Thursday, May 19, 2011
What is food? Food is something that you eat to gain energy and satisfy your hunger. In a world where food is an important part of life, it is not hard to guess why it has become an identity that one associates with a country or culture. Think of hot and spicy food and you'll probably think of Asian countries like Thailand or India. Think of carbs and fat-rich food, America comes to mind. No wonder the Biggest Loser is a big hit.
Scientifically, water is far more important than food. You can survive for weeks without food but without water, you'll be lucky to survive a few days. However, most cultures and countries are more commonly identified by their unique food rather than unique drinks. The phrase 'eat to live' is now 'live to eat'. That shows that we value food more for that just as a biological need to survive. I personally hold on to the latter phrase as a principal in life. My love of travelling is also partly due to the chance to try all the different types of food on this planet of ours. The world is just one huge pan filled with food.
The variety of food in the world is astounding. One type of food can be eaten in so many different ways. Take bananas for example; they are typically eaten as fruits in most countries but in Malaysia, we turn the bananas into 'masak lemak pisang' for lunch. Pineapples can be eaten just like that or as toppings on a pizza. Get my point?
Food is one of the few things in life that can bring people together, regardless of their race, religion or nationality. Look at our open house culture that is unique to Malaysia. When a Malay is having an open house for Hari Raya, you can be sure to see Indians, Chinese and others carrying plates full of rending, ketupat and lemang. The same thing can be seen during Deepavali and Chinese New Year open houses. Another albeit more spiritual example of food bringing people together is during the holy month of Ramadhan. Muslims all over the world would sometimes prefer to break fast at the mosque instead of at home. At the mosque, you meet new people whom you might not be able to meet somewhere else. Not only do you make new friends you also strengthen the bond between fellow Muslims. As the Malaysians say, “merapatkan talian silaturrahim”. Keluar jugak Bahasa Melayu aku. What amazes me the most is that, these strangers who do not know each other apart from each other’s names can have animated conversations that would only stop when it’s time for Terawih and will continue again after the prayers. See how smart God is? He doesn’t make you suffer through the hunger for nothing.......Maybe the spiritual example is a stretch for some people...Look at the bazaar Ramadhan that’s almost everywhere in the country during the fasting month. If you expect the bazaar to be crowded with Muslims, you’re wrong. It’s not hard to spot the many Ah Chong and Ramu shuffling through the crowd looking for something to buy for dinner. Apart from causing ‘slit-your-wrist’ traffic jams, the bazaar Ramadhan is the ideal example of racial unity. A living advertisement for One Malaysia I suppose. Now if only these bazaar patrons can just unite and learn how to park their cars properly instead of parking everywhere like its ‘bapak kau punye jalan!’ =).
As I said before, food is commonly associated with ones culture. Think of ketupat and rendang, you’ll think of the Malays and Hari Raya. Think of Murukku and images of Indians and Deepavali comes to mind. I guess the phrase ‘You are what you eat” is spot on.
Food. That simple, four- lettered word can produce the most interesting and thought provoking conversations. Food can also be a place of solace for some. A safe haven when one is sad or angry. You celebrate happy occasions like weddings with food and you comfort yourself with food when you’re sad. You can actually guess a person’s mood through the food that they cook. Well, it’s true for me at least. Take my dear mom for example, when she’s happy, God those hands of hers can make the best food known to man. When the food looks like it has been infected by a mutating virus, then she’s probably upset about something I did.
Being a Malaysian and growing up in a country where food makes the world go round, I strongly believe that food defines who you are. Eating unhealthily tells me that you are unconcerned about your health while eating nothing except for food with low calories and carbs tells me that you’re a health nut that cannot survive in Malaysia.(Nasi Lemak has been called a ‘heart attack’ in a banana leaf). So whatever your opinion on food may be, one thing is certain, food is universal. Food is a language, a medium that brings all of us together. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Umno member or Pas, Christian or Muslim, once you sit down and take that first bite of roti canai, you’ll forget all those differences and bond over your love of food. So the next time you have an argument with a friend, just drag him to the nearest mamak stall and treat him to a plate of roti canai and a cup of teh tarik.