Sunday, 29 January 2012

Arab food in a malay village

My first taste of an arabic dish was when I was a small boy. For breakfast one day, my mother cooked some mashed green-coloured beans with spices and toasted a few french loaf slices to go with it. The dish was eaten with an egg fried in ghee plus some roughly-chopped onions and green chillies as garnish.

At first try, the thing had a spicy-bitter taste that was hard to describe... but I loved it. Mom said that the dish is called `kacang pol'. Funny name, I thought... but later on in life I noted that there are variants to the name : pol, pool, ful and even phool. All these from translating the original arabic name of foul medames.

In my trip to Cairo in 2004, I had my first taste of authentic foul medames. The buffet breakfast spread at the hotel had two versions of the dish, Egyptian-style and Lebanese-style... of course I tried both. Slightly different tasting compared to mom's version but delicious all the same.

My exposure to middle-eastern cuisine further broadened during my short stint working in the United Arab Emirates. The tough pressure of work was somewhat compensated by food-tasting adventures. That was where I developed an affection for lamb mandey and lovely fresh salad dishes. Nowadays, whenever I hear of an Arabic restaurant opening up in KL, I would make an effort to try it out. To date, Saba Restaurant at Jelatek is still the best in my book.

Of late, Johor Bahru is seeing a few genuine Arabic restaurants opening for business... genuine in this sense, meaning with real Arab cooks. Not those run by locals who cook from recipes they learned when they were students in Egypt or Jordan or wherever. The latest one is called Wadi El-Arab Restaurant located right here in my district of Kg Melayu Majidee. It just opened a few weeks ago and I must say the owner is taking a huge gamble in opening a speciality restaurant out of the city centre.

It was our youngest son's 17th birthday on Friday and so I decided to have the celebration dinner at this new eating place. Wadi El-Arab is located just across the Medan Selera Kg Melayu (where you can get the best ABC in all of JB). The place used to be someone's house and was renovated into a restaurant. Decor-wise, there is nothing to shout about. The front part of the dining area is carpeted and has low tables for that sitting-on-the-floor experience. The inner dining area has simple round tables of the kopitiam type, not quite to my liking.

The menu choices is about average I guess, but sufficient enough for those not familiar with arabian food to try out some variety. They have bokhari rice, makloubeh, kofta, shawarma, shish tawok plus some salads and soups. Most importantly (to me, at least) they have mandey.

The birthday boy and his elder brother had grilled lamb kofta while the missus ordered the same but beef. These are spiced minced meat rolled onto metal skewers, grilled over charcoal fire, served with roasted eggplant and homous, and eaten with arab flat bread. I ordered what else but lamb mandey... at RM19.80 per plate, the most expensive rice dish on the main course menu. Wasn't the best that I had (which would still be at a restaurant somewhere in Muscat, Oman) but still on the okay side. The kofta dishes are the tasty ones. Overall not too bad... but they really need to pull in more crowd to make the long haul.

The cover menu card
Mandey lamb rice
Lamb kofta
And I honestly hope they do because it is now so easy for me to satisfy my craving for a mid-eastern dish with this place at my doorstep. I'm already thinking of the next dish to try.... perhaps their makloubeh, the upside-down rice and lamb/chicken combo.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Popular negatives

In the English language, the opposite meaning of many words are created by the addition of prefixes. For example :
  • de : form / deform
  • dis : able / disable
  • il : legible / illegible
  • im : potent / impotent
  • in : direct / indirect
  • un : true / untrue
If you observe carefully, the application of such prefixes are onto words that are generally in the positive sense. Adding the prefix makes them negative - happy to unhappy, pleased to displeased, practical to impractical and so on. There are not many inherently negative words that become antonyms by simply adding a prefix. Let's try out some :

Would un-ugly mean pretty?
Does dis-cheat mean we are being honest?
Or would im-messy clothes mean we are smartly-dressed?

There are however, a few words that break this convention. I was reading a news article the other day and realised that the reporter had used such a word. The word is - impeccable. Apparently, there is such a word as `peccable', which means `liable to sin or error'. Adding the prefix im- makes the word carry a positive meaning. Another example that comes to mind is `indefatigable', which in itself, is quite unique because it has double prefixes.

`Impeccable' and `indefatigable' also fall into another category which I'd like to call as `popular negatives'. These are words where the prefixed form are in more common use than the root form. Here are some examples, plus a sample sentence I've written using the base form of the word, and you tell me if I don't sound awkward  :

1. illicit : I passed through airport customs without any problems because I only carried licit goods in my baggage.

2. unscrupulous : I employed that young lady to handle the company accounts because of her scrupulous behaviour.

3. dismantle : I've lost the original instruction guide so now I don't know how to mantle all these parts back together.

4. incontinent : Of course these diapers are not for me, I'm continent!

I am sure there are other examples. Perhaps you know of some more. Enjoy the long weekend, my friends...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Can register to vote

Our second son, who studies at a university in Indonesia, is back at home for a short term-break. We picked him at LCCT last Sunday. Yesterday, January 18th, was his 21st birthday.

We missed celebrating his previous birthday together because he was away at school. The year before that, I took him and some of his friends for dinner at Shah Alam. That event made it into this blog and was posted here -> Two birthdays.

Last night, we had a celebration dinner at Banafee Village Restaurant, a lovely makan place I've previously written about. My wife bought a cake from Secret Recipe and brought it along for the dinner. The cake box was placed at the edge of the table and we had not thought of doing anything special. A sharp-eyed waiter saw the box and offered to keep the cake in their cooler until it's time for dessert.

As expected, the birthday boy ordered a lamb dish but our youngest son surprised me by ordering grilled salmon. The missus had grilled chicken chop while yours truly could not resist trying another Arabic menu, lamb kabsah. I broke my own self-imposed rule of not eating lamb/mutton more than once a week. Just the night before, I went out for dinner with an ex-colleague from KL. We went to a newly-opened restaurant selling western-style dishes where I had lamb chops while my friend had chicken chop. Quite delicious... I should write a blog-post about this place soon.

Lamb kabsah

Two large candles and a smaller one in between

As we finished eating our main meal, the waiter came back with the birthday cake and also gave us four small plates. He then produced a pen and a piece of paper, and asked my wife to write down the birthday boy's name. She asked, why? To pass to the singer, he said. I hadn't noticed that the two-member live singing team were on stage and making preparations to perform.

And so yesterday, a young man named Harith Shahiran got to blow out the candles on his birthday cake at the end of the most recognized song in the world, sung by a professional singer. May good things always come your way, my son...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Coarse bamboo

In the late 1980s at my first workplace in Johor Bahru, I was in charge of the construction of the Islamic religious schools throughout the state. The project was funded by the State Government and the organisation I worked in acted as Project Managers.

Most of these schools were located in rural towns and villages where access were sometimes a problem. I loved my short stint while being involved in the project. It gave me the opportunity to travel to all corners of Johor state and reach the remotest of places in all 8 districts.

In the district of Segamat, there is a small town on the main road heading north to Kuala Lumpur, called Buloh Kasap. I have passed by this place a few times on my trips to KL but the first time I actually made a stop was when I attended a handing-over ceremony of a completed school. In the days before the North-South Expressway, a trip to Segamat from JB would take up to 3 hours. That can be considered as a very far distance but I was a young man then... any outstation trip to visit projects was always fun and worth the drive.

Buloh Kasap got its name from a certain type bamboo plant that is said to have grown abundantly in the area... at least, that's what historical reference sources tell us. Buloh is bamboo while kasap means coarse or rough. I take it that this refers to the skin or surface of the bamboo. I don't actually know how a coarse bamboo plant looks like. The ones I see growing in jungles or by river banks are normally dark green and have smooth outer surface. These are the type that lemang-makers use.

This clump of bamboo is certainly not the kasap variety. Definitely not suitable for making lemang.

The term `buloh kasap' is also widely-known as being used in a Malay proverb. According to Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka, the full proverb goes like this -> Berniaga bagai buloh kasap, hujungnya hilang, pangkalnya lesap. The Malay saying means wasteful work being done by someone who doesn't have the knowledge or skills to do it. In particular, it refers to a loss-making business venture caused by the person's own weakness.

As always, I like to ask the mystery question. How does a particular type of bamboo plant gets connected to poor business decisions?

The idea for this post came after I heard my mother use the saying the other day. My youngest sister has started a small makan business selling nasi lemak, satay, mee siam and a few other stuff from a rented stall. She has asked our mother for some cooking tips on how to make her dishes more tasty. Mom would of course, share her secrets... but not before nagging to my sister to be careful about this, be aware about that, take care about the cash collection, don't pamper your workers, don't hutang too much, plus a whole lot of other business advice. She knows what she's talking about, being a small-time businesswoman herself when she was younger. `Jangan berniaga macam buloh kasap,' she warned, `Untung tak ada, modal pun lesap.'

Mothers... they may nag non-stop, but they have the welfare of their children at heart :-)

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Songs from yesteryear

In a reply to a comment from blogger-friend Dr Wati in the previous post, I mentioned that I got stuck in assembling 12 photos for compilation as my annual review of `The Previous Year In Pictures'. I have done the series twice already, for 2009 and 2010.

Apparently, there were certain times during 2011 that my camera slept soundly in its bag and wasn't doing any duty. After browsing through my photo files, there were 2 months last year when I did not take any pics, not even from the mobile phone camera. Sadly, this edition of TPYIP has to be skipped.

As a substitute, I've decided to compile all the Youtube songs that I shared on my FB wall in 2011 . There were 7 of them and there was one that I've also shared in this blog, so I apologise for the repetition. Looking and listening to the full list, you can probably can guess the type of person that I sometimes am.... mushy :-)

1. April 10 : (I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons - Rod Stewart

I hope you do believe me
I've given you my heart...

2. July 10 : Crazy - Diane Krall, Elvis Costello & Willie Nelson

I'm crazy... crazy for feeling so blue...

3. September 16 : My Love - Julio Iglesias & Stevie Wonder

Say words of love to all we see,
To rich or poor for love is equal,
Let us lift up humanity,
Spread love all over...

4. October 25 : Foolish Heart - Steve Perry

You've been wrong before,
Don't be wrong anymore...

5. November 4 : Reminiscing - The Little River Band

Each time we hear our favourite song,
The memories come along...

6. December 22 : Ain't No Sunshine - Joe Cocker

And this house just ain't no home,
Anytime she goes away...

7. December 31 : Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow - Carole King & James Taylor

So tell me now and I won't ask again,
Will you still love me tomorrow?

Thanks to all the original uploaders of the vids. I do hope you enjoy them...

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

A rolling stone...

Wow, it's the new year already. On New Year's Day last year, I was in Temerloh attending a friend's wedding before heading to Kuantan where I spend the night. An unplanned exchange of messages during breakfast the next day saw me having afternoon tea with blogger Versedanggerik and her family. Later on the way back to Kuala Lumpur, I made a detour to Triang, somewhere deep in the Pahang heartland, to visit a nephew whose wife had just given birth.

For the first post of 2012, let's have a discussion on English proverbs for a change.

I spent the first half of last year based in KL, with my family rooted in JB. It was a regular trip up and down the North-South Expressway every other weekend. Sometimes driving but mostly on the express buses. It wasn't something I particularly liked but what to do? Later on in June, a friend introduced me to a job opportunity in Pontian and after a quick interview, I was offered the post. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, that job didn't last... but I decided to remain in Johor Bahru and look for something new. Alhamdulillah, I recently received an offer for a job that would put me back at familiar grounds.

I am what you call, a rolling stone. The full English proverb goes like this : A rolling stone gathers no moss. Now why would we want to gather moss, you may ask. Why not gather something more valuable? Well... proverbs being based on metaphors, are not meant to be understood literally. The meaning of this particular proverb is that if we move around too much (as opposed to sticking around for a long time), then we wouldn't be gaining much experience. Jumping from job to job is an obvious example.

I hadn't actually made a count of how many companies I have worked for since I graduated, until a few days ago. While updating my resume to include this latest appointment, I realised that I have been employed at eleven (11) different firms throughout my 27 years of working life. That number does not include a few short stints at companies owned by friends and relatives. Some people say that this hopping around is not a good thing. Perhaps they are right... but it is not that I purposely seek new jobs every few years just for the fun of it. Each and every job resignation I went through has its own story. Sometimes, things happen that are not within our control. But I'm not the type to live in regret although I admit that the constant job changes had caused difficulties.

I therefore do not fully agree with meaning of the proverb about rolling stones. While I may not have gained a deep knowledge of one particular field, my different job postings have afforded me with a varied exposure of civil engineering disciplines. In which case, another familiar English proverb would apply : a jack of all trades but the master of none. It's okay... I have accepted that I'm not a master, but the little that I know of a few specialised areas are valuable enough for me to survive on. Nonetheless, I do hope this present job will last for some time. A rolling stone can't go on rolling forever.

I may not have gathered moss by not staying still but I can tell you what I've gathered over the years... bank accounts. For the purpose of salary payment, different employers want me to open account at banks of their choice. To date, I have/had accounts at the following financial institutions :

- Malaysia Credit Finance (now defunct)
- HSBC Bank
- Bank Bumiputera (a/c revived as Bank Muamalat when BB went kaput)
- Public Bank
- Maybank
- CIMB Bank (this is the latest)

As I have mentioned previously, nak harapkan akaun bank je yang banyak, duit dalamnya tak se berapa...

The stones in Sungai Bernam that no longer roll...