Spending my first holiday period away from the wind-chilled city of Manchester, I decided to visit some friends in Kuala Lumpur over the festive season. This culminated in a mammoth food-and-alcohol-fuelled Christmas day. Not so different from the Western Christmas experience then.
Actually, in other ways, it was. There is something immediately novel (and then disconcerting) about seeing images of Santa everywhere whilst nursing a sunburnt neck. On one muggy Malaysian morning I woke up to a Bhaṅgṛā version of ‘Jingle bells’. Another time, I walked through one of K.L.’s many malls in air conditioned comfort and serenaded by carol singers at every turn. Surely ‘White Christmas’ can only work when sung through icy breath?
The country is made up of Chinese, Malay and Indian races who have lived with each other for long enough to teach the West a thing or two about multiculturalism. Where else would you see a Chinese girl eating a curry with a wonton soup starter? Or a middle-aged Chinese lady arm-in-arm with a middle-aged Indian lady? These people might as well be nodding their heads to Salif Keita on the way to an Jay Chou concert. In this country, even I look racist.
And as to be expected, this also means that the food is amazing. I was lucky enough to attend bunch of open houses on Jesus’ birthday. An open house is a day-long opening of your house to guests, with a large platter of dishes on display. The idea is that guests are free to come and go as they please, lending a more informal slant to proceedings when compared to the dinner parties we’re used to in the west. On a bonus note there isn’t a Norah Jones cd in sight.
How was the food? Malaysian curries are typically drier than their Indian counterparts which means their flavour is often more concentrated. This consistency means eating with your hands (as most Malaysians do) makes a lot of sense.
I wolfed down Beef Rendang (a curry cooked with coconut milk), Nasi Lemak (a dry fish curry with rice wrapped in banana leaf with peanuts and boiled egg) and very oily chicken curry.
I had so much food that the day eventually became a culinary blur, myself being dragged from house to house, food placed in front of me and before I knew it my mouth was chewing. I wasn’t complaining – it was like being forced line-after-line of pure uncut cocaine by smiling Malaysian mothers. Only the occasional reggae version of ‘Silent Night’ interrupted the sound of eating.
Christmas day formally ended at 6am at a Christian household amongst a hazy backdrop of whiskey, Bhaṅgṛā and The Bee Gees. But that’s another story for another time.