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Where this trail leads to…

 | February 27, 2011

The food trail is not to locate posh restaurants but humble shops that offer decent meals to ordinary folk, especially the working class and the lower-income group.


Sometimes in the course of discovering and uncovering new eating places, I stumbled upon little, insignificant shops with stalls that have been quietly carrying on with their business for years.

These are not the kind of places that most middle-class folk in towns go to or even know about. The food served is usually not nutritious and less than ordinary. Often they don’t send anyone spinning into culinary ecstasy or seek a quick re-visit.

But these places share one thing in common: they are often frequented by people of the working class and those from the lower income group.

For a number of us, eating means the latest restaurant or bistro that offers fusion creations that will stupefy our elders. The meals sometimes cause a significant tear in our pockets but we don’t really
mind because we feel we deserve it as we have worked hard for our money.

On the extreme end of the social spectrum, there are those places that we wouldn’t want to be caught dead in. I have a soft spot for places like that because a lot time ago, I discovered a significant portion of our population actually lived, ate and carved a niche for themselves in those surroundings.

When a three-year-old child sleeps in the wooden platform of a pushcart while his mother sells wantan mee by the backlane, the question I sometimes ask is: where and what do the family eat?

When neglected residents of a faraway rubber estate live in semi-squalour, the question pops up again: what’s on the family menu that evening?

When a father in Dungun, Terengganu, only buys a small tin of sardine, a single can of condensed milk and very small portions of onions and garlic, my question is: what do they have for breakfast?

Grand dinner

It is often in this state of mind that I venture out to find and dine in these abject, irrelevant and maybe even contemptible mess halls or roadhouses.

I have on occasion found myself in six-star hotels dining and sitting next to members of the upper crust of society. The array of dishes on the banquet table will make any impoverished person weep for days.

The leftovers of the grand dinner are often discarded and are enough to feed 10 families. But in reality, that’s not how millions of others in our beloved country eat and live.

People say Malaysia is truly blessed with so many natural resources and yet there are pockets of poverty in some areas. I often wonder how these people fend for themselves. Most importantly, what do they have for breakfast, if they even have breakfast.

Hence, my food trail sometimes leads me to kampungs, tiny villages and shanty towns which the forgotten masses or hoi polloi are located.

Their desire to have sumptuous meals is the same like ours. Indeed, beneath the thin epidermis which is sometimes mistaken for skin colour, people everywhere are the same. They are born of flesh and blood. They too have mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children, again just like all of us.

What do they eat? What kind of the places they like to eat at? What kind of food they prefer? Do these people eat nutritious food?

Normally, in the course of our daily lives, we do not spare a thought for our neighbours across the road, let alone in another district or state.

Important indicator

The various eateries, cafeterias and canteens are an important indicator of what kind of lives these folk have. In order to gain a basic understanding or an inkling of their lifestyles, it is my personal view that a first-hand experience is paramount.

A wise elderly person told me decades ago that if I seek deep understanding of a situation or an individual, I must eat the things he eats, perhaps even put myself in his shoes and walk a mile or two.

Hence for years, I have sometimes found myself going to places where many friends have physically avoided. Yes, the livelihood and lifestyles existing in many of these places are dreary, depressing and melancholic. But to willfully ignore these places is to turn our faces away from society.

These good people who do not have the privilege of living the way some of us do form the basis of our nation’s character. Eating the food they eat, sitting on wobbly chairs they sit is but a very small step towards achieving an understanding of their lives.

Perhaps in the final analysis, we can do something about their situation. Maybe, providence will proffer an opportunity in future for us to alter the course of their lives.

Nothing in life happens by accident. We all have to eat to live. Some of us are lucky enough to live and eat some more. While an unfortunate few simply do not eat enough, nor do they eat well at all.

The food trail is long, and occasionally, arduous but so long as we can find food on our table, we will be counted as the lucky ones.

This food journey is not to locate the finest dining places, nor is it to locate the most comfortable restaurants. It is to befriend our brothers and sisters out there and hopefully have a decent meal with them while sharing what they would call the “comforts of home”.


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