I am back in my ‘tanahair’ after a three-week sojourn to my wife’s home country. Although the sultry heat and smells of Malaysia are always a warm welcome, quite frankly, returning to my motherland was also bitter-sweet.
To be a patriot, I opted to fly with our national airline. It inconvenienced us a little, as Malaysia Airlines no longer flies to continental Europe. But we eventually got to our destination via London.
The flight per se was alright. It was not the best in terms of service, but I have certainly flown worse airlines. We can no longer compete with the best in class, like some of the middle eastern operators or even our next door tiny neighbour’s gigantic airline.
But we are certainly better than some of the dodgy south Asian carriers.
It’s sad, right? From being regarded as one of the finest airlines in the world and regularly competing with the best, we now have to make do with saying that at least we are better than some of the terrible ones.
This seems to be the case with our whole country, too. At least we are not a failed state, yet.
The food, on the other hand, flying to London was simply atrocious.
At first, I put it down to the ‘new norms’ of flying with limited services and extra precautionary safety measures. But then, as a restaurateur and cook, I had to stop making excuses for my national airline.
How hard is it to make a proper Nasi Lemak? I mean, it is our national dish. It is a source of pride for us. We pick fights with Singapore when they try to hijack this delectable dish, as being their invention.
Malaysians in droves will take to social media and lambast Singaporeans if they even suggest that their version is better than ours. It is an insidious claim, we’ll say.
But if you ate the Nasi Lemak offered on Malaysia Airlines, you’d pucker up and be quiet.
It was terrible. It tasted like it was cooked by someone who did not care a dime or had a single iota of pride in what they were offering. Zero flavour with dried-up rice, a paltry portion, and soggy accompaniments. And this, on our national carrier’s premier route.
So, I resolved that on my journey back, I’d go to some food place at the airport, and ‘tapau makan’ for the 13-hour journey back. I couldn’t bear the thought of eating the food on Malaysia Airlines again.
But, after gallivanting and being happy with pretty much all the services we received on the internal airlines and rail services in Europe, I completely forgot to do this on our return journey.
Only after we got settled on the airplane, and I saw a fellow traveller across the aisle carrying his own food from the airport, it struck me that I should have done the same. I was pretty annoyed with myself for not being organised.
I could last 13 hours without eating, right? Nope, I couldn’t. Once again, I had to make do with the food served by the airline. You may call me a glutton for punishment, because again, I opted for the Nasi Lemak.
The cabin crew who was serving my section of the aircraft placed the tray on my foldable table, and made a joke in Bahasa Malaysia. He called it Nasi Lemak London with a twinkle and a wink.
I took it to mean that it was prepared by the catering service at Heathrow Airport in London. I braced myself and significantly lowered my expectations. How bad was this version going to be?
Heck. It was a revelation. Beautiful and fluffy with enough ‘santan’ or coconut milk to make a flavoursome rice. The accompanying boneless chicken ‘rendang’ was delicious and it was an ample portion for one. The ‘sambal’ was not as spicy as the Malaysian palate might demand but it was absolutely tasty. The ‘telur-dadar’ was nice, and the Nasi Lemak came with a packet of sealed, crisp anchovies and peanuts.
The Nasi Lemak on MH001 back from London was just scrumptious. It was clearly prepared by someone or a kitchen brigade that cared about the quality of their offerings, and took pride in what they cooked.
The catering company that made ‘Nasi Lemak London’ was a damn sight better than the jamokes who made ‘Nasi Lemak Kuala Lumpur’.
How can this be? How can we be so careless? How can we ruin the reputation of what was once our pride and joy? How has Malaysia sunk so low?
When we as citizens allow greed, profiteering, and accept lackadaisical attitudes to pervade and ruin everything Malaysian; we get greedy businesses that overcharge for terrible products, individuals who are only interested in lining their own pockets, and public services that are, at best, inferior and shoddy.
This is the Malaysian malaise. We have accepted shambolic services and sub-par offerings for far too long. Those in power and with business interests run roughshod over decent tax payers like you and me.
We must call a halt to proceedings now.
If we cannot even get Nasi Lemak right on our biggest brand ambassador, our national airline, what hope is left for all the other services we claim to offer here, in Malaysia?