Malaysians celebrate racial diversity through enduring passion for food

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - While you may not actually chance upon anyone with the relevant names at the Ali, Muthu and Ah Hock (Amah) restaurant in Oasis Ara Damansara, you will certainly see representations of that racial diversity among the patrons.

Although food was the underlying motivator for their being there yesterday, we also asked patrons about their thoughts on Malaysia Day. Many inferred that food was just a fine way to celebrate our overall diversity as Malaysians.

"I enjoy the different foods in Malaysia such as dim sum, chapati, thosai and of course, nasi lemak," said Nazira Abu Bakar, a regular at the restaurant yesterday.

"While Merdeka is a day to celebrate our independence, Hari Malaysia is a day for us to celebrate the diversity of our multi-cultural and multi-racial society," the 38-year-old senior executive said.

Another regular Mohd Zaan Chu, 65, said it was a must for Malaysians to celebrate Malaysia Day.

"We have to remember the struggles and efforts of our forefathers to achieve independence and subsequently the formation of Malaysia, and appreciate what we have today.

"Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures and there is more diversity with the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak," the flight operations manager said.

He added that he enjoyed dining at the restaurant as "you can see (representations of) 'Ali', 'Muthu', and 'Ah Hock' here".

Colin Soh said he and the other co-owners Ernest Ong and Bruce Wong chose the name "Ali, Muthu and Ah Hock" because they wanted something muhibbah.

In Klang, the decades old Chong Kok Kopitiam is another popular gathering point for all.

The crowd begins at 7am but even after 11am, when the famous squid nasi lemak is sold out, the multi-racial scene continues.

"We love food so wherever there is food, we will go and this place is a gathering point for everyone," said government servant Alhaj Jepon, 38, who was assigned to his position here six years ago, far from his hometown of Sibu, Sarawak.

His colleague Kamal Razak, 32, called the shop a Klang tradition.

"We bring new colleagues here and on weekends our families as well," said Kamal.

Third generation owner Foo Mee May said when her grandfather opened the coffee shop in 1940, he wanted to provide food everyone could eat and no pork was served.

 

In Ipoh, the New Hollywood Restaurant in Canning Garden has been drawing the crowds with mouth-watering food for 40 years.

It is a favourite among Muslims who have a taste for Chinese food, with many even driving from Kuala Lumpur and Penang for lobak, char kuey teow, wan tan mee, rojak, chee cheong fun and Western food.

Chan Jit Keong, 42, the proprietor's son said the idea of catering to all races dated back to the shop's early days, when students from a nearby college and staying in the area were constantly looking for Muslim food.

Chan said his mother decided to ask an Indian Muslim hawker to run a stall at her coffeeshop, besides insisting that all those operating food stalls at her coffeeshop served pork-free food - an arrangement that stands till today.

Whenever Hana Harun needs to perk up with a cup of coffee and take a brief respite from work with her colleagues, a kopitiam steps away from their office in Kota Kinabalu is the place to go to.

The shop in Gaya Street is one of the four Fook Yuen kopitiam outlets here that have been packing in customers of all races for years.

For Hana, a Sabah Tourism executive, a favourite speciality of Fook Yuen is roti kahwin - two slices of bread slathered with butter and kaya or coconut jam.

The Fook Yuen outlets, which all have halal certification, also offer dim sum, pre-fried cooked noodles and rice served with a variety of meat and vegetable dishes.

With many hotels and backpacker lodges nearby, the Gaya Street outlet is also popular with tourists.

So established is Fook Yuen that there are reviews about it in a number of travel-related websites, including Trip Advisor, Lonely Planet and Travel Fish.

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