Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas in Malaysia

You may (or may not) know that we live almost in the boondocks of Malaysia. All the excitement and happening things occur around the capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL). And perhaps Penang. The rest of the country (we live in Johor state, about a 10 minute drive from Singapore, but still....) snoozes on. Around this time of year, however, some people start to perk up. You see, it is December. Not Chinese New Year (for the Chinese). Or Hari Raya (for the Malays). Or Deepavali (for the Hindus). Around this time, Malaysians start to peer around to see who are their Christian friends. Cos it´s Christmas, folks, and it´s time to par-tay!

We are not Christians. I, as you probably gathered, am an atheist, and J is more Buddhist-leaning but, at the same time, we hate to disappoint our friends and, as all of them have been so accommodating in inviting us to various of their festivals, it seems churlish not to invite them to kinda sorta ours. Plus, I´m Portuguese Eurasian (and Roman Catholic by tradition), so there´s a whole mystique involved in the culinary process and Christmas traditions, and so on.

For those of you who don´t know, Portuguese Eurasians don´t write down any of their recipes. Instead, they´re passed down at the stovetop from mother to daughter. This seemed to work well from the sixteenth century onwards, but hit a snag with the advent of World War Two. With the Japanese out to eradicate anybody not of ¨pure blood¨, that meant that they went through the Eurasian population like a bloody scythe through grass, and lots and lots of recipes got lost in the ensuing genocide. This is why it´s a stupid idea to keep things so secretive ... you can lose a treasure.

As a result, I think I´m one of the very few Eurasians who will actually share traditional recipes with anyone who wants one. Roast chicken, devil curry, vindaloo curry, roast beef. Whatever I discover of my heritage that tastes nice, I´m all for sharing. In this way, I figure I spread the cheer and, should another event like WWII come along, I can gain some reassurance that all has not been lost. Its all about the food, stupid!, to paraphrase a Clinton election campaign slogan.

However, just to complicate matters, I married a Pole. He´s not religious either so the hybrid Christmas we host is a bit of a ¨bitza¨ from bits we liked from our childhood, bits we´ve picked up from the places we´ve lived, and bits we think the kids would like. Our big dinner is on Christmas Eve and, at the moment, it looks like we´re reaching about 30 people for the evening party. Because I love cooking, I´m looking forward to it. And, I´ll be honest, I´m looking forward to showcasing the kind of cooking J and I have been doing together for the past decade. (Yes, he cooks for each party as well. A true joint effort.) But, at the same time, I won´t be hoarding any secrets. If anyone asks for a recipe, they get it. I figure it´s a fair enough trade for their appreciation. And presence.

So, rather than talking about what you´re actually doing for Christmas, I´d like to form another question. What traditions or information are you sharing with people outside your cultural/ethnic circle? And how appreciative do you think they are/will be?

Have a great Christmas everyone. I´ll catch up with you just before the New Year. Stay safe.


book review said...

Hi, I'm from indonesia

Kaz Augustin said...

Hi book review! Nice to touch base with someone from the same part of the world. Have a great holiday season! :)

Liane Spicer said...

I've been writing down my mother's recipes of late because I'd hate for them to vanish when she goes. The dishes are common around these parts, but she has imprinted them with her own special touches.

The weird thing is no matter how I try, my version never tastes the same as hers. Good, but different.