India (officially, Republic of India) is an epitome of a world reflecting the past and present. Being the 2nd largest country by area and the 2nd most populated country in the world is only natural for a country that’s geographically greatly endowed by mother nature. However, viewing its detail is liken as viewing a messy weave of tapestry that represents the livelihood of the developing countries in varying degree.
Here’s a glimpse of how outsiders view India today from a foodie perspective.
Still within the context of India, let’s explore the contributions of Indian migrants to the culinary world of our country, Malaysia.
The contribution of the Indian community in Malaysian cuisine is enormous. Indian cuisine has had a strong influence on traditional Malay cuisine resulting in the popularity of curries in Malaysia. Indian restaurants are well received by Chinese and Malay Malaysians. They have become an important fixture in everyday Malaysian life and is the venue of choice for watching live English football matches.
Mamak restaurants and stalls refer to eateries owned and staffed by Indian Muslims. The word ‘Mamak’ is sometimes erroneously used to describe any Indian restaurant. Roti canai, nasi kandar and rojak pasembor are Indian dishes unique to Malaysia.
Nasi kandar is sold exclusively in Indian Muslim restaurants and the sauce recipe is kept secret. Unlike Indian cuisine in the United Kingdom and other Western countries which tend to focus on North Indian cuisine, Indian cuisine in Malaysia is largely based on south Indian cuisine as the Indian diaspora here is overwhelmingly Tamil, although some northern dishes such as tandoori chicken and naan bread are common.
Southern breakfast delicacies such as idli, vadai and dosa (spelled in Malaysia as ‘thosai’) are common. The appam is a favourite breakfast dish in Tamil homes. Idiyappam is known as putu mayam in Malay and usually sold by mobile motorcycle vendors. The murukku is made to mark Deepavali or Christmas.
Banana leaf rice meals with various meat dishes and condiments are served in restaurants during lunch and dinner and in Indian households during special occasions. Mutton is highly favoured and served as either varuval (dry curry) or peratal (thick curry). Fried bitter gourd, banana chips, papadam, rasam, yoghurt and pickels are the usual condiments. Deserts and sweets include payasam, halva, mysore pak, palgoa and ghee balls.
The next question is – Who are these Malaysian Indians?
Malaysian Indians are Malaysians of Indian origin. Many are descendants from those who migrated from India during the British colonization of Malaya. Prior to this, Indians have been present in the Malayan archipelago at least since the period of the influential Tamil Chola dynasty of the 11th century. Today, they form the third largest ethnic group in Malaysia after the Chinese and the Malays.
Malaysia is home to one of the largest populations of Overseas Indians, constituting about 8% of the Malaysian population. They also make up a disproportionately large percentage of the Malaysian professional workforce per capita, particularly in the field of medicine.
Indians have contributed significantly to the building of Malaysia since the 19th century. The Indian workforce was instrumental in the clearing of land for infrastructure, established rubber plantations, built the roads, set up transmission lines as well as managed early Malayan railways, ports and airports. Indian doctors, chemists and veterinarians formed the bulk of medical personnel in Malaysia – their contributions still persist to present day.
Indian civil servants formed the core of the civil service both pre- and post-independence. Indian teachers who were particularly fluent in the English language formed the backbone of Malaysian education, particularly in missionary schools. Indians also pioneered private education in Malaysia.
Despite the fact that the average income of Malaysian Indians exceeds that of their Malay counterparts, there exists a portion of the community who are poor and share less than 1.5% of Malaysia’s wealth. Despite their obvious need, they are not eligible for any of Malaysia’s lavish affirmative-action programmes, which are reserved for Malays and select indigenous people.
What has further added to the challenges faced by the community is the sense of creeping Islamisation in the country which threatens their religious freedom. These factors in part have resulted in the migration of many highly skilled Malaysian Indians abroad, where Indian migrants are largely upwardly mobile.
However, the underprivileged section of the community (along with the poor from other races e.g. ethnic Chinese) continue to be excluded from affirmative-action programmes despite their genuine need for support in obtaining employment, government subsidized education, and housing.
This perception of a zero-sum game amongst the races has fueled protests by frustrated sections of the hitherto quiescent community – who consequentially faced a heavy-handed response from the authorities.
Recently, the Malaysian government has pledged to change this by increasing assistance to needy Malaysians regardless of race.
From the perspective of the world of culinary to our ordinary lives, do you think their contributions to this land are commendable and deserving? Malaysians, the generations of the past and present who have come together to build and create this world called Malaysia, are the generation of migrants are merely seen as some dispensable beings? Has the pledge to change been forgotten in words and deeds in today’s context?
What do you think, fellow Malaysians?