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Quiet meal in a forest sanctuary

 | May 15, 2011

The FRIM cafeteria brings to mind what an ideal eatery should be.


I don’t normally have lunch in the heart of the forest. Perhaps it is inaccurate to describe it as so but FRIM (Forest Research Institute of Malaysia) is such a “cool” place that having a small “makan” is always a memorable experience.

There is a cafeteria which caters mainly to FRIM workers and the occasional visitors. Outsiders who do not want to make an effort to venture to Kepong for their meals would gravitate towards this place.

It was really pleasant to have a meal at the FRIM canteen. There is none of that traffic noise, smell of auto exhaust fumes and the incessant chattering from nearby tables.

The cafeteria is clean, almost quiet at 2.30pm and looks like most office canteens. About 20 varieties of dishes were on offer. Drinks are served hot and cold, either as cans in the refrigerator or made fresh by the cafeteria worker.

There are also traditional Malay noodles served with all the ingredients and condiments that may remind you of your kampung home.

The cafeteria is small compared to other places because a number of the FRIM staff have houses in the grounds and they dine with their families.

As usual, I was late for my lunch and other hungry people have beaten me to the choice dishes. Everything is self-service in the cafeteria, so you will feel right at home here.

Most of the traditional dishes that have gravy or curry are in stainless steel containers with little burners beneath. It is a traditional Malay culinary feast. Even the way the food is arranged on the long table reminds one of a kenduri feast.

Visually soothing

What is most pleasing to guests in the cafeteria is the scenery outside the single-storey building.

There is an abundance of plants and bushes just outside the windows. Those long and big leafy plants provide the shade, preventing the sun from overheating the interior of the cafeteria.

There is no sense of urgency to rush through the meal because FRIM buildings are as unhurried as the flora and the fauna thriving in its gardens.

When the setting is near perfect as Mother Nature has provided, it seems obligatory that dining keeps pace with the rhythm of the environs.

I opted for teh tarik like most normal Malaysians to accompany my casual lunch with lots of veggies and some meat. Initially, I was tempted to go for roti canai but I was a guest in these sacred grounds; it would be good manners to partake of the dishes that the hardworking cafeteria workers have been preparing the whole morning.

There were combs of bananas on each table. My guess was the bananas must have been harvested from FRIM itself.

The ponds outside the cafeteria were visually soothing. The food may not be out of the ordinary but the scenery certainly was worth the price of the meal.

How many places can you think of that offer such a placid landscape that you can admire and take a quiet stroll after a hearty and satisfying meal.

Leisurely pace

City people are always in a hurry even when they are eating. Having a simple meal at the FRIM cafeteria has served as a reminder to my friends and I that life is best savoured at a leisurely pace.

Bosses come and go but our lives, like our meal times, are sacrosanct. Having lunch or an evening meal calls for a slowing down of pace for the sake of good health.

A simple meal at a forest eatery has taught me an important lesson, and that is to stop, pause, eat, relax and reflect. There’s really no need to walk, run or drive at full speed to the cemetery. It will always be there waiting for us.

It is always good to be late for your own funeral.

The FRIM cafeteria brings to mind what an ideal eatery should be. Noise is kept to a minimum. Pollution is non-existent. Diners feel no compulsion to make haste with their meals and the land pulsates with a natural rhythm that’s beneficial to a person’s well-being.

With a spread of about 600 hectares, FRIM is like a mini township but the trees, plants and bushes and a multitude of insects and other small animals hold sway over the land.

FRIM has nine objectives, beginning with creating “scientific knowledge for the understanding, management, conservation and use of forest resources” and concluding with “raising public awareness regarding the importance of the environment and the conservation of forest biodiversity”.

Sometimes it takes the silence of the forest to drive home the message that we need to look beyond the office space for a deeper meaning in life.


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