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Archive for the ‘Malay’ Category

Kitkat Japan

I’ve seen pictures of the Maccha Green Tea Kitkat, popular in Japan, and I’ve always wanted to try it. Well, I almost jumped for joy when I saw it at an Asian supermarket.

And what made it even more convenient, the American distributor has stuck a small label listing the ingredients and nutritional value in English. Some of the ingredients listed included green tea powder, cocoa and vegetable oil.

Now for the sampling, to see how the matching of chocolate and green tea turns out.

I think it tastes more like a creamy dessert with a subtle fragrance, reminiscent of the green tea ice cream that I have had the chance to try on several occasions.

And rather strangely, the flavor and fragrance of the Green Tea Kitkat reminds me of pandan flavoring. Pandan is an extract from the pandanus leaf, and is used extensively in Malay and Indonesian desserts.

I do like this interesting Kitkat flavor. And best of all, these bars still have that famous, addictive Kitkat crunch.

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kacang botol winged bean

Ulam, raw vegetables and herbs is integral to Malay cuisine. On the right is winged bean/kacang botol, and part of the dipping sauce shown (at bottom right).

In this post, I would like to highlight an aspect of Malay cuisine – ulam, which is a version of Malay salad.

Ulam consists of a platter of raw vegetables and herbs, and may also include some that have been blanched. It is eaten with a sambal, a spicy chilli-based dipping sauce. Ulam is usually served as part of a rice based meal.

Kacang botol, the green bean shown above is one of my favorites. It has a lovely combination of a crunchy texture and a mildly creamy taste.

Kacang means bean in Malay, and botol means bottle. I’m not sure why it is so named; must be an interesting anecdote somewhere. Incidentally, it is known as winged bean in English, perhaps named after its uniquely shaped edges. Well, it seems like the bean encouraged people to be quite poetic in naming it.

The bean plant grows as a vine, and it is said to be a good source of vitamin A.

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book Hamzah Hussin

My father’s passion was reading. Our favorite weekend activity as a family was to visit the newsstand to buy magazines.

 

hamzah hussin book

My father’s short stories will be republished soon by Fixi Retro.

I’m lucky to come from a family that loved books and writing.

My grandfather loved poetry and owned a small second hand bookshop in Singapore. My late father Hamzah Hussin, helped him in the shop as a young boy, and he grew up to become a figure in the Malay literary world.

My father became a journalist and writer, penning and publishing short stories and novels.  He then joined Cathay Keris Organisation, one of the pioneer studios that produced Malay films, as a scriptwriter/ public relations officer. He later went to live in Malaysia to continue to contribute to the film industry and also to teach at FINAS Film Academy.

He was always generous with his knowledge, and I knew that he cherished the opportunity to teach, and the interaction with the students and their ideas.

Most of the Malay films of his era are still widely viewed, and thus my father’s screenplays are still intact. However, some of his literary works are not so readily available.

The good news is that Amir Muhammad, Malaysia’s well-known author, filmmaker and publisher, has located three of my father’s published short stories and has compiled them into a book. Amir and his company Fixi Retro will launch the book on November 21 at Ilham’s Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

I feel very grateful and pleased to share my father’s work with more people, and I’m sure he would be too.

If you’re in Malaysia or Singapore, I would like to invite you to the launch. Amir will also talk about Malay movies in the 60s at the event. More details on the event and the venue are at this page.

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Ramadan bazaar Geylang

Carpets galore…for every room in the house.

hari raya baju kurung

Dressed up….a stall selling baju kurung, the traditional Malay costume for women.

The Ramadan bazaar in Geylang Serai, the Malay district in Singapore, has made its yearly appearance again. In time for shoppers preparing for the coming Eid festival, or Hari Raya as it is known in Malay.

One can find a variety of goods including traditional Malay costumes and festive cookies. Malays are said to be houseproud, and household goods such as carpets and silk flowers take centrestage, ready to spruce up the house and to welcome the visitors.

Selamat Hari Raya; Eid Greetings.

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sheila majid songs

The month of May began with a unique musical note.

Sheila Majid, Malaysia’s jazz diva was in Los Angeles last weekend to give a concert celebrating her 30-year mark in the music scene. Sheila is very popular in many countries in South East Asia, and some of her hits are considered modern classics of Malay music.

I’ve always liked her songs, especially her hits in the 1990s. So I made it a point to be at her performance. She gave a great show, singing her greatest numbers that the audience came to hear, plus segments paying tribute to musicians who have inspired her including Michael Jackson.

Sitting in the theater, listening to her belting out her hits, while the chandelier lights on the stage threw prisms of pink and purple rays, at times I felt that I was in an emotional-dreamy space or some kind of a time tunnel.

You see, In the 1990s, I was living and working in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. And her songs brought me back there.

I was very fortunate to get a career as a feature writer for a daily newspaper in Kuala Lumpur, and those years were among the best working years of my life. To me, there’s nothing like the energy and atmosphere of a newsroom. We always get the news first. I met people from all walks of life, seen many places, while on assignments.

I was in charge of a number of columns including art and women’s issues, and I had great bosses who gave me the independence and trust to manage the columns with minimal interference. I worked with a group of interesting colleagues, and out of this, several life-long friendships have developed.

At that time, my father was still alive and living in Kuala Lumpur as well. He was also a journalist, (he preferred the word ‘newspaperman’) in his younger days. Now that we shared the same profession, we had a lot more to share, discuss, even argue. And I learnt a lot from him.

One of her songs that Sheila sang that night was Aku Cinta Padamu which means “I love you”. It’s a beautiful ballad about a woman who wonders how many times or ways she has to convince a man that she loves him while he remains unsure. It brought a crystal clear memory of a morning ride on the bus, on my way to the newspaper office.

(At the time when I was riding the Metro buses in the city, the driver often had piped in music throughout the bus. Usually it would be from a radio station, the medley of songs entertaining him as well as the passengers on the commute.)

That morning, Aku Cinta Padamu was played by the radio DJ. I was going through the break-up of a long term relationship. And hearing that song, the tears just flowed down. I was both sad and embarassed, quickly trying to wipe the tears, hoping that the passengers who were standing in the bus would not see my meltdown.

But on the whole, the 90s were good years. I actually had seen Sheila performed in Malaysia when she had been invited to sing at a product launch event that I had to cover. In that time between her performance in Kuala Lumpur and this one in Los Angeles, some threads of my life have changed, and some have not. I guess that’s life.

Ah,….songs. They do have their special way of transporting you back to the past.

And so, to everyone who have been a part of the journey, of my years in Kuala Lumpur, thank you for the life experiences and the memories.

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hari raya food

Encik Aziz displaying his cooked ketupat in a manner that reminds me of my childhood kampung home.

Shopping for Eid, or Hari Raya as it is known in Malay, is in full swing in Geylang Serai, the Malay district in Singapore. In the last few days of Ramadan, the stores and bazaar offer almost everything in preparation for the celebrations.

As I wander around, I take in the colors. I see things new and things traditional. Festive food sold includes ketupat, rice dumplings eaten with meat dishes and a variety of sauces.

It takes a lot of work to prepare the ketupat from scratch – the way my grandmother and grandaunt did. We all helped, too, with the various tasks.

It starts with buying stalks of young coconut leaves. The leaves are woven into pouches using age-old techniques. The pouches are then partly filled with rice, and sealed. The final stage, the cooking, requires boiling the ketupat for at least four hours till the rice expands to a nicely firm texture.

It’s good that some people are selling the ketupat in various stages of preparation, providing that convenience for many households.

I come across Encik (Mr in Malay) Aziz selling fully prepared ketupat. Stop by for a little chat, and convey my respect for folks like him who keep our traditional foods and arts alive in the face of changing times.

I smile at the way he stores the ketupat – hanging on a pole. My grandmother used to do that in our kampung or childhood home. I really don’t know why, but as a kid, I loved the sight of the wooden pole laden with ketupat hanging in our kitchen.

Memories come rushing back: the ketupat and food prepared by my grandmother’s loving, meticulous hands, enjoyed by our extended family every festive season.

Selamat Hari Raya. Happy Eid.

hari raya feasting

Ready-made ketupat pouches at the Geylang Serai Market.

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JB Book Festival

Danga Bay – the scenic setting of the JB Writers and Readers Festival.

I had an enjoyable time at the JB Writers and Readers Festival held recently in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

The setting was the beautiful Danga Bay, where the water and its fluidity seemed to throw its reflection on the event. In addition, as many of the festival’s participating writers, musicians and publishers were indie folks, the vibe was friendly and casual.

The audience had interesting questions at my session where I discussed my book “Kampung Memories”, which revolves around the Malay kampungs (villages) that are now gone from Singapore’s high-rise landscape. An audience member pointed out that several kampungs have had to make way for development in Johor, and we discussed the need for documenting the social history of these places.

After that, a duo came on stage, and they rendered a Singapore Malay folk song “DiTanjong Katong”. I was very touched by this gesture.

On the whole, the organizer Tok Rimau, his team and the volunteers did a great job, and I look forward to see what they have in store next year.

Sharifah Hamzah

The host Widda (right) and members of the audience had several insightful questions for me to discuss.

JB Writers and Readers Festival

Nam Ron, one of Malaysia’s most interesting playwrights and film makers, with his books at the festival.

JB Writers and Readers Festival 2013

The duo performed a lovely rendition of a Singapore Malay folk song.

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