Being typical Malaysians with a love for multi-cultural cuisine, the family anticipated with relish, a friend’s invitation to a banana leaf dinner this evening.
For the uninitiated, eating a hot meal off a freshly cleaned banana leaf, is said to be a naturally flavourful experience. While the bright green leaf ‘plate’ places one in a relaxed mood, it also feeds the imagination with other ways in which to apply the banana leaf to good culinary use.
Categorised as South Indian, banana leaf cuisine is usually found in a no-frills restaurant, without air-conditioning, just with whirring fans to keep its diners cool amidst servings of hot curries. We marvelled at how devoid of embellishments that particular restaurant was, yet judging by the good number of patrons within, it was obviously a matter of ‘quality food’ over the ‘decor’ that worked in this equation.
As they say, ‘our eyes were hungrier than our tummies’. Each of us eagerly nodded to one too many ladles of parboiled rice, scooped onto the clean rectangle shaped banana leaf, laid out neatly with the spine of the leaf nearer to the edge of the formica-topped table.
Next, spoonsful of chutney, cabbage and brinjal cooked to vegetarian perfection, were served on our green leafy ‘plates’. And always, a few pieces of papadum placed on the side.
They then plonked down on the table, three aluminium buckets, each containing a different curry – chicken, fish and vegetable. Self service being the order of the day with the curry buckets, they came complete with huge soup ladles. A word of advice: do not dally over which curry you prefer, lest the buckets are swung off the table before you are done helping yourself to one of its spicy contents. It must be explained that the trio of curry buckets are to be shared with other tables in turn too. Additional side orders of delectable dishes complemented the vegetables and curries.
At the end of the tastefully satisfying banana leaf rice meal, we observed the etiquette of folding the empty leaf into half, with the outer edges facing you….thus signifying that the meal was well-appreciated.
To wash down the heavy meal, some diners prefer to drink an aluminium cup of ‘rasam’ which only suits some palates due to its tart tanginess….while some, like us, chose to down frothy concoctions of ‘teh tarik’ or ‘pulled tea’.
We count our blessings for every meal, and hope you enjoy yours too. No matter what ends up on your plate, be thankful for it, as many in the world have nothing to eat! For the less fortunate, let us always say a prayer for their well-being.