriarch of Muthu Curry Restaurant who said they were the first to get the idea to offer previously discarded fish head into such a delectable dish in 19XX that has remained as the primary destination in Singapore to get the South Indian Fish Head Curry. But the name South Indian curry gets me thinking, even though it may be referring to the style of curry cooking does not the name itself indicates that fish head is not such a strange ingredient to be made into a curry. Indulge me to the end why I think this to be a not so strange conclusion to make.

Where the claim takes a surprising turn is when the proprietor of a halal Chinese Restaurant, a certain Mr Ng asserted that it was him that actually came up with such a dish in the early 50’s after experimenting with the curry mix when he was a stall helper in the vicinity of Indian restaurants that he learned from to how make a curry. Offering a less spicier version in his restaurant called Our Makan Shop, the curry actually looked like the typical Nyonya or Straits Chinese curry prevalent in the region. It is not a surprise that the Nyonyas after centuries of assimilation managed to develop their own curry version, but Mr Ng offered no reason why he was inspired to serve fish head in curry form as an original dish or why it was he alone who tinkered with such a concoction. As I am no Nyonya culture expert, I am unable to ascertain if Nyonya food has featured fish curry as a recent invention or it has a been generational food inherited through the ages as it should be. In addition, I have seen fish head dishes as a gourmand delicacy in mainland china, so I do not think it takes a long stretch of imagination for the Chinese of the region to turn the fish head into a curry dish in a version of their own down the ages.

The argument is also furthered by the fact that the Malays, in this show in particular, actually has had fish head in curry form in their traditional cuisine although for them it is actually gulai or a spiced gravy dish. Well if you think about it gulai is a version of curry though the Malay spice mix is actually more piquant than a typical curry spice. But I can vouch that the Malays do not treat fish head as a separate curry in itself, as all parts of the fish will be thrown in into the curry in their cooking. In a culture familiar with scarcity and that discourages wastage, the fish head may be the favoured part reserved for the head at the family table, but all parts of the fish will be thrown in the pot, as you can also find in their other dishes like soups, assam and such.

Thus I suspect that Fish Head Curry is really a creation of the poor if it was really true that the large fishes’ heads was previously discarded or sold at a discount in the market. It may have been a wise restaurateur who decided that why waste a good portion of his fish supply by adapting a poor man’s recipe and elevating it as a gourmet’s dish it has become. As whether the origin of this wise fellow is Singapore or otherwise, that is still a subject that can be contested. Other regional points of fish head curry madness will deign to do so if they ever managed to stop to ruminate about such claims from their more important quest for the best fish head curry in town. To quote Singapore’s own Makansutra Guru K. F. See Toh, “ Why You wanna talk when there’s good food ah?”
Post-Script 29/11/07 - I must admit I was intrigued when I read in Makansutra that another story about the origins of fish head curry is that the Punjabi soldiers brought it with them. Like he said I have never seen such a dish in my Punjabi friend's home. Digging into this lo and behold it seems that the Indian Bengali's are proponents of fish head dishes that it is even a special wedding dish. And then you can also find Goan Fish Head curry on the menu of Indian Cuisine. Thus as I usually suspect in such cases, fish head curry does have its origins in the home country of the immigrant race that popularises it locally. Only it would much localised that it may no longer resemble the original home cuisine. Same case as Roti Chanai/Pratha. Case Closed Singapore!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Heritage Station Preserved

I was in the old Kuala Lumpur Railway Station this morning as an appointment I had across the street was postponed for an hour. Thus I took the opportunity to revisit the station to see if memories of time passed can be invoked, as the rail service was an important transport for my family commuting between Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, more frequently when my father had to have his regular check-ups to the Kuala Lumpur Hospital at the time till it ended a few years before his death in 1992. The first thing that brought back memories was the pedestrian tunnel crossing the road. Look up and I assure you that you will see something that no longer can be seen at other local tunnels, that is wood panelled roofing. I am happy that this feature has been maintained despite the obvious high costs that can be associated with its maintenance. Reaching the station proper, the vehicle lane in front of the building is no longer as busy with waiting cars crowding the waiting area that used to rival those at present day KLIA. Nowadays there is only a solitary van belonging to the Heritage Hotel parked in front as the small car park to the side of the building can now easily accommodate the cars that may want to park there, presumably for the Komuter train service or Plusliner bus service as there is now ample free parking elsewhere in the vicinity.

I am also happy to note that Heritage Station Hotel itself has maintained the atmosphere of the old station hotel, right down to the rickety old elevator. It does transport me back to the times we used to stay there, not only for the convenience but economical lodgings. The bar/restaurant looks positively ancient still, and I imagine at nights the drinking kakis still populate the watering hole with the ghosts of old times. At the passenger concourse, there are no longer any ticketing booths of old. These have been moved to the KTMB headquarters building, another old building that should be visited and this would give you a good excuse to do so. In its stead there is now an art gallery with a resident artist for caricature paintings, a mini KTMB museum where you can see some old railway equipments and memorabilia, while the annexe building fronting Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin now house the Plusliner and NICE transit lounge and bus station, The Malaysian Railway Fan Clubhouse and some boutiques and galleries.

You now also have free access to the platforms as only the centre platform is currently is now used for the Komuter service with the end of the portion off. On that platform there are three displays of old railway machines and a fire truck in addition to the Komuter ticketing machines. Since the overall façade and atmosphere of old still remains, you can still reimagine the past to relive your memories. Keep also a look out for old equipment like old time ticketing machines that have not been removed from their old positions, and the building can be considered a living museum. However there no longer exists the old Ramly burger and Roti John stalls, which I can attest were the best in KL, and the platform is now spick and span but I suspect at nights the area beside the hotel restaurant is being used as an extra dining area. I like the fact that exit to Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin makes you pass the mini museum, so you will not miss this attraction.

Finally if you have time, make sure you eat at the old Mamak stall at the end of station, which is actually one of the hotel’s dining outlets, where I was surprised that they serve old style roti canai with real parpu gravy. All in all, it was a good break while waiting for the appointment as it enabled me to revisit a national monument that would otherwise remain one of the buildings that you just pass by in your daily travels. Now if someone could turn the old Majestic Hotel building that used to house our National Gallery from its current sorry state to another heritage hotel, and two of my old lodgings would be preserved as old grand buildings, a fate they surely deserve.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Broom Them Out

Ha!ha!ha! You Civil Servants really need the broom if you keep up this attitude

Wednesday November 14, 2007

‘Broom award’ draws flak

KUALA LUMPUR: The Selangor Mentri Besar's awarding of brooms to
under-performing local councils and state agencies to remind them to buck up has
drawn flak from many quarters.
Many find his “broom bouquet” for poor performance in poor taste and crude.
The “broom award” was even brought up in Parliament on Tuesday.
The civil service umbrella union Cuepacs said it received calls from its members from other states complaining about the broom.
Cuepacs president Omar Osman said members asked if there was indeed no other way for Datuk Seri Dr Mohamad Khir Toyo to express his dissatisfaction.
On Monday, at an excellence awards ceremony Dr Khir gave a broom each to the Hulu Selangor District Council and Hulu Selangor Land Office for failing to collect assessment for 2006 above the stipulated 50% mark.

Dr Khir also warned agencies that failed to hit the target for 2007
to expect the same “present”.
“We can understand the feelings of the civil servants attending the ceremony. The brooms were given openly, without even trying to disguise these by wrapping them,” said Omar on Tuesday.
“We cannot accept such an act. Although we support the Mentri Besar’s
intention for all civil servants to improve their performance, there is a better
way of doing it, such as giving the agencies a low star ranking or a reminder
As civil servants who form the backbone of the Selangor state
government were loyal staff, they did not deserve such a treatment in public,
Omar said.
Public Services director-general Tan Sri Ismail Adam
declined to comment, except to say that “there are many ways of telling civil
servants how to do their jobs.”
“You can tell them directly or issue them a directive. There are many ways to ‘skin a cat’ but you have to find one that is appropriate,” he said.
In Parliament, Datuk Raja Ahmad Zainuddin Raja Haji Omar (BN-Larut) questioned whether presenting a broom, which is linked to bad luck, was appropriate as an award.
“There must be other ways to motivate the staff. Certainly not a broom,” said Raja Ahmad.
Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Azizah Mohd Dun, in her
reply, also said that she did not agree with giving out brooms.
“But I am sure the Selangor Mentri Besar, who is intelligent, would know its
suitability,” said Azizah (BN-Beaufort).
In Penang, Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad said that when a person had done something good, he should be praised in public but if he has failed to perform, then he should be rebuked in private
I don't knowlah whether this is another manifestation of the Little Napoleon mentality but we the civil persons that you civil SERVANTS are supposed to serve are quite happy to see that someone finally has the guts to show you guys the broom. If the decision is up to me, I would like to follow up with pink slips to you guys that are deserving to shake the cobwebs that are so prevalent in the civil service who are no longer civil. As public proof if you guys had heard the 'panggilan hangit' segment this morning you would have listened in to a typical response by a civil servant to a member of public in distress who needed his assistance. If the scenario of a businessman who lost his passport who needed to attend an urgent business meeting overseas in order to close a business deal was true, imagine how much money MALAYSIA would have lost with such a service. And the bloody thing was the civil servant hung up on the call. What level of service is that? I hope Y.Bhg. Tan Sri Mohd. Sidek Bin Hj. Hassan, the co-chair of PEMUDAH takes note of this prevalent attitude amongst your civil servants. Otherwise what Datuk Seri Dr Khir says in defending his actions “It will be more sial (accursed) if we do not improve our work, become lazy and continue to be lackadaisical,” will definitely become true.

Tourism Malaysia Please Take Note

Sunday November 11, 2007

What’s truly ‘Asia’ about Malaysia

Sometimes, the view is clearer from further away. What we often fail to appreciate, one of our friends from the Philippines sees in us.

IT was a hot Saturday afternoon when I decided to go to the mall. The cool air-conditioning of the mall and the thought of licking an ice cream on a cone promised a welcome respite from the oppressive heat.
At the moment, I am in my beloved country, the Philippines, for a summer vacation.
As I turned a corner of a display window, my ob-gyn (obstetrician-gynaecologist) came into view.
She was happy to meet me and so I was just as glad to see her. She had delivered four of my children and was my emotional punching bag when I lost the last child. She never left my side at the hospital until I recovered from the loss.
Meeting her was one of my “hallelujah” moments. We talked and laughed as we updated each other’s life.
Her youngest daughter, also an ob-gyn, came and joined us. This may seem like one for the Guinness Book of Records but her daughter is also my eldest daughter’s ob-gyn.
Somewhere in the conversation, I mentioned that I had lived in Malaysia for almost three years.
Her daughter blurted out a question: “Is it worth going to Malaysia?”
It made me stop in the middle of a sentence. Like a scene in a cartoon show everything stopped with a “toink” sound in my mind.
Before I could answer her, she told me they were going on a sponsored trip, with a choice of either Hong Kong or Malaysia as the destination.
I couldn’t answer her query by telling her how much I was missing Malaysian food, my Malaysian friends, the bus, taxi, LRT rides, my favourite RM5 store in Mid Valley and so much more that is Malaysia.
She would not understand why I began to like spicy food, nor could she imagine the flavours of tasty noodles, juicy big oysters dipped in vinegar with dark sauce, warm wonton soup without chilli and fat freshwater crabs steamed without hot sauce.
She might wonder why I would miss buses, taxis and LRT rides when we have all these in our own country? And what is there in the RM5 store that made it to the list of my favourites?
It reminded me of my American friend who made a brief visit to Malaysia and concluded: “You know, with all these skyscrapers, I haven’t left New York at all.”
Another friend observed: “Malaysia is a mixture of the old and the new.”
Could I convince the young doctor?
Some of my friends visited Malaysia as tourists as part of those three-day-two-night package tours. They saw old and new buildings. They saw development. But they left without tasting the essence that makes Malaysia “truly Asia”.
Like other tourists, holidaymakers and travellers, they saw the star attractions, the Petronas Twin Towers, KL Tower, Merdeka Square, the obligatory batik factory and other urban scenic spots.
What they missed were the “back-up singers”, the true pulse of Malaysia.
I told my friends to come back to Malaysia and stay for two weeks. I wanted to show them the Malaysia that is truly Asia.
They came back. My New Yorker friend saw the essence of Malaysia. Another realised Malaysia is not only the mixture of the old and the new. More came as I invited them to travel, shop and see the true Malaysia.
As my friends and I got together, they enjoyed reminiscing their experiences and the sights of Malaysia.
But most of all they will always remember the true image of Malaysia.
They remember the people – the Malays, Chinese, Indians, and also the Filipino Kabayans.
They remember the smiles and the friendliness. They had close encounters with them in the buses, the taxis and the LRT. These Malaysians are truly Asia.
My friends who came to Malaysia have one thing to say; the beauty of Malaysia and its people were more than the thousands of ringgit they spent. Their memories cannot be bought and are not for sale. Their pictures will be collectibles and someday become as priceless as history.
Me? I’m coming back. I’m just finishing my task at home. Right now, I am drooling at the thought of nasi lemak rendang, nasi lemak ayam, cucur udang, pisang goreng dipped in spicy sweet and sour sauce and noodles mixed with belacan.
Last night, I saw Chef Wan on the Living Asia channel cooking roti jala. I can’t wait to taste it with curry.
Yes, Doctor, it is worth going to Malaysia. Go and see how peace and harmony works. Only in Malaysia.
Hello Malaysia! Jalan, jalan, cari makan!

Artikel Makanan Tradisi Yang Menarik

Saja nak simpan artikel menarik ni sebelum ia hilang di alam maya.. Kebanyakan kuih yang disebut tak pernah tahu pun..

(kiri) BUNGA pundak kuih tradisi Kedah. (tengah) BUAH tanjung kuih tradisi Kelantan. (kanan) PIANA kuih tradisi Kelantan.

Hidangan tradisi hanya boleh diperoleh sepanjang bulan puasa KEDATANGAN Ramadan mendatangkan seribu satu rahmat pada umat Islam. Kegirangan menyambut kedatangan bulan mulia ini sememangnya sentiasa meriah semeriah deretan gerai di Bazar Ramadan. Seawal jam tiga petang orang ramai sudah berpusu-pusu menjelajah dari gerai ke gerai mencari kuih muih dan lauk pauk yang kena dengan selera masing-masing. Ada yang biasa dilihat, tidak kurang juga yang tidak pernah diketahui kewujudannya.

Daripada karipap dan murtabak, pelbagai jenis agar-agar, kebab, seri muka, seri kaya, roti jala dan paling banyak tentunya masakan dari negeri Pantai Timur dari lompat tikam, akok, beko juga nekbat. Peluang singgah di Bazar Ramadan juga dinantikan kebanyakan orang yang ingin mencari kelainan untuk mendapatkan makanan tradisional yang hanya dijual pada Ramadan. Mereka juga mahu mencari kuih yang pernah dibuat ibu di kampung bukan sekadar untuk mengisi perut yang kosong tapi dapat mengimbau kembali kenangan berbuka bersama keluarga ketika kecil. Agak sukar menjejak kuih yang sememangnya tulen dan berasal dari sesuatu negeri. Misalnya di Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur, mungkin terlalu banyak evolusi yang membawa pelbagai bangsa dan rakyat dari pelusuk negara ke pusat pentadbiran negara ini, menjadikan dua tempat ini mengalami banyak perubahan termasuk dari segi pengolahan cara penghasilan makanan tradisional.

Penulis buku masakan, Norzailina Nordin, berkata di Selangor, masyarakatnya banyak terpengaruh dengan gaya masakan orang Bugis. “Antara kuih tradisi yang semakin hilang dalam masyarakatnya adalah kuih Bugis Mandi. Kuih ini mempunyai rupa dan rasa yang hampir sama dengan kuih Badak Berendam namun bebolanya lebih kecik menyerupai Buah Melaka. "Pada dasarnya, kuih tradisional dulu mempunyai ciri yang hampir sama iaitu tepung pulut yang digiling sendiri, dikacau dengan campuran santan. Isinya kebanyakan kelapa parut yang dimasak dengan gula hangus kerana ketika dulu, gula merah sukar diperoleh," katanya. Di Johor, Sup Tulang Merah yang mempunyai rasa dan warna yang amat berbeza dengan sup biasa boleh dilihat pada Ramadan dan tidak pada hari biasa.

Penjual sup itu, Shamsiah Mohd Resak tidak pasti asal usul sup itu tetapi resipinya ialah tulang sendi 'gearbox' kambing kerana saiznya yang lebih kecil berbanding lembu yang lebih besar serta sukar untuk dimakan dan dimasak. Hidangan pencuci mulut Puding Diraja, Opor Daging Kerbau dan Temosa Diraja adalah tiga jenis makanan istimewa di Pahang yang sememangnya antara identiti rakyat negeri itu. Pengusaha katering, Hanizah Razali berkata, Puding Diraja diperbuat daripada empat bahan utama iaitu pisang lemak manis (digoreng) biji gagus, buah prun dan ceri. Urat emas yang diperbuat daripada kuning telur menjadi penyeri kepada makanan itu. "Keistimewaan Temosa Diraja terletak pada intinya yang diperbuat daripada daging ayam dikisar halus, hirisan telur ayam dan rempah manakala kelebihan Opor Daging Kerbau terletak pada warna hitam pekatnya, daging kerbau yang lembut serta campuran rempah ratus," katanya.
Kuih suji semia, keseri dan halwa maskat amat terkenal di Pulau Pinang sebagai kuih tradisi masyarakat India Muslim yang menjadi pembuka selera sewaktu berbuka selain dihidangkan ketika majlis perkahwinan. Kuih tradisional Melayu seperti serabai dan pengat ubi kayu juga mendapat sambutan pada bulan puasa. Kuih serabai dihasilkan menggunakan adunan tepung beras dan santan manakala kuahnya menggunakan tepung beras dan gula. Di Perak, masakan telur ikan loma goreng, ikan timah goreng dan kuih jongkang menjadi antara masakan yang dihidangkan pada Ramadan. Istimewanya ikan loma ini ia hanya ditemui pada musim hujan atau ketika bulan gelap dan rupanya seakan-akan ikan kembung dan mempunyai telur berwarna hijau, apabila dimasak berwarna kuning pucat.
Kuih muih tradisional Kelantan memang sudah terkenal di kalangan rakyat negara ini seperti tahi itik, pauh dilayang, mas sejemput, piana, buah tanjung, jala mas, akok, nekbat, nasi kaya, rokong golong, cek mek molek, murtabak raja dan agar-agar warna warni. Kebanyakan kuih tradisi ini diwarisi daripada nenek moyang sebelum dikomersialkan. Keistimewaan kuih tradisional Kelantan kerana ia tahan lama, selain manis dan lemak kerana menggunakan adunan santan, gula dan telur. Satu-satunya kuih di Negeri Sembilan yang masih bertahan sehingga kini tetapi amat sukar ditemui kecuali sepanjang Ramadan adalah kuih Sopang. Kuih Sopang terkenal di Kuala Pilah dan dihasilkan daripada beberapa bahan seperti tepung pulut, gula Melaka dimasak dengan kelapa muda parut untuk inti, santan pekat dan sedikit tepung serta garam secukup rasa. Dari segi rupa dan bentuknya, ada yang menganggap Sopang sama seperti kuih koci atau badak berendam tapi sebenarnya ia berbeza sama sekali dari segi proses dan juga rasa.
Di Kedah, kuih bunga pundak berinti kelapa adalah makanan tradisi masyarakat Melayu di negeri jelapang padi ini. Kuih ini dinamakan sempena warna bunga pokok pundak. Kuih yang enak dimakan ketika panas ini kelihatan mudah dibuat namun ia sebenarnya memerlukan kemahiran tinggi untuk dibuat khususnya ketika proses mengayak tepung dan melipat. Walaupun pelbagai jenis kuih muih tradisional boleh ditemui sepanjang Ramadan, jangan lupa makanlah sekadarnya saja terutama mereka yang mempunyai pelbagai jenis penyakit seperti diabetes kerana kebanyakan kuih tradisi memang manis. Tambahan pula, berlebih-lebihan itu adalah pembaziran.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Great Websites on Malaysian Traditional Games

I have mentioned before that I would like to highlight the old games that we play but it is with great pleasure that I am able to advise that there are already some websites on line preserving such games that I think I need not bother.

The first website I would like to highlight is Malaysian Traditional Games at geocities. This is a great site with detailed explanation of the games and excellent graphics, some of which taken from Datuk Lat's series on traditional games. Makes me want to play these games again. I hope this site lives forever and that many will visit it. I would be glad if I am able to contribute to increasing the page views of the site and some visitors will then be able to take the initiative. Kudos to the site owner who unfortunately chooses to remain anonymous. Keep it up and awaiting your updates on the remaining games.

The second is actualy part of a treasure trove of Malaysian Traditions that is written in Malay. The starting page for the site on Malaysian traditional games as linked in this sentence but regretfully the site suffers the common malaysite site ailment of improper linkages for this pageon the game 'aci sorok'. Thus I suggest that if you want to jump to other pages, you should start with the other games first. Unlike the first site, this page is more narrative in nature so if you are not already familiar with some of the games, you may not be able to grasp the nature of the game. But still a good effort in preserving our traditional games heritage.

Last website is an attempt to document the Asian traditional games but the webmaster has only managed to highlight some Malaysian games so far. Again another narrative style site written in English this time, I hope the site will expand soon. Anyway for those who think they can do better in highlighting these traditional games, I encourage you to so. At least we can encourage our kids to get out of the house and not be a slave to virtual reality gaming. If we can at least do that, that is good enough for me. And if you want to find out more, just google it. I have found at least two blogspot bloggers who have blogged on this.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Two Dumb Ideas From The Recent UMNO Convention

I have no wherewithal to really follow the matters raised in the recent UMNO convention but some of the issues raised in the convention highlighted in the media really raised my goat due to their sheer short-sightness, biasness and plain dumbness. Come on people! Your party is getting ready for a general election and here you are shooting yourselves in the foot and negating all you leadership’s efforts to show the People that UMNO is a party that is with it.

Forget the drum roll as they don’t deserve one but here are two dumbass ideas that managed to immediately attract my eye and distressed my brains. I may write more later if I find the will to discuss anymore such inane ideas.

1. The fella who suggested that all local university lectures must be held in Malay.

Hello friend which century are you living in? Here we are trying to raise our level of national competitiveness in the world stage and here he is going insular in the use of the Malay language. Promoting the use of the Malay language is fine but if this an attempt to help Malay students with a crutch because he cannot hack it studying in an English language environment is a sad reflection of your stage of mind because you forget that the fool will need to survive in an English speaking real world. What is the difference between our local students and those thousands of students that our government led by UMNO leadership has sent overseas? Do these overseas students study in Malay in these foreign lands? Are you trying to create an elitist class of graduates where these people are internationally mobile while the unlucky ones that has to work at local dead end jobs because those international corporations that we attracted to the Economic Corridors find that these local graduates wanting so they import foreign workers under the guise of expatriates. You want to see all those foreign pump attendants, factory workers and manual labourers who actually have university degrees and are itching to get a job commensurate to their qualifications fill these premium jobs that we created for companies that needs internationally savvy people in the positions. Man if these people can learn to ask “Hijau atau Merah” why is it so hard for our Malay students to master a simple language like English that uses the same alphabets and similar grammatical rules and structures. I can assure you it is more difficult to master Arabic, Mandarin or Japanese language.

I personally take it as an affront to my old alma matter who has managed to turn out tens of thousands, or is it hundred of thousands now of graduates who can thrive in English language companies as their lectures are held in English. So much so that these graduates are much sought after not only by major local companies but major international corporations. This leading edge was given to these students for the simple reason that the institution realised that they are initially seen as a sort of country bumpkin university compared to the various government universities, so they needed to gain the prestige that can only be obtained when their graduates do well in the real world. And I am glad they have done it as also attested by the various university ranking surveys. So please take a leaf and learn how to support our Malay students as what this institution that was actually created to support the Malay students has done. Ensure that remedial English classes are part of the core curriculum in the early semesters. Segregate the ones already with a good command of English from the rest so that you do not hold them back, it is all a matter of credit hours anyway. This is no different from the program to prepare those students going overseas students who needed to undergo intensive language classes. So why this cannot be done the same with our local students. Proof of the pudding you say. Ask which alumni the successful management class in the various corporations belongs to and I am sure many will say they are a product of the same Alma matter as I am, even when they have gone on to further studies in foreign Ivy League universities. Oh yeah if you are still wondering which institution I am referring to, it is simply the MARA Institute of Technology, the acronym of which really fits the bill. So the conclusion that I can make? Make sure that lectures are taught in English in order for us to compete with all other the nations that are already racing to do so, otherwise our local students will be left behind with that big crutch that you are trying to give in such a simpleton gesture. Playing to the gallery does not mean you can mortgage our future competitiveness.

2. The lady who says Air Asia Uniforms Needs to Cover Up

Here we have a world beating company and someone comes up with the petty idea again to criticise their air crew uniform. Flogging the dead horse again eh as this critique has been floated so many times that I get bored with the same response that Air Asia has to give each time. If you are talking about decency and such, make sure your male cohorts eyes and minds are clean first, as otherwise such uniforms will not excite them in the first place. And please remember that foreigners also use the airlines, and I am sure they do not really notice such things, its service that counts for them. So instead of being a fashion police to an airline that has not used public funds to make a success of themselves, why don’t you turn your thoughts as to how our public funded airline can become world beating again instead of trying to turn themselves into a second rate “world class” entity. Better still think of how you can spread the message that the correct meaning of covering your Aurat in Islam is to not only your hair with headscarves but to cover all skins and your body form. Hopefully after that I will not see anymore short sleeved t-shirt tight fitting jeans belly button showing chicks with a mini telekung walking around. Now these actually aroused me more that chicks in micro skirts and tube tops. And these bitches in tudungs have now become great actresses in 3gp clips it seems, how pious is that.

Enough said.


And for those louts who love confrontational head-to heads with our Police force, I hope you enjoyed the itchiness of the water canon, bruises and cuts and whatever you may have endured during your dumb demonstration last Saturday. Do you really think you impressed rational citizens especially in Kuala Lumpur who you ruffians inconvenienced to support you and translate it to votes for the opposition? Man you guys achieved your mission of submitting your petition for clean elections, and yet you hooligans chose to disrespect the law. If you guys really want to show you really have the people’s support, call for a boycott of the coming election and if the present government is revoted-in with less than fifty percent turnout, then you have something to shout about and capitalise on. Otherwise please shut up and can the theatrical antics you imported from our neighbours. You have the nerve to call them uncivilised social misfits when they go to the streets, but how different are you when you do the same. Do you really think that our ordinary citizens will not think beyond your demonstrations that if your type of people who disrespect the law openly somehow becomes the government, anarchy may become the norm like what happened over there? The irony is that across town the government big-wigs went for a peaceful Hari Raya gathering with the ordinary people. They must be really impressed with your little side-show. Goes to show that dumbasses populate both side of the political divide.

You Don’t Eat Bean Curd You Say

It is amazing that many Westerners except those who claim they lead a vegetarian lifestyle look at a bean curd and goes blaargh. Well looking at the way bean curd is prepared in their non Eastern inspired recipes, is it any wonder. Can’t fault them though, they have been at it only so long. Even the avowed vegan hater Anthony Bourdain had to admit that the vegetarian meals prepared in India that he had were great on top of all the vegetables dishes he ate in his journeys across Asia. We have had enough time to work with soy beans to turn it into wondrous foods like tempe, miso paste, taucho paste and such so much so what is essentially a poor man’s substitute for meat, in this case specifically the bean curd, has been made into various dishes so palatable that to lead a vegetarian lifestyle is not a hardship existence. Known by variations of the name tow foo in Asia but in the Malay culture as tauhu or tahu in spelling, bean curds have been prepared in various forms from the semi liquid tow foo fah to my personal favourite fried. And these fried caked soy prevalent to the Malay region take the cake in my book, pun notwithstanding. Quite similar in preparation but more amazingly with interchangeable names between regions, they do differ enough in form and preparation to merit different nomenclatures. The sure thing is the origins of these dishes are again lost in time, so for a culture to claim it as exclusively theirs is an exercise in vanity.

Shall we start with the simplest of preparations, the stuffed bean curd or tauhu sumbat in Malay. This simply means frying up the bean curd, preferably the yellow firm variety, before cutting it into triangle halves and holing the middle for the stuffing. The stuffing itself can be as simple as a mix of julienned cucumbers and blanched bean sprouts sufficiently seasoned to more elaborate stuffing that can include carrots, mushrooms and scrambled eggs. Yes tauhu sumbat is quite similar to Nyonya Pie Tee(Top Hats), but you don’t need to make the casings. Nonetheless you can still find some tauhu sumbat being more elaborately prepared that its form can rival the pie tee. This usually originates from Indonesia and the ones served in the Indonesian Sundanese Restaurant chains are called Taupok , which is actually the Chinese name for pre-fried tow foo cakes usually used in curry noodles. It is also called tauhu kipas or fan tauhu though I can’t see why it is called that. Take a look at the picture and tell me where the resemblance to a fan is. This version’s filling is more elaborate and savoury that you do not need a sauce to dip in for me. Yet similar to the pie tee, the killer aspect to enjoy a tauhu sumbat is the dipping sauce and this is usually a chilli vinaigrette, and the best has a balanced hotness, sweetness and sourness taste to it. Nonetheless another nice way to enjoy tauhu sumbat is with a peanut sauce similar to satay sauce, but this needs some amount of preparation that may not commensurate to the preparation of the simple tauhu sumbat, so it is rarely prepared as such. The establishments that I find serves the sauce this way usually serves the sauce as a common sauce for their other offerings like prawn fritters and such, and may also serve the peanut sauce together with the chilli vinaigrette as a double dipping sauce option. The testament of the popularity of this tauhu sumbat that I can offer is that a major food company has even gone to the extend of trying to convince people to use their mayonnaise flavoured with curry powder as a contemporary dip, as I believe that their marketing research must have shown that their bottles of mayonnaise will fly off the shelves if the public takes the bait. I however doubt it will become common practise as the marriage of a creamy sauce with an already creamy bean curd is not really something made in heaven.

The next fried tauhu is actually grilled on a broiler hence its name tauhu bakar or broiled tow foo. However prefried pressed tauhu is used so that it can withstand the heat of the grill as soft tow foo will definitely lose its shape during grilling. The tauhu can be grilled over charcoal embers or an electric broiler as the purpose of grilling is to crispen the skin though charcoal grilling will provide more aroma. Prepared in various ways, this entails stuffing the grilled tauhu again with your choice of julienned vegetables and bean sprouts with a hot soy sauce caramel derived from dark soy sauce, white and brown sugar, crushed chillies, vinegar and prawn paste. The vegetables are either mixed in the caramel and stuffed in the tauhu as per the Chinese method or stuffed into cut up tauhu squares before the caramel sauce is poured on top. In this case the killer ingredient is the crushed fried peanuts that are poured onto the mix, giving a crunchy edge to the flavour. Some peddlers offer a special preparation with an additional ingredient, whereby strips of barbequed calamari strips is sandwiched inside the tauhu. The sweet chewy strips add an extra dimension to the overall taste when you bite into it, much like bacon strips in your typical burger. This surely is a case of an innovative food hawker improving on an already great tasting dish demonstrating that not only chefs know how to make a dish better.

A variation to this where the bean curd is not grilled is tauhu goreng or is also sometimes called rojak tauhu. Similar to a rojak buah or fruit rojak, firm bean curds are fried and cut up into bite sized bits before being again mixed with julienned cucumbers and blanched bean sprouts before a similar caramel soy sauce to those used for the tauhu baker is poured over the combination. The exception is that the caramel sauce is less caramelised in a thinner consistency and the crushed peanuts are already mixed in to the sauce, and may look similar to the petis based sauce used for fruit rojak. However the special ingredient that you rarely find even in fruit rojaks nowadays, that is the special prawn flavoured kueh, will add an extra zing to the dish if you can find it but I doubt any peddler will offer this in their tauhu goreng. But those prepared in my home must have this or the dish will not be complete. The problem is that usually half these prawn flavoured kueh will vanish into the mouth of the household kids while being fried even before the tauhu goreng is prepared. And this included me when I was a kid. And as you may have noticed, tauhu goreng is my most favoured dish amongst the three here. Thus it quite dismays me that this not a so common dish that is sold by food vendors due to its leceh (protracted) preparation, and I only personally know of two who has this dish on their menu. One is at the food court of Great Eastern Mall and the other that I accidentally found to my delight is at the My Mom’s Chicken Rice restaurant chain as it was listed as tauhu bakar but actually prepared as tauhu goreng. This may be due to the fact that most people are more familiar with the name tauhu bakar than tauhu goreng so they decided to use that name in order to attract people to try the dish. The one at the Great Eastern Mall is average tasting while the one at the Chicken Rice chain is a hit and miss affair, with the better prepared at the home restaurant in Ampang Point. Recently I found out from one of the local food blogs tauhu goreng is also available in Jalan Masjid India and looking at the account seems to be the real McCoy. A variation coming out from Singapore that used to be available in KLCC Suria Mall food court before their renovation is served in a tower form but I have not seen other local establishments serving this and it seems to be extinct. This version uses the eggy form of bean curd and tastes more custardy, so that may be the recent why it has not captured the local gourmands taste buds. Not only that, the portion is quite substantial to be eaten as a side dish as one piece is good enough for a personal meal. Whatever it is, there are still so many ways the tow foo is prepared that connoisseurs do not need to feel they are being left wanting.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Mandailing Chemor Highlighted

Indulge me as it isn't everyday one of my clan of my village is higlighted in the mainstream I wish I can get at that gulai daun ubi Tumbuk and Kuih makmur filled with pineapple the way she is my grand-auntie on my mother's side and auntie on my father's side. Strange? Not really since my dad married her distant niece.

Sunday November 4, 2007

Chemor is also home to the Mandailings, people who originally came from Sumatra and rose to prominence in many fields in their adopted land. IT was not just the Chinese who sought refuge and prosperity in Perak. The Mandailing people fled the 19th century wars of north Sumatra and found greener pastures here too. The palace of their leader Raja Bilah, at Papan (near Ipoh), is renowned, but the community has other cultural treasure troves too, such as the home of Noormiah Mohd Jamil, or Kak Nadimah, 62, at Kampung Batu 9, just outside Chemor.

Kak Nadimah’s heirlooms are preserved in her 19th century house which is a veritable museum.

The yellow-green wooden house with white curtains billowing amidst well-carved windows was built in the 1890s by her grandfather, Mohd Noor Barola, and still stands solidly even though the traffic on the old Ipoh-Kuala Kangsar trunk road just outside has changed from bullock carts to Perodua Myvi’s.

Inside, her family has lovingly preserved tekat, gold thread embroidery almost a century old, as well as her mother’s 1922 bridal chamber adorned with tikar langkat weavings.
She also shows us – a group on a heritage tour organised by the Perak Heritage Society – a lovely oil lamp with the inscription “Sherwood’s Birmingham” underneath.
“When my parents married in 1922, they had to get new everything – plates, bed and this lamp.”
When asked about her excellent English, she credits her education at Raja Perempuan English School, Ipoh.
“We would be fined five cents if we spoke anything other than English,” she recalls.
She was born in Chemor but her work in arbitration has taken her to Kuala Lumpur, though she makes it a point to return regularly to maintain the house.

Nadihah’s parents got this Birmingham oil lamp for their wedding in 1922.

Many other well-educated Mandailings of Chemor (including her cousin, the former Navy Vice-Admiral Mohd Zain Mohd Salleh) have, like her, moved to the cities.
“There were 20-plus Mandailing families here. The young have gone to work elsewhere. The elderly have either passed away or moved to the cities to join their children,” she says.
The grand old homes now have “caretaker” families, including more recent Indonesian arrivals, thus continuing the historical Nusantara migrations.
According to heritage activist Abdur-Razzaq Lubis who is of Mandailing descent (in previous articles in The Star), Mandailing irrigation techniques applied in the Kinta Valley of Perak enabled the community to produce a surplus of rice to feed the ever-growing Chinese mining population. The gold mines techniques of Sumatra were also applied successfully in the state's tin mines.
The Mandailings were embroiled in various 19th century wars in Selangor, Pahang and Perak after they arrived here, acquiring a reputation as rebels and insurgents. When they lost, some chose to conceal their identities by dropping their clan names.
In Perak, Lubis notes that they made a strategic decision to change sides and become British allies and were rewarded with mines, positions as tax collectors and lands (used for rubber and fruit orchard cultivation).
He notes that in both Indonesia and Malaysia, official efforts are being made to “incorporate” the Mandailing identity into the more mainstream Batak and Malay identities respectively. Some Mandailings have also chosen to assimilate themselves as Malays to “make things easier”.
He estimates there are roughly 50,000 Malaysians of Mandailing descent, including nationalist-educationist Aminuddin Baki, former Inspector-General of Police Tun Mohd Hanif Omar and former Supreme Court judge Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin.
As for Nadimah, while she is proud to be Malaysian, she is also proud of her roots. Many Mandailings keep detailed family tree records, and Nadimah has hers (going back three centuries, written in Jawi) proudly displayed in her home. After all, she is the great-great-grandniece of Raja Bilah, once the grand ruler of Papan.
Meanwhile, another kind of migration – the suburban sprawl of Ipoh city, whose advance guard is merely 5km away from her kampung – beckons.
For now, the semi-rural setting here still cocoons the home and its antiques, which includes solid wooden cupboards, a four-poster bed as well as teacups and glass jars (collected by her family from around the world).
“There are many offers to buy all these things but I have declined,” she says.
Nadimah prepares a splendid Hari Raya spread for us, including the Mandailing classic of daun ubi tembuk or mashed tapioca leaves, lush with bunga kantan, lemongrass and coconut milk flavours. For dessert, she makes excellent ghee-enriched kuih makmur (prosperous cookies) filled with pineapple jam.
Apart from antiques, it’s to lovely to know that heritage of the culinary kind is alive and well! – ANDREW SIA