Qazi Mamoon Ashraf: It is time for lunch. It is time to leave all the (fake) studying and hop into the canteen, look around for food, and then get busy. Lunch time is always a relief in Malaysia , unlike in Kashmir, where a similar relaxing time exists for the whole day. Luckily I see lots of rice and lots of chicken as well. I can’t live without rice! I can eat it bland, I can eat it raw, I can eat it for lunch, and I can eat it for breakfast. I buy myself a chicken-rice combo for RM 3.50.
We all have someone in the family, very fond of rice. Lovingly we call that person, a BateJinn. Also, lovingly, many of the people around me have a similar term for me. Kashmiris have always had a liking for rice and that’s one of the reasons that many Kashmiris have been able to survive in Malaysia and all over the world. A Kashmiri can’t live without rice. There is absolutely no substitute, no matter how much carbohydrate a Kashmiri consumes, he hasn’t eaten until he has smelled the aroma of rice. No matter how many Choche (bread), a person entombs inside his tummy, he hasn’t eaten until he gets a few grains of rice.
Rice is the staple food in Malaysia as in most countries in the region like Thailand and Singapore. There is rice for lunch, there is more rice for dinner, and there is also rice in the morning. No kidding. Luckily I am here in Malaysia. I can have rice anytime I want.
I usually start my rice carnival in the morning with a popular dish called Nasi Lemak, which is roughly translated as Fatty Rice. It is rice steamed with coconut milk to lend it a special fragrance, and served with fried peanuts, sliced cucumber, hard boiled eggs, and a spicy chili paste and sometimes a chicken drumstick. Nasi Lemak is often called the national dish, and is usually eaten in the morning (which explains why many people in Malaysia are obese but doesn’t explain why I am still thin after eating the fat filled meal every day.)
Going the other way round, I have tried my best to explain the Wazwan to the locals. I refer to it as the ‘Kashmiri Cuisine’ which has absolutely no resemblance to Mughal, Indian or Pakistani food. I don’t know how much of that statement is true, but it is always a special feeling to be recognized as someone with a unique food culture. I carry pictures of Kashmiri weddings and Wazwan in my cell phone, and am ready to shove the images on someone’s face, if required.
Moving on, there is a weird fruit very popular in Malaysia. Let me tell you about durian, it’s a large fruit with a hard outer shell and a characteristic odour. As the Malays say, “It smells like hell, but it tastes like heaven”. Enough said. In my maiden visit to Singapore, I noticed they had put up signs in their transit systems, as well as some malls. The signs said, “Durian Not Allowed”. Well, primarily because they know it smells like hell and the stink stays for hours. I have smelled it, tasted it and felt it. Lucky me!
In Kashmir, we have the concept of “Chai”. Morning and afternoon, people of all ages, relish it. I think Kashmir is the only place where we have a salted version of the famous drink. The word for tea is more or less “Chai” in Russian, Swahili, Thai, Japanese, Arabic, Greek, Mongolian, Persian, Turkish and Portuguese. Coincidence? Apparently some brown aliens came with the drink thousands of years ago and introduced it to the inhabitants of the earth. The same aliens didn’t like us Kashmiris and gave us a salted version also; to make the people die of high blood pressure.
People in Malaysia are also into tea. It is the normal sweet version, which many of us refer to as “Liptop Chai”. It is called “Teh Tarik”, translated as pulled tea. It is called so because it highlights the special way of making the tea. They literally pull the tea from one cup into the other. More like how my aunt makes “lassi” out of curd.
Malaysia is a hot country, and naturally, there is a high consumption of fluids to replenish the salts and hydration. An interesting concept here is the one of “Bungkus” or ‘take-away’.
If you wish to purchase any drink, the seller will ask you whether you want to have the drink on the spot or as a ‘take-away’.
Malay food is popular, and has many different kinds of regional sub-cuisines based. An awesome thing is that meat in Malaysia is Halal. I would like to take this opportunity to point out to our Kashmiri Muslim community that the chicken isn’t Halal at the KFC outlets in Delhi, or in any other part of India; at least not in City-Walk mall. If you think it is, check with manager of the outlet. But well, this is the Aakhir Zamaan, the manager can even lie to you. Why would he tell that the bird is not halal and lose a customer?
Interestingly, in Malaysia they have something called as “Kashmiri Prawns”. Upon enquiry, the restaurants responded that the prawns are cooked in a way how the Kashmiris cook it. Strange! I think I will tell my mom to cook one next time and publish the recipe.