Emily Grant reviews Flavours of Malaysia, an event put on by the St Andrews Malaysian International Group on Saturday 19th April in Holy Trinity Church Hall.
After writing up the preview piece for the St Andrews Malaysian International Group’s (SMIG) event, Flavours of Malaysia, I was absolutely ecstatic about actually getting to attend the event. For days I exchanged all-caps messages of glee with a friend who was also going and I even went to yoga and ran on Saturday before the event, motivated to try (and, ultimately fail) to prevent the inevitable weight gain resulting from my enthusiastic lack of control during this epic feast. I definitely wasn’t disappointed by the event. I’ve been gushing about Malaysian food and how welcoming SMIG is for days, and I am now determined to travel to Malaysia solely because of my newfound love for its national cuisine. However, the event was far from perfect. While the incredible food and hospitality outshines the negative points—especially as time goes on and all I can think about is pork belly—there is distinct room for future improvement in this ambitious event.
Though it may have been because I got involved in the ticket procurement process near the end of the game, at least in my experience, the ticket sales planning was a bit of a logistical nightmare. Even as someone with a press pass, I was very confused as to what I should be doing and how to make sure I had a ticket. For example, it was only after a series of emails that I actually figured out that I didn’t need a physical ticket (SMIG went green this year!) and that my name was, indeed, ‘on the list’. The aforementioned friend who went with me experienced similar problems in securing her paid ticket; the entire process seemed overly complicated and confusing.
That said, the event organizers—especially the wonderfully patient Secretary June Lau—were very good about responding to my email inquiries quickly; eventually I was able to work things out. SMIG’s social media presence also ensured that the initial excitement I felt after working on the preview piece and being offered a press comp continued to grow as the event drew closer. The event organizers and the SMIG committee more generally were very welcoming and convivial via the Flavours of Malaysia Facebook event page, constantly updating their guests about the food and entertainment that would be offered.
The night of the event (Saturday 19th April) finally came, and I was blown away not only by the food, but also by the sense of inclusion and community. I walked into Holy Trinity Church Hall and there was food everywhere. Savory dishes—tantalizingly identified by placards with their names and an explanation of what they contained—lined two walls and a third, shorter wall (not to mention a cart o ice cream from Jannettas!) was dedicated to desserts. Unfortunately, even with all of this food, there really wasn’t enough of most dishes to satiate 140 guests. I was lucky enough (read: unabashedly keen) to be toward the front of the line and get to taste everything, but I don’t know if there was enough food to allow everyone the opportunity to try every dish offered, much less to provide seconds all around. This faulty portion estimation is understandable; having hosted dinner parties for just 20 people myself, guessing how much people are going to eat is insanely hard, but this is definitely an area that could—and should—be worked on in the future.
The variety of food was amazing. Unfortunately, I forgot to write down a lot of the names of the dishes (I was too busy shoveling them into my mouth!), but some of the highlights were a comforting chicken biryani, some stewed pork belly and spring roll-like dish I believe is called popiah. However, it is incredibly hard to pick exceptional dishes because all of the flavors were spectacular. Unfortunately, some of the food that should have been served hot ended up cold by the time it reached our plates. This is, again, a byproduct feeding such a large crowd of people, but it is something that could be improved in the future. If SMIG decides to put on Flavours of Malaysia again next year, I definitely think it would be worth investing in some chafing dishes or other catering equipment.
This drawback didn’t detract from the atmosphere; the entire event was bubbling with full-bellied contentedness after the food was served, but even before then, relaxed friendliness and fun were in the air. The SMIG members running the event were very nice, as were all the guests in attendance. The servers seemed pretty skeptical that I—a tall, awkward white girl—could handle spicy food, but the Malaysians in the room made sure that we oblivious ones knew what to do and how to go about eating the food on display. At one point I was trying to assemble a shaved ice and coconut milk dessert, but was stopped; someone who knew much better than I did informed me that I was making the dessert wrong. My desert savior discarded my sorry attempt and made me a new one, showing me how to make it properly. Even though the entire evening was definitely a learning process, I never once felt dumb or embarrassed; I just felt included and very welcome!
There were some awkward timing issues, though. The Accidentals performed at the beginning of the event, but it was an very short set—maybe four songs—that was barely audible thanks to the rumble of the sizable crowd and the hall’s poor acoustics. The same audio issues made the emceeing—by the always-hilarious Mattia Mariotti and El Umar Mukhtar—pretty much inaudible at the back of the room where I was seated. It was also really unclear as to when the Jannetta’s ice cream was going to be served; several false queues formed and dissolved before we finally got a taste. But with the ice cream, as with many of the flaws of this event, the glorious end results balanced out any stumbling. The wait turned out to be enormously worth it; I had a rose and milk gelato—specially designed for the event by Jannettas (they are, truly, a spectacular business)—that blew my mind.
There were definitely detracting issues, but I’m not worried about the necessary improvements being made: the organizers have laudably engaged with their guests since the end of the event. Even before you left the building there was a giant white banner with provided pens so everyone could write down their thoughts about the event. SMIG also nearly immediately provided a survey on the Flavours of Malaysia event page where guests could provide feedback from the event. I enjoyed myself, as did everyone else I know who went to the event, and I will certainly be first in line to buy a ticket for next year’s Flavours of Malaysia.
Photo credit: Aishah Azman, Ben Chee, Emily Grant