I’m sorry to all you culinary types who might have found this post by its title and to Steve, no I haven’t gotten a job in a restaurant. This is actually about a meal with a family, not that bacchanalian feast before service. We were invited to a celebration by the woman I have affectionately called my vegetable lady. Her real name is Zul, and her husband Endon. They are Malaysian Muslims who amazingly saw fit to have the wife, Emmet and myself visit their home for a family celebration.
I met Zul shortly after moving into our permanent apartment here in Singapore. She has a stall in the local market and sells vegetables and freshly ground coconut. She was the first person outside of our condo in the local community to take an active interest in Emmet and me. She is always helpful in identifying local produce, She gives me cooking tips, she loves Emmet (well who doesn’t?). Most importantly she is a genuinely nice person. She greets every day with a smile and a positive attitude, and she was nice enough to extend her hospitality on can arguably be called the most celebrated of holidays among Singapore’s Muslim population.
Hari Raya Pusua is the Eid (feast) at the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the month in the Islamic world where one fasts between sunrise and sunset. With very few exceptions nothing passes the lips, not even water of the faithful. At the end of this month of sacrifice celebrations are held in many households. There are evenings with friends, with family, nights where one visits others. Aunty Zul asked our family to celebrate with hers. We were completely taken aback and honored to accept
Allow me to focus for a moment on most, and yet somehow least, important aspect of the evening…..the food. There was a cornucopia of Malaysian delights all prepared in the home to sample. Small cakes and cookies began the evening. Emmet was partial to the rainbow cakes that were a spiral and could be unraveled, I however fell in love with a small cookie. Reminiscent of a butter based shortbread it is a small ball dusted with sugar and filled with cashews and spice. I could have eaten the the whole jar, skipped dinner and left feeling satisfied. I didn’t, let’s not get crazy there were too many other things to sample. Spiced chicken, vegetables in green curry, beef randang, chili prawns, and the most adorable little rice pillows to soak up the sauce that everything came with filled the table. The green curry chicken was probably my favorite, the to go bag that was packed for us included a healthy portion of it I’m happy to say, soft and light with a perfect amount of spice it is something I could eat every day if only she would share her recipe. I’ll have to work on that.
The unequivocal most important part of the night was her family. Aunty Zul picked us up just before eight and we were the first guests to arrive at her home on this evening. Good news for us since it gave us first crack at the buffet. We were greeted in the car by her and her eldest daughter who is probably about our age perhaps slightly younger. She works for the ministry of education in the early childhood development section and took an immediate liking to E. When we arrived at her home her youngest daughter was there as well as her husband. Emmet seized on the Voltron figure on the hutch which the girls took down and played with him. Endon (the husband) a man who is likely in his sixties wasted no time in getting on the floor to tickle, tease, and play with Emmet. I hope his sons and daughters give him grandchildren soon, as he is a man perfectly suited to being the indulgent, happy grandfather. He spent more time with E than with anyone else at the party.
Perhaps an hour after we arrived the family proper got there. There were aunts, uncles, cousins (some with children of their own) and Zul’s aunt (her mothers sister) the only one among them who could not converse in English but none the less had smile for us and a hug for E. It was warm and welcoming. I can only equate it to a Thanksgiving open house in the States with different foods. We sat and talked and drank tea until ten that evening with the family. When it was time for us to go we were given a ride back to our place even though I insisted we could get a taxi so no one had to leave. As we were leaving Emmet was given a red packet from Aunty Zul and from one of the cousins. Red packets are traditional gifts. Small envelopes with a few dollars in them, a gesture of goodwill and giving to children and family. The amount is inconsequential, the gesture meant everything. It was overwhelming to be so completely absorbed into this family’s celebration. Quite honestly it was the best thing that has happened to us ( at least in my opinion) since we’ve been here. Without reservation we were invited in and made to feel at home during an important time in their year,.
If for the rest of the time we spend here we simply go about our daily routine, Emmet goes to school, I cook dinner and do dishes, the wife goes to work. This evening will have made it the move worth it. It is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.