Here In My Home - Malaysian Artistes For Unity

Monday, 7 January 2008

Malay Cuisine is Healthy! Really!

My wife recently made me my favourite Malay salad, tauhu goreng after I mentioned that I had a craving for this dish that is actually simple to make but no longer makes regular appearances at even my mom’s kitchen table. And looking at how my father in law loved it especially the special flour fritters that he said he never tasted before got me thinking. If an eighty three year old man could have forgotten a dish that symbolises his Javanese descent, then how much more would an ordinary Malay nowadays would have not only forgotten his culinary roots but may not even know his culinary roots in this age of fast and convenient cooking, especially in this age of fast and convenient cooking. Luckily the recipe appears in one of Chef Wan’s cookbooks, or otherwise my wife would have had a hard time digging out the recipe from my sisters as my mom actually may not remember all the ingredients and measurements, as she is a cook of the old school where recipes of a dish is a bit of this and that.

Despite the bad press that Malay cuisine usually gets as a gravy choked coconut milk laden calorific dishes, represented best by the ubiquitous modern nasi lemak that now comes with a multitude of fattening side dishes, the healthiness of traditional Malay cuisine are actually quite similar to other cultural diets even the so called balanced diet. It is just that the current way Malay dishes are prepared especially in the nasi campur or mixed rice configuration may have inadvertently left out the balanced part of the meal, usually for the sake of convenience. A prime example is the Malay salads that consist of the aforementioned tauhu goreng, gado-gado, urap, kerabu, pecal and even the simple salada. See how simple it was for me to roll off six types of Malay salads and that does not even include the regional specialties like jelatah and achar. Tell me how easy is it for you to partake in any of this salad when you have a Malay meal nowadays. Actually difficult right.

It is the same thing with the soup course. Why do we only have soup when we eat at Siamese stalls? I have wondered why oxtail soup being promoted internationally as being Siamese as it is with their various tom yam variations until it dawns on you that the oxtail soup may actually be Siamese Patani style and who are these Patanis actually but of Malay stock too. So what happened to the spicy Malay soups of chicken, fish that even includes fish heads, beef, ribs, mutton and even the sourish soups like pindang? For one they do take time to prepare but more importantly do not really lend themselves to the normal style of mix rice presentation as they are difficult to keep warm. Soups are also difficult to match to the repertoire of the mostly sambal or gravy based dishes that are offered as lauk for a typical Malay meal seating. Thus is that Malay soups are fated to be relegated only to be eaten as sotos and lontongs or paired only with noodles.

Now remember that flour fritters for the tauhu goreng that I mentioned before? It needs a special method to fry so that you get a chewy centre with crispy edges that when you cracked it over the tauhu goreng, you get a variety of textures. But truthfully who really bothers to take the trouble when they cook nowadays. So is it any wonder that you may find components within a dish being left out, what more from a meal itself. Fess up! Discounting a Malay meal at an upscale restaurant or hotel buffet, who can actually say they had an easy time to pair their meal with a soup or salad. That is even if you can find these dishes being served at all, and not cold as is usually the case. Furthermore, when was the last time you can find an ulam tray of at least kacang botol, petai or pegaga, and fresh bouncy ones at that? Is it any wonder that we overload our plates with the more popular fat laden dishes instead? We have forgotten that our forefathers obtained longevity not only with cardio vascular work but also with their herbs and spice mix to balance out their gravy intake as their elixir of life. No need to look for any fountain of youth for them.

The sad thing is that it is not only the Malays that seem to be discarding their eating heritage. It has become similarly as rare to find the flour fritters in rojak buah even in Penang cuisine restaurants, as it is rasam and raita from Indian restaurants, especially the mamak establishments. Have we discarded the healthy part of the Malay cuisine in our rush for quickie and easy to make meals. I suspect that the Chinese are at least trying to defend their heritage but for us who patronise the Malay and Mamak stalls for our daily lunch and maybe even dinner as a major part of our diet, we may have already forsaken the real balanced diet of our ancestors for a healthy living. No wonder we are putting on the pounds!

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