Malaysian food is an integral part of our identity

HURIN EIN
31 Aug 2022 08:25am
close up of ketupat with people eating dinner on the background. focus on ketupat or rice cake. eid mubarak celebration fasting
close up of ketupat with people eating dinner on the background. focus on ketupat or rice cake. eid mubarak celebration fasting
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It was probably some time in 2018 when the whole nation banded together to fight against the atrocity of the “crispy rendang”.

One of the judges from the well-known cooking competition Masterchef UK said on television that Malaysian-born Zaleha Kadir Olpin’s chicken rendang should have a crispy skin.

That comment catalysed a massive wave of rage by Malaysians calling out the judge ignorant for not knowing dishes of other cultures despite being a big name in the culinary world.

In light of Independence Day, it needs to be understood that a comment such as “rendang ayam should have crispy skin” was not just a simple comment to Malaysians, but equal to an offence to our heritage, culture and identity.

Malaysia was colonised by the British for nearly two centuries and within those long years, a lot of essence from our land had been stripped by the colonisers.

From territory to raw materials and political power, what left is there besides our identity?

And safeguarding our food is one of the avenues to preserve our heritage, culture and identity.

Through food, we can identify how a nation is represented.

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Recalling the ‘crispy rendang’ incident, the judges felt it was more suitable for the chicken to have a crispy skin because it was inculcated deep within their cultural practice to fry their chicken.

This is the opposite of the Malaysian cultural practices where our chicken cuisines are not limited to frying them to a crisp but also preparing them ways where the meat will be tender after hours of cooking.

This method of cooking has been inherited from our ancestors to the younger generations to signify that “this is our way, this is how we cook our chicken”.

Having our chicken soft in contrast to the western way of having it crispy does not mean we are eating chicken the wrong way.

It just means we are eating chicken our way, the Malaysian way.

So when an outsider, unknown to our culture says that the soft skin of chicken rendang is wrong, it feels similar to dismissing our history and culture.

What's more that Malaysians hold chicken rendang very dearly in our hearts.

To most Malaysians, chicken rendang signifies both celebration and comfort.

It is a traditional dish that most households will prepare for Eidul Fitri, one of the most anticipated yearly events, especially for Malaysian Muslims.

Thus, cuisines like chicken rendang are not merely a cuisine, it is deeply attached to our culture that it becomes odd to not eat chicken rendang on the first day of Eid.

Besides identity, food also plays an important role to unite the people within the multicultural setup like Malaysia.

People of different backgrounds may disagree on many things but it’s hard to disagree on good food.

Despite the differences, Malaysians regardless of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazan, Iban, Dayak and more can come together and bond over our similar interest in good food.

When everyone comes together, our food becomes a symbol to promote pleasant inter-ethnic relations and simultaneously produce peace and harmony as a whole.

Curry laksa - 123RF Photo
Curry laksa - 123RF Photo

A famous dish that represents the harmonisation of differences in Malaysia can be seen in the curry laksa where elements of Malay, Chinese and Indian culture are mixed to produce a well-loved cuisine by all Malaysians.

The fusion contains herbs from the Malay cooking practice while noodles are incorporated from Chinese cooking and curry, a signature of Indian cuisine.

The fact that these elements could be united to make one of the most iconic dishes in Malaysia signifies that the same thing could be done to the people of Malaysia.

Every single cuisine has a special significance of its own.

Although the social and political climate of Malaysia experienced changes since our independence, one thing remains - Malaysians will always have a tremendous love for their food.

With Merdeka and Malaysia Day can two weeks, we should always have a stronghold of our identity, even to the smallest detail of how we prepare our food.