A Kelantan Travelogue – “Gula Perang Ada?”
It’s the eve of Eid al-Adha and tomorrow marks the day of prayers, sacrificing of a sheep, cow, goat or camel, giving away one-third of the meat to friends as well as relatives while the remaining one-third or more of the meat is donated to the poor and needy.
My stay here in Kota Bharu, Kelantan has been an experience of sorts especially in preparing for the much celebrated festive day. Over the years, I’ve often heard that the celebration is much bigger here compared to other parts of Malaysia. I wanted to see it for myself how true this was and this was one of the reasons I came here.
I’ve been staying in the most comfortable home in a village area where the hours in a day move slower than that of the busy city of Kuala Lumpur. Life begins as early as five o’clock in the morning and by seven o’clock, the locals were already halfway through their grocery shopping at Pasar Khadijah or on their way to their favourite breakfast spot for some piping hot ‘nasi berlauk’.
Today was a day of fasting for seventy year old Pakcik Yahya and his daughter. To prepare for dinner and their break of fast, I followed Bart around town for errands first thing this morning. Our first stop was fifteen minutes away from home, at a busy place called Pasar Kubang Pasu (market) where fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and even breakfast can be found. I couldn’t recognise the dishes except for ‘nasi kerabu’ and ‘nasi dagang’. He then showed me a yellow rice between the two of them and asked me to try that instead. “What is it?” – I asked. He explained that the yellow rice is known as ‘nasi kerabu kuning’ and normally eaten with fried chicken, fish, ‘solok’ , ‘keropok’ and spicy ‘sambal’ just like the blue ‘nasi kerabu’. It was an easy choice then!
Another stall sold many types of local ‘Kelantanese traditional kuih muih’ such as Cek Mek Molek, jala emas, kuih ketayap was quite popular among the locals. We decided to skip that today and got two ‘nasi tumpang’ before walking towards the end of the market where a makcik sat cross legged on the white tiles, selling satay and ‘pulut’ (sticky rice). We got a few of those, not forgetting the ‘daun sup’ (parsley) which was the main reason we came here in the first place.
I’m still wondering how the Kelantanese stay slim despite the sweet kuih muih and having rice early in the morning as breakfast. Hmm.
Being an Islamic state, most of the Muslim ladies here are covered in pretty shawls while I, stood out with my ‘free hair’ look. Unexpectedly, there weren’t that many stares as I looked either Philippines or Chinese I guess. The locals were still friendly and since they knew I am not from around here, they spoke to me in normal Malay language. Other times, I can’t keep up or understand most of what was being said as the Kelantanese Malay dialect was very different. Having someone who speaks the local dialect was quite a relief especially in restaurants or the markets.
Dinner with the Yahya family made me miss home cooked food a lot. It’s saddens me that I have been taking this for granted back in Kuala Lumpur. Being busy and too tired after a long day at work are my number one excuses but after observing their life here, I realized that something has to change back home to achieve this balanced state of life.
We had to go out again, after dinner, to search for brown sugar and salt. Mek wanted to bake brownies and Kak Cik needed the salt for her macaroni dish tomorrow. Since we won’t be able to eat the cooked beef from the Qurban, she wanted to prepare this for us tomorrow before we head back to Kuala Lumpur. Most of the shops were closed and as I went into the first shop I asked “Gula perang ada?” (Do you have any brown sugar?) and she looked at me with a weird expression on her face. I explained further but she didn’t understand so that was that for pit stop number one.
At the next shop I asked the same question except this time the girl asks me back “Gula Melaka?” (Did you mean palm sugar?) to which I replied “Bukan, gula halus tapi perang.” (No, I meant sugar but brown in colour). She said no and off I was again to the next shop. This time, I looked strange to them because a woman rarely goes out at night here and me walking around with my ‘free hair’ got odd looks from the grocery shop owners. Maybe it’s also because I was wearing a t-shirt and three quarter pants. Had I known the shops were closed at eight o’clock and that we had to drive further in search of a grocery shop, I would have changed to a more appropriate clothes, like longer pants!
At the fourth shop, we finally found the brown sugar (salt was bought from the first shop) and I was indeed happy. Quickly we drove back and passed the ingredients while relating the incident. Perhaps if we knew the correct term for brown sugar, our hunt for it would have been easier. However even Kak Cik who has been staying here for years, told us that in Kelantan, Brown Sugar is called Brown Sugar. She was nevertheless amused by our story!
Despite completing the grocery shopping for Eid al-Adha tomorrow, we are not able to fully spend the day here to observe the celebration but at least I got to spend more time in getting to know this charming town and the people who live here. If we’re lucky we could observe it at the nearby mosque, have that delicious macaroni soup and hop on our flight back. I’ll be happy if this plan works!
Until then I’d like to say thank you to this wonderful family who has been such gracious hosts during my stay here. I definitely would like to come back here to explore other parts of this state. I reckon that this would be the best excuse for another road trip to discover the East of Malaysia.