Sunday, May 30, 2010


I had invited my parents to Miri and they landed here in the second week of December. We picked them from airport and my father was excitedly sharing his vocabulary of two Malay words masuk and keluar which he picked during his transit in Kuala Lumpur. They found a particular experience in the flight quite amusing. The airlines had served rice for breakfast. Both my mum and dad found it so surprising that during all their calls to India from here this was one piece of information they shared with everybody. I was immediately reminded of my first visit to Miri.
I still remember the quizzical look all of us had on our faces when we saw rice being served during our breakfast on our flight to Malaysia. The item served was nasi lemak. We found it very difficult to digest the thought that people were eating rice in the wee hours of the morning. We ate our nasi lemak finding the whole experience amusing. We never know then that we would ourselves be relishing it often later.
Back at my home, rice is only served during lunch and dinner times. In fact, rice is considered a heavy food to be eaten so early and hence is served in the afternoons when our body has already stretched a bit. The next fifteen days we had more surprises in store when we entered the restaurant. During our stay at a hotel we saw nasi lemak and many more varieties of fried rice, rice porridges being served as part of daily breakfast buffet. It took me few months to get adjusted to this fact. I still did not know what other surprises I had in store.
The Grand Palace hotel where we were staying the first fortnight was surrounded by various small eateries. I decided to go around for a walk as I was feeling fresh after my first night's sleep in Miri. It was 7 in the morning. I had barely walked few steps and was amazed to see families sitting in large numbers around round tables, happily chatting and eating early in the morning. I presumed that some sort of private celebration or function was going on as so many families were sitting and eating together. This custom is observed in India during weddings or parties. I had walked back to my hotel room and narrated to my daughter that I couldn’t continue my walk as there was some function going on.

Next day morning I religiously wore my trainers deciding to go for my morning walk. I found the same scene again. I was dumbstruck. How ignorant was I. I never knew this was a very common custom which I would be seeing daily henceforth. Back home in India one would never see people stepping out in such large numbers so early in the morning and that too single women stepping out so early to eat out. Even today it’s not a common practice for a single woman to eat out alone. I observed many single women eating busily. I was still letting this cultural shocks set in when I found another one coming shortly on my way.

We were invited to an office dinner at a big hotel and there was huge spread of lovely food. After the entire dinner was over, we were dismayed to see waiters handing over empty plastic boxes to every guest present. The waitress handed us too and we were standing wondering what to do with empty boxes. Suddenly I saw the entire guest list happily walking towards the remaining food, filling their boxes with it. We were shell shocked, since this would be considered completely outrageous in India. We were feeling too embarrassed to pick up any food and returned back the boxes. People were insisting us to tapao. We did not know then what the term tapao meant. We came back home thinking that maybe it’s an office dinner and people were ensuring that office money does not go wasted. I did not know that this is a very common practice and after that at every gathering we went every meal be followed by tapao time.
The most heartening surprise was restaurants never close during the day here and any food is available throughout the day and dinners are eaten quite early in Malaysia. In Indian restaurants breakfast is served from 7 to 11, lunch from 12 to 3 and dinner from 7 to 10. We were so happy that we could eat as many times we wished and at any time during the day here.
How I wish we in India could imbibe all these Malay customs of tapaoing remaining food, being adaptable to serve food any time of the day and eating rice during any meal of the day. I am enjoying myself thoroughly adapting these new Malysian food habits.

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