Dining out is one of the two things hot on the list of every expatriate in Kuwait. And, in case you didn’t know, the other is shopping!
If you love food and eating, dining out in Kuwait is very easy to enjoy since there are many good restaurants around. Sadly, there is NO Malaysian restaurant! The “Malaysian Char Kuey Teow with Beef” at the Noodle Factory in the Avenues Mall is as close as you’ll get to anything Malaysian around here. If you’re really desperate.
So it must have been a Godsend for many, Malaysians and non-Malaysians-who-love-Malaysian-food alike, when the Malaysian Embassy in Kuwait, in collaboration with the Association of Malaysian Ladies of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (PERWAKILAN) of Kuwait organised and held the inaugural Malaysian Food Bazaar at the grounds of the Malaysian Embassy in Kuwait recently.
I understood that it had taken many weeks of planning and organising by the Embassy and PERWAKILAN members. Although the event was only four hours – from 12 noon to 4pm on a Saturday afternoon it isn’t hard to imagine the amount of work involved in organising any food-sale event. Deciding what to sell, who’s going to prepare what and when to prepare what are things that are easily done at a meeting table but the real work has to be in the preparation of the ingredients, marinades, sauces and gravies. Many of the dishes also involve condiments and accompaniments like cucumber, onions, bean sprouts, carrots, cabbage etc and these need to be cleaned, cubed, sliced, julienned etc.
Many signature dishes that make up our exotic Malaysian cuisine had been planned for sale that day – many, like nasi lemak, nasi kerabu, nasi dagang, mee rebus, mee soto, asam laksa, would be prepared at home in the private kitchens of Malaysians and brought to the Bazaar to be served hot when purchased. Others like satay, mee goreng, and kuey teow goreng must be cooked on-site. So there was a lot of preparation to do.
The Malaysian Ambassador’s wife and President of PERWAKILAN Kuwait, H.E. Datin Azlinda Rosli spearheaded the preparation work for what was always the most popular Malaysian signature dish – satay. All in all, 20 kilograms of beef and 40 kilograms of chicken breast were purchased to make the 2000 sticks of satay. There was a lot of work involved in making satay the traditional way. The meat had to be sliced, then marinated overnight before painstakingly skewered into individual bamboo sticks. The ingredients for the marinade and the traditional satay sauce – a piquant peanut-based sauce – also required tedious preparation.
How else to accomplish this and a lot more except in the true Malaysian spirit of gotong royong – for which I have to say there is no direct translation into English.
Gotong royong (or sometimes gotong-royong) is a phrase commonly used in Malaysia which I would translate to mean “voluntarily working together on a task or tasks to accomplish a specific goal”. I’ve heard this phrase gotong royong used all my life since my childhood days and no one ever translated it for me! Throughout my adult life, the phrase always conjured a picture of people – men, women, children – of all races, from all walks of life doing something together – at an appointed time, in an appointed place – for a specific reason, purpose or goal.
Busy travelling in and out of Kuwait since December 2011, I did not make it to join as a member of the association but I was glad when my BFF, Zaharah did the right thing and volunteered me to help out with some of the preparation work at the Embassy a couple of days before the event. So there we were in the Embassy kitchen (I didn’t count how many there were of us), skewering the marinated beef and chicken, then weighing, counting, packing and freezing the satay sticks ready for the traditional grilling over a charcoal fire on Bazaar day.
More chicken was purchased then sliced and marinated that day ready for skewering the next day. The satay sauce was also cooked that day.
Zaharah and I had been assigned by Datin Azlinda to man the satay stall and I had promised to come bright and early on Bazaar day to prepare the satay condiments – slices of cucumbers, and cubes of onions and compressed rice. I was intent on being at the Embassy by 8am as Datin recommended and virtually crept out of our apartment so hubby could sleep in a little extra on his day off! LOL
The Embassy grounds were abuzz as we got closer and closer to the time the Food Bazaar would start. Colourful banners in the colours of the Malaysian flag decorated the covered area where most of the stalls were and the various food stalls looked very attractive with the batik fabrics used as table covers and the creative presentation of the various food.
Including our satay stall’s…ahem!
We were all given bright red aprons with the Bazaar logo and the words “ Malaysian Food Bazaar” to wear. At around12 noon, I caught our Ambassador, H.E. Dato’ Adnan Othman, himself donning an apron like his wife and the rest of us, kicking off the Bazaar buying his coupons.
The DJ started playing some popular Malaysian music and the Bazaar had begun. Some Ambassadors from various embassies were the first to arrive with their family and friends. I recognised several faces of Ambassadors’ wives from the International Women’s Group and it was great to see them supporting the Bazaar. Many of the 600 or so guests that came that day had been to Malaysia before on holiday or business, and others had tasted Malaysian food elsewhere or in Kuwait.
At least where satay was concerned, we found it needed little introduction! The queue seemed endless and the satay team had little respite serving its customers.
The satay was cooked “live” at the satay grill manned by six hardy Malaysians right next to us. They did really well to keep the satay coming to make sure we never ran out of supply. Needless to say, the satay station attracted many spectators curious to see where the smoke and the unfamiliar aroma of a satay barbeque was coming from!
It was busy everywhere. The rice station, noodles, drinks, munchies, cookies and Malaysian kuih muih (sweets and desserts) had their share of busy-ness.
Which wasn’t a surprise. Malaysian food is so varied and whether for the familiar or adventurous, you can’t have just one dish and say you’ve eaten Malaysian cuisine! No way. You’d have had to taste a bit of everything.
Well, like many other Malaysians who were there that day, I could have eaten everything – satay, char kuey teow, asam laksa, keropok lekor, rojak buah….mmmm yumm yumm..and I wanted to! No diets for me today, I thought!
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. We were too busy taking care of business. As soon as I had a moment, I sneaked off to the noodles station to grab some asam laksa – alas, like many other dishes that day, they were sold out! Good for the bazaar but not good for me LOL
Hubby enjoyed himself sampling the dishes he loved (including the satay of course) and catching up with friends, new and old. And I really enjoyed being the satay seller! And the satay was really so good that one customer asked us, AND he was very serious: “Can you tell me, please, where is your restaurant in Kuwait?” LOL
It was a great day, this inaugural charity event at the Malaysian Embassy grounds. H.E. the Ambassador and his wife were very pleased with the success of the Bazaar, as were I think all the Association’s members, volunteers and spouses, and all Malaysians in Kuwait.
There’s talk that the Malaysian Food Bazaar will be an annual event from now on and next year, it will be held in the month of February to take advantage of the cooler weather and to partake in Kuwait’s annual Hala February festival.
So food, glorious Malaysian food, we look forward to the annual event, and next year, I’ll be sure to sneak away early during the Bazaar to grab my goodies!