I visited the morning market in Kulim, Kedah yesterday for vegetables and prawns. On my way out, I stumbled upon rows of stalls selling nasi lemak – so I made my way across the sea of people to a nasi lemak stall.
“How much does a packet of nasi lemak cost, makcik?” I asked, pointing at the table laden with nasi lemak packets.
“One ringgit twenty sen. It has egg and anchovies,” she replied in a thick northern Malay accent.
“Please pack three,” I said.
At home, my parents and I sat together to enjoy our breakfast. While mom poured teh tarik into our glasses, I eagerly unwrapped my nasi lemak only to get the shock of my life.
“Oh my God! So little! This is a rip off,” frowned mom as she looked over at the small portion of rice with three skinny anchovies and a one-fiftieth portion of an egg staring pitifully at me.
Upset with the extremely small portion, I took a mouthful of nasi lemak only to discover it tasted no different from plain rice.
“Check the other two packs of nasi lemak you bought,” said dad, hoping the others may contain a decent amount of anchovies and egg.
I did as I was told, and all three of our jaws dropped at the sight before us. The other packs had three and four anchovies respectively with eggs smaller than the size of a micro SIM card. The usual peanuts and slices of cucumber, found in any decent packet of nasi lemak, were nowhere to be found in ours.
Having lost my appetite at the sight of this lousy packet of food trying to masquerade as nasi lemak, I quickly snapped a picture of it and posted it to my Facebook page. In mere seconds, comments began pouring in.
Tian Eng – “Times are bad. In my area you’ll only get peanuts and cucumber for a RM1.50 nasi lemak”.
Kanjna Paranthaam – “In Shah Alam, a packet like this cost RM1.80.”
Shila MK – “You are so lucky you got 3 anchovies. In my area, all you get is rice and sambal.”
Karpagam Punithan – “This is why I stopped buying nasi lemak bungkus – cannot be trusted at all!”
Menaka Aryaduray – “What do you expect for RM1.20? Even in KL, without egg and cucumber it is not less than RM1.50.”
William Auh – “Please don’t blame the traders, they are making a living too. Cost of ingredients has gone up.”
Nesam Pillay – “We buy that same pack for RM3 here at Serdang.”
Thomas Yeoh – “Di Malaysia yang turun hanya hujan, yang lain semua naik!”
I read out the many comments I received to my parents and it made my dad chuckle.
“Be ready to hear more people grumble in a month’s time,” dad said, reminding me of the expensive and tasteless food we always end up with from the Ramadhan bazaar.
“Remember Tengku Adnan’s speech during KIMMA’s AGM last week where he accused mamaks of consuming ‘wang haram’ because they increased the price of teh tarik and roti canai?” I asked my dad.
“I wonder if he’d accuse the makcik selling nasi lemak of making ‘wang haram’ as well.”
Dad chuckled once again, refraining from commenting further (a good tactic to avoid having me quote him in my articles, I’d say).
“When the government cuts subsidies or increases the prices of goods, the people are advised to adjust their diet for health reasons, but when mamaks increase the price of their food items, they are blamed for making ‘wang haram’.”
“When the makcik reduces the quantity of her nasi lemak, many blame it on the rising cost of living but when mamaks raise the prices of teh tarik and roti canai, they are blamed for making ‘wang haram’.”
“I guess no one blames makciks and pakciks – not when the mamaks are an easy target,” I said while continuing to browse the stream of comments.
“Enough, now put away your phone and eat. If it’s not tasty, I have some curry and anchovies – we can have it with the nasi lemak,” said mom, urging me not to waste food.
I looked at my mom with a sour face as I forced the nasi lemak down my throat.
“Let’s go have breakfast at the mamak shop tomorrow, ok? A piece of roti canai also cost RM1.20 but we’d get to enjoy free dhal, free curry, free sambal, free tissue, free water to wash our hands, free usage of the electric fan and free wifi. That’s even better than this RM1.20 nasi lemak which is good for nothing.”
Mom and dad smiled, sipping their teh tarik. They know no one messes with my food.
Fa Abdul is an FMT columnist.
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