Tuak (too-wak) is a popular Iban rice wine made from glutinous rice and homemade yeast. It’s normally made for Gawai or the Harvest Festival, held every year on the 1st of June. Traditionally, it’s not commercially made, rather each household would make their own based on a family recipe handed down through generations.
If you visit any longhouse in Sarawak, it’s traditional to be served tuak as a welcome drink. However, be ready, there’ll be several people holding out the glasses as tuak to welcome you, not just one. And as a guest, you’re obliged to drink every glass offered.
Recently, my sister in New Zealand tried to make her own batch of tuak and I’m happy to report that it almost tastes as authentic as the tuak our mother makes. The difference was the yeast she used and that she replaced glutinous rice with sushi rice.
If you’re ever in this part of the world, go ahead and give tuak a try!
When you hear the word sarong, this is probably what you imagine –
However, here in Malaysia, this is what we refer to when we hear the word sarong –
When I was younger, I remember my dad going around the house in the evenings, wearing a sarong and a white t-shirt. At the time, the sarong was also his pyjamas. Depending on the weather, he’d either keep the white t-shirt on, or just go shirtless.
It’s perfectly acceptable to wear a sarong and a t-shirt while out and about in the neighbourhood. Muslim men wear them on the way to the mosque for prayers too, so it’s not an unusual sight. I’ve even seen sarongs being worn by ladies in the neighbourhood as they sweep up the leaves from their front yard. I’ve even worn a sarong to sleep before but stopped because I kept getting tangled up in the cloth!
The motif on the sarong that men wear are typically plain and checkered while the motif on the sarong women wear have flowers and other details plucked from nature.
Roti translates into bread. And like newspapers, we can get our bread delivered to our house via our roti man.
The roti man would deliver bread to homes and hang them on the gates. If you didn’t want any bread that day or for the next few days, you hang a sign outside your gate “No bread today!”
These days though, not many homes get their bread from the roti man, preferring instead to just head to the shops to get their own. Despite the decreasing popularity of the roti man delivering bread to homes, he’s not in danger of being extinct anytime soon. Nowadays, roti man 2.0 goes to schools or home renovation sites to sell bread and everything else that hangs on the back of his motorcycle.
Qingming, or Ching Ming, was on April 4th this year. This festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day or Chinese All Soul’s Day, marks the day when the Chinese community honour their departed relatives by making offerings to them. This is a cultural festival not a religious one.
During Qingming, all varieties of food (depending on one’s preference) as well as joss stick, incense, joss paper and paper money (depending on one’s religion) are prepared prior to visiting graves.
Once at the grave sites, the tombs would be swept and grass around the area pulled up.
Though I don’t observe Qingming, I’m always fascinated by the types of offerings that are burnt for the dearly departed. A typical offering that is burnt during this festival is paper money. Other types of offerings include model houses, electronic items and this year, even a sports car!
It is believed that all these paper items that are burnt will reach their ancestors who’ll be able to enjoy the objects in their afterlife.
Going to school, I wished I could wear whatever I wanted instead of the uniforms that’s required of us. Before you assume that uniforms are only for those who attend private schools, here in Malaysia, government schools also require their students to wear uniforms.
In primary school (ages 7 – 12), we wore a uniform that consisted of an inner white buttoned-up short sleeves shirt with a dark blue pinafore. We also had to wear white socks and shoes. I remember hating the chore of washing shoes every weekend!
In secondary (ages 13 – 17) school, instead of a dark blue pinafore, we wore a bright blue pinafore.
I was so happy when I was done with secondary school so that I didn’t have to wear a uniform to college! However, after a short, blissful period of wearing whatever I wanted (mostly) to my classes in college, I dreaded having to make the decision of what to wear that day and wished we had a uniform instead! 😀
Did you have to wear a school uniform ever in your life?
The first time I tried otak-otak (o-tuck-o-tuck) was when I was in college and a friend brought a few of them back with her after a weekend at her hometown. I remember being asked if I wanted some otak-otak and I went “Wha….???”
Otak-otak, I later learned, is ground fish meat, tapioca starch and various spices. This mixture is then shaped and placed inside banana or coconut leaf, after which it’s grilled. Though it was a strange and new delicacy for me in the beginning, I grew to love it. At the time, whenever friends would leave for their hometown for the weekend, I’d ask if they could bring back some otak-otak.
Oh, otak-otak translates to “brain-brain” 😀
Do you think you’d be game to try a dish called “brain-brain”?
After introducing the Gas Men and Ice Cream Man to all of you, next up is the Newspaper Man! And before you think that he’s the guy that works at a newspaper company, I’m sorry to have to burst your precious bubble but this is the Newspaper Man I’m referring to:
If you live in a house and not in an apartment building or condominium, it’s highly likely that you get your newspaper delivered by someone who drives around the neighbourhood with stacks of newspapers on his motorcycle – the Newspaper Man.
Normally, in a neighbourhood, there’ll be one dedicated Newspaper Man however, it’s not unheard of these days to have more than one fellow providing this service in a neighbourhood.
I remember moving in to my house years ago and wondering how we could get the newspaper delivered when we saw our new neighbour’s Newspaper Man delivering their monthly bill. So, we hailed him down and told him we needed a Newspaper Man. He gave us a list of newspapers he could deliver and we told him which one we wanted. Delivery started the very next day!
He’d come by each morning at about 6 am, remove the paper from his stack of papers, roll them up, secure it with a rubber band, and fling them over our gate onto the porch! He has nearly perfect aim!
My Newspaper Man works almost year-round except for a few days off for Chinese New Year and when he takes a vacation or if there’s an emergency. If it’s a planned vacation, he’d insert a note with one of the papers explaining how long he’ll be away. That’s when we’d have to schlep to the nearest convenience store to buy the paper ourselves.
Now that we all know that the durian is the King of fruits, did you know that the mangosteen, or manggis (in the Malaysian language), is its queen?
The reason for this (as I’ve been told) is that whenever you eat durian, whenever possible, eat mangosteen after that.
According to the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine , durians are considered “heaty” or “hot” food. While the mangosteen is “cooling” or “cold” food. So, eating them together will balance your body.
One interesting thing I learnt about manggis was that you can find out how many white fleshy segments are inside the fruit before you cut it open. At the bottom of the fruit, there are raised brown ridges that radiate out like a star.
In the picture above, there are 6 ridges/ arms of the star. Therefore, there’ll definitely be 6 white fleshy segments when you open the fruit! Don’t believe me, get your hands on a mangosteen and give it a try!
Ever seen/ ate a mangosteen? If yes, what do you think?
Like Alamak, if you hear someone peppering their sentences with the word lah, you’re probably in the vicinity of a fellow-Malaysian (or Singaporean).
The word lah doesn’t translate into any word although it is used in a variety of situations – to emphasise, tease, cajole and more! I’ve heard some non-Malaysians try to sound local by including lah in their conversation. Unfortunately, their placement of lah in the conversation is not quite right! Sadly, the correct usage of lah can’t be taught because so many factors need to be considered – context or how well you know the other person you’re speaking too! most of the time, depends on the tune and also the context!
Here’s a video of the usage of lah in a variety of situations! This video is an example of its usage in Singlish (or Singapore English) which is nearly identical to Manglish (Malaysian English)! 😀
The capital city of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur, which translates to “muddy confluence”. I know, not so poetic.
Kuala Lumpur or KL (kay-el), as us locals refer to it, began as a mining town in the 1870s. At the time, tin was being mined across the valley and was gathered at this point to be loaded onto pack animals that then had to ford the Klang River (which runs through the city), and walk many miles to where the river finally became navigable.
I don’t live in KL but in Petaling Jaya, a satellite town, which was established when the KL population exploded. However, when I send out postcards to strangers via postcrossing, I always wrte “Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!” instead of “…Petaling Jaya, Malaysia!” I suppose I do this because folks would be more familiar with the capital city of a country instead of one of its secondary cities!
I go to the city centre of KL rarely. Traffic into the city is horrendous, although less so with public transit now. Still, there’s nothing to draw me to the city because I can get everything I need in Petaling Jaya or PJ (pee-jay).
When I was younger, an excursion into KL was a treat. Mum would announce during the week that we’d make a trip to a mall in KL and early Saturday morning, we’d dress in our best and get into the car for what felt like a long ride into the city. Eventhough, it really wasn’t. We’d spend half a day in KL and by the time we got home, would be happy and tired.
My relationship with KL grew when I was 18 and enrolled in an A-levels course at a government-funded college in KL. I felt like a fish out of water, relying on newfound friends who were more familiar with streets and neighbourhoods of KL than I was. To this day, those places in KL that I got to know during those two years of A-levels remain precious to me – Taman Shamelin (Shamelin Garden), the bus route from my college hostel into the heart of KL for ice cream, and so many other places that are etched in my memory.
This unfamiliarity with KL and its environs does present somewhat of a conundrum though when friends from overseas come to visit. I become like a tourist myself as I attempt to take them around the city of which I don’t know too well either. Some would say that I should be ashamed to not know KL as well as I should. I don’t think so. I know enough to pinpoint the tourist attractions and for me, that’s enough.
What do you know about Kuala Lumpur? Have you ever heard of this city before?