Friday, September 30, 2016

A word means a lot

In the Malay Mail Online today, I read with much interest and delight Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin's No monopoly in interpreting past.

and in my interpretation, f**k 'sensitivity', so to speak 

For a royalty, Tunku has been a prolific writer of wonderful illuminating articles. I am definitely one of his many avid fans.

The title of his article could led us to many interpretations of what would be meant by 'interpreting past', such as 'social contract' (which Ungku Aziz said did/does not exist, to the chagrin of some Malays - see my blog's 'Featured Post' on top right hand column titled 'Social contract' a politically created fantasy), 'pendatang' which definition could well apply to all if us except the Malayan Aborigines and Sarawak and Sabahan natives, though not those 'new' Sabahans with specially issued blue IC, courtesy of The Emperor), etc.

But in this post I intend to confine my writing to only Malayan/Malaysian words on food, to prevent you from exploding die to anger, wakakaka, even though words by themselves such as 'batik', the song 'Rasa Sayang' and the names of some cultural dances could politically drive our Indon neighbours to threats of war with us, wakakaka.

Anyway, a revealing example of Tunku's current article is the heritage of words from our past colonisers, for example the Portuguese, with words such as mentega, bendera, keju, sabun and almari.

But just so, almost every country throughout the world benefitted/benefits from such lexicographic wealth through language diversity. I won't in this post (maybe the next) refer to words recently included by the Oxford Dictionary such as 'mamak' etc.

I like to explore how Malaya (and Malaysia) has endowed its Bahasa etc words to the world, though as mentioned our Indonesian friends may argue with me I am stealing their Indon words, wakakaka. Let's write out just a few, as follows:

(a) Laksa - today this word is of international usage, where the wonderful dish has become very popular in Australia and the USA, as well as Europe.

the 'pretender' 

the 'original' dethroned Penang dish 

But of course much to my chagrin, it refers to what Penangites call curry mee, the pretender to Penang's famous tamarind-fish-based soup concoction including its thicker rice noodles, re-named Penang laksa. The annoying thing for us Penangites is that the said pretender, the curry mee, has usurped that word until it's now considered as the real laksa. Podah.

Anyway, the laksa dish is of Peranakan origin, meaning it had been originally a combination of Straits Chinese and Malay recipes that brought into being the wonderful dish, whether it is tamarind & fish-based soup or curry 'what-not'. 

Nowadays the 'what-not' could well be chicken, seafood, or as my reader Hasan suggested, Super-haram-ish barbequed thingy, or even vegetarian for some of the younger orang putih.

had experienced the temerity of a Viet restaurateur telling me laksa came from Vietnam, what a cheeky ill-informed sod.

There are suggestion as that the word 'laksa' stems from the Hindi word Lakhsha or the Sanskrit word Laksh which each means 'a hundred thousand', referring to the 'numerous noodles' in the soup, but I have my doubts on this suggestion as noodles is not an Indian originated food.

Because of its Peranakan origin, similar to its claimed origin in Indon (essentially a mixture of Chinese migrants and local pribumi food recipes) I am more attracted to another suggestion that the word stems from (Wikipedia) the Chinese word (Cantonese: [làːt.sáː]), meaning "spicy sand" due to the ground dried prawns which gives a sandy or gritty texture to the sauce.

(b) Nasi goreng - Of Chinese origin the dish was concocted to preserve leftover rice from going stale, so there is a stigma among elder Chinese with eating fried rice (nasi goreng). But abroad it's a delicious and popular Chinese dish, now virtually a 'must' in Aussie Chinese restaurants.

Super-Haram fried rice with laap-cheong

Sedately-Halal nasi goreng 

I came across the Malayan word abroad first in the UK when I studied there. It so happened that on the same menu I saw both 'nasi goreng' and 'friend rice' and wonder what was the difference, if any.

So I asked the waiter who kindly explained that 'nasi goreng' had prawns but no ham, whilst it's the other way around for the ingredients of 'fried rice'. Wow, it seemed the restaurant was aware of halal foodstuff for Muslims and Jews.

That's enough for this post - more next time, wakakaka.


  1. The "Approved" version of Malaysian history is now owned by UMNO , manipulated for self-advantage. It is now compulsory to pass in SPM....It teaches pupils that The Nons must accept Malay hegemony.


    There are many varieties of laksa. It is a marriage of different cuisines – cross cultures, so to speak. Hence, it is difficult to say whether laksa had a specific origin, as you have suggested?