It is more than just Rendang

It is more than just Rendang
It is more than just Rendang
It is the varied spices our ancestors first mastered and then labored for
It is the reserved sweetness of our women, smiling uncomfortably as the white official stretches his hand out for a handshake
It is the banana leaf it is served on, our connection with our land

It is Zaleha’s face of pride, serving a nationally loved dish at a British show
(Because that is how you measure achievement
You need the white man’s approval)
It is her hopeful look transitioning into one on the verge of tears, her pride being crushed at the few words
It is her British accent, fully assimilated, like the rest of us who shed our Malaysian lah’s and linguistic colors like a moth sheds its cocoon
(It’s a rite of passage to tell the world, you made it in the West)
It is her trying to shake the comments off afterwards, the bruising of ancestral pride
Feeling once again, destroyed at the monstrous hands of the British Empire

It is my stress on the Malaysian in Malaysian-Chinese
It is my smirk when a European tells me they have good food
It is my effort to recall how to speak in a Malaysian accent when my white friends ask me to “show it”
It is my growling stomach when I crave something homemade at 3am in Paris
It is my mother’s laughter at the white man’s ignorance and the internet memes
(We’ve learnt to deal with humiliation and oppression with humor)
Like our food, we survived and evolved

So, dear white people who told us it was just Rendang
Shut the fuck up.
We defend it like it is a life or death issue
Because if there’s any pride left of a nation newly postcolonial and battered with racial politics and bruised with corruption
It is in our everyday possessions, legacies, philosophies
It is in the mundane
Like the soft, non-crispy, lovingly made Rendang

 

Painting by Chuah Thean Teng, “Festival Day”

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