Wednesday, February 16, 2005

From hand to Mouth to.......

From Hand to Mouth to……….

This is my theory on why the Malays and Indians do not use chopstick when eating. In China, the weather is very cold in winter. When they cook their food, it is hot and had to be kept very hot in the cold winter air. It was not possible to use your fingers to retrieve the food – be it porridge, rice, fish or vegetables. So, the best way to get the food was to use the available sticks or bamboos. With one stick / bamboo you can poke the fish /meat /vegetables but you cannot scoop the porridge or rice. Two sticks will be required to pick the food or to shovel it to the mouth. Instead of putting your two fingers to pick up the food, two sticks were better. By the time the food travel from the pot to the mouth, the food was cooled by the air and it is just nice to chew and swallow.
The availability of lots of bamboos in China made it the ideal material for the chopstick. The Europeans had no bamboos but they had other woods and they have to carve it into fork and spoon. It represented the open fingers (check your fork, they always have five fingers- at least mine is) and the closed fingers (spoon/ladle). It is difficult to cut the flesh /meat so you have to hold it. Holding with the fingers is too hot and therefore, the wood carved instruments is used. So, for different purpose, different implements were used by the European. That’s why you have to have an armory of eating implements to the left and right of the plate. The Chinese were more practical where the two chop sticks have multipurpose use – they even use it to catch the flies and to pick up coins besides to poke to the enemy’s eyes during the kungfu fighting.
In the tropical and desert region, the weather is relatively hot and there is no need to eat your food when it is hot unless you want to get you tongue scalded. . Therefore, they waited to cool a bit and there is no need for the fork knife, chopstick since you can use the natural fingers to pick, tear, and put it in your mouth. The palm can be cupped to gather the grain /rice and push it into your mouth. So the Malays and Indians in Malaysia are heating from their hands.
However, you have to be careful to eat with which hand – left or right hand? So there is an etiquette of the use of hand – you don’t shake with the left hand (except Baden Powel- Colin Powell’s cousin –Baden Powell attacked the Zulus and killed thousand of them while Collin Powell attacked the Iraqi during the Desert Storm and also killed thousand), you don’t hand other things to others with the left hand, However, at times you drink water with your left hand holding the glass. . If you’re using fork and spoon or chopstick, then you right hand is clean- and you can hold the glass and drink. However, if you’re eating in the traditional Malay style – your right hand will be dirtied with rice, gravy and to use it to hold the glass to drink will be bad. So you use your left hand to drink and your left hand to hold the spoon to cedok the lauk. So when you are attending a Malay kenduri, don’t bother what your next chair guest say, the glass on you left is yours.
However, the left hand is used just for other specific purpose .i.e. at the toilet or bath room. Sometimes, we keep wondering why left hand and water is used and not toilet paper. Perhaps, the same theory of cold weather holds where you don’t use the cold water to pour over yours.


LAKSEGANU (Malaysian) vs. LASAGNA (Italian)
There is a delicious Malaysian noodles dish which is known as Laksa Johor. The laksa is made of spaghetti and the gravy is made of fish meat preferably ikan tenggiri or economically ikan kembong or the mixture of the two cooked in santan. The vegetables garnishing for the laksa are cucumber, kesum. Pineapple, sliced onion, etc. So far, the instant noodle companies have not made instant laksa johor yet since these fresh ulams are difficult to be “instantized”!!
Being a Trenganuan, I don’t agree with the assigning of the name Johor to that particular laksa. It should be generically called laksa lemak (or laksa kuah lemak). The laksa of Trengganu which I would like to officially call lakseganu (short for Lakse Gganu and almost similar to the Italian lasagna) is the same as laksa johor in terms of the laksa, kuah and ulam etc. In fact, the lakseganu is more fresh and elaborated prepared. The laksa is made of either rice or wheat flour. The rice laksa is usually freshly made with a brass cylinder extruder known as gebok laksa tembaga (its technical name is BCNE = Brass Cylindrical Noodle Extruder). The art of making the laksa is very interesting but with the advent of the dried laksa (originally from Thailand), this art had vanished.
The feedstock material used for the laksa is rice flour (tepung beras) –which is more valued in East Coast because it is more difficult to make. On the other hand, the laksa tepung is made from wheat flour which is considered as the inferior version. They don’t fancy the laksa tepung so much since it is cepat muok.
How is the lakseganu made? The instrument needed to make fresh laksa beras ( lakse berah) are a gebok tembaga ( using the duck penis screw press), a buaya ,a lesong numbok hok dalang , piring lubbang, a kayu mutor, a kawoh, many badang or talang, the daun paku pakis ( fern). The rice is pounded into fine powder and the flour is made into “dough” and wrapped in banana leaves to be boiled. Then the cooked rice dough is again pounded in the lesong (wooden pastel) before stuffing it into the gebok. The gebok had a screw press which squeezes the cooked rice dough into long noodles through a piring (a metal sheet with lots of holes). The most interesting part of the equipment is the screw press is called the “duck penis “in Malay appropriately termed so due to its shape and its movement into the cylinder. The gebok is placed onto a fitting hole of a 4 inches wooden plank known as buaya (not buaya 69). The shape and the size of the thick wooden platform/plank which look like a crocodile explained the term used. A long wooden pole is inserted at the end of the screw press which is used as a lever to turn it.
So you have to push the wooden pole (by going round and round the bunya) to twirl around the screw press which presses the cooked rice dough over holed metal sheet to extricate the laksa. Below the gebok, there is a big kawoh of boiling water into which the pressed laksa is dropped to be cooked. When the laksa is cooked, it is scooped out into woven bamboo or metal tray (badang/talang). For serving the laksa, it is made by into a bundle of elongated curl strand known as chat and then placed on the fern leaves on the tray. (I suppose the women folk were chatting around when they use their nimble fingers to chat the laksa and that’s why they are called chat) This art of making laksa is almost gone now gone but we can still imagine the whole as a miniature version when they make putu mayam /putu mayong in the kitchen.
The laksa is served in chats and you can take one or two chats per serving with the vegetable garnishing and flavouring. . In serving lakseganu, the salt, chili and belacan are grounded separately and served separately). The eater will have the option to add them according to their taste – whether you like it salty, chilly hot, creamy ( lemak) or very belacany (Not as the laksa johor in which all those condiments are combined together into sambal belacan) The vegetable garnishing or the vegetable salad that goes with the laksa ( known in English as laksalad ) are daun kesum, ulam raja, daun kemangi, daun selasih, daun kadok, tauge, etc. My habit is to take as much belacan as possible and spread over the laksa like grated cheese. Somebody once commented that I should not do it that way – its not cheese. I replied that it is the most appropriate way to eat laksa using Malaysian cheese.
To get the full taste of lakseganu, it should not be eaten with fork and spoon but with your bare fingers and clean cut fingernails Can you imagine the pleasure that you derived by pressing (ramas) your laksa in the thick gravy with your finger with the belacan aroma and kesom leaf smell, and then putting it into your mouth. Ummphhhh Sedaaap nya. Once when I was eating the laksa Johor in a porch restaurant in KL in that natural manner, the waiters and other diners looked with much disapproval. I told the waitress that I was eating Malaysian laksa lah (lakseganu) not the Italian lasagna!!! I planned to do the same thing the next time I have spaghetti at the Italian Restaurant in Via Veneto in Rome, Italy – to follow the Malay proverbs “Bila anda di Rome, jangan buat apa orang Italy buat”
There are two type of gravy ( kuoh) for lakseganu . Kuoh metoh – The gravy is prepared “on the rock” without cooking - made of white, raw santan, black pepper, onion and finely grounded grilled fish meat eaten with the same garnishing and ingredient. Kuoh metoh may not agree with some sensitive stomach (perut plastik) since they may get kembung perok . The other lakseganu gravy is the kuoh masok. It is prepared the same way as laksa johor gravy except that it is more yellowish and not dark brown as in laksa johor. Perhaps, lakseganu do not use much nyior gula or gerisek (burnt coconut)
There are 5 versions of lakseganu i.e. laksa beras + kuah mentah ; laksa beras + kuah masak; laksa tepong +kuah mentah , laksa tepong + kuah masak and finally, the laksam +kuah mentah . (By the way, laksam is the Ganu Kuetiau). If you like it to be like laksa penang , you can use kuoh ikang singgang pedas. I suppose that’s why they cannot call laksa lemak as Laksa Trengganu since there are so many varieties and combination, and the laksa johor is only one version or a subset of laskeganu. However, when you are enjoying eating keropok goreng with cicoh at the Batu Buruk stalls and you feel like having a plate of laksa, please don’t ask for one laksa. They will fry ten thousand pieces (10,000) of keropok for you which you cant eat all of them.

credit card 555

Credit Card “555 ”

The Campong Credit Card (KKK – Kredit Kad Kampong) had been used since a long time ago in Malaysia. That before the coming of Visa Card , Master Card, , Cart Blanc, Ala Carte, American Express , or KL-KT Ekspres, etc. It was the advance method of spending on credit by the rural and town folk in those days... The rural folks who were mainly rubber tappers, small farmers and fishermen are the main users of the Malaysian KKK. It was also used by the town folks especially among the factory workers, lorry drivers etc. Among the rubber smallholders and to her agricultural produce and fishermen, they have to sell their rubber smoke sheet (RSS) to the village shop who acted as the supplier of provisions and all other daily needs.

So, these rural folks always opened their accounts with the KKK centre provision shop owners who will sell their produce to them. Upon the sale of their produce, the account will be contra at the need of the month- leaving some cash which the man will bring the family to eat out rojak or mee goring in the nearby town what is in the shopping list for the provision shop in the nearby town? rice from the jute sack with green lining, or wrapped in thick brown paper, flour by the white khaki gunnies, tin of biscuits, pucuk ( fu chuk) , bilis , dried fish and dried sotong and salted eggs. These were the main provisions – that will be brought back in the trishaw together with the passengers.

It also happened at the regular coffee shop, gerai teh tarik, work place canteens etc. They took their breakfast, tea break, brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, high tea and tell the canteen owner “ Masuk Akaun. “ No need to produce your card. No need to sign or check up your credit reference. Just mentioned your name and it is all done and the best of all no need to check whether it is the entry into the right book. Since you don’t have to pay in cash – you will order large amount of food i.e. Roti canai, roti telur jantan, roti telur betina, nasi lemak, roti bakar kaya kawin mentiga, empat biji telur separuh masak. – a very sumptuous breakfast. However, when full moon comes and their monthly pay comes and the 555 Note Book comes, then they asked themselves how come no money this month? The food order for that day was off the regular menu - only nasi kosong with telur mata kerbau and air suam.

One day I was in a supermarket with a push cart load of provisions. I joined a long queue of patient shoppers with full load of provisions too. When it came to my turn, the cashier said that the counter was for credit card only. It was my mistake not noticing the sign of credit card. However, after waiting for half an hour, I was trying to pay cash at the counter but the tiller refused. So I commented sarcastically and loudly “jadi kaunter ini untuk orang berhutang sahaja – Bayar cash tak boleh lah. Her answer was “bukan hutang Encik counter ini beli secara kredit sahaja.” Obviously, she did not really understand the meaning of credit (I hope with the teaching of English in Maths and Science in the school, many of our younger generations will understand the meaning of the word credit. I said loudly again “ kredit tu hutang lah – barisan ini untuk orang yang berhutang lah” and made my way to join another long queue at the next counter The other shoppers queuing on the line get annoyed since I told them that they cannot pay cash and have to berhutang. The connotation was different when you buy on credit as compared berhutang, I was my mistake looking for the cashier thinking that I can pay cash but some of them were creditors counter. I propose that instead of labeling the counter as cashier , credit card, the shopping complex and supermarket should labeled it in Bahasa Melayu Malaysia as “BAYAR TUNAI “and “HUTANG”.