Grave Hunter on Food Trail

Over the past 2.5 years, Olyvia Bendon has travelled to Malaysia a total of seven times. The 42-year-old citizen journalist-cum-travel blogger from Rantepao in Toraja, Indonesia has a most interesting hobby: hunting down the graves of historical figures.

at the Old Christian Cemetery, Kuching
at the Old Christian Cemetery, Kuching

During her most recent trip to Malaysia, Bendon, who is known by her moniker #TukangKuburan in her home country, had the opportunity to check out the burial site of Sir Henry Gurney at the Cheras War Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur.

at the Old Protestant Cemetery, George Town
at the Old Protestant Cemetery, George Town

Not too long ago, Bendon was at the Penang Protestant cemetery in George Town to visit the tomb of Captain Sir Francis Light, founder of Penang. “When I was there, I searched for the grave of James Richardson Logan, the person who suggested the country name for Indonesia. Imagine how excited I was when I found it with the help of a friend, after spending some hours there!”

While most of us find cemeteries to be creepy, Bendon sees them as ‘calming’ and ‘beautiful’. Graves aside, a recent invitation to participate in Eat.Travel.Write Selangor International Culinary Adventure 3.0 provided Bendon with the chance to explore the country from a different angle.

The ‘food trail’ for international media representatives was organised by the Selangor State Economic Planning Unit for delegates to experience for themselves the culinary delights of Hulu Selangor as a run-up to Visit Hulu Selangor 2017.
“Over the four-day expedition, we were able to see how various snacks were made; from Bengkulu tarts to kuih bahulu, apam gula hangus, ‘Mua Lao’, nasi buluh and more,” Bendon explained.

“As I am keen on human interest and culture, watching the elderly woman in Felda Gedangsa make Bengkulu tarts reminded me of my grandmother. Interestingly, the Bengkulu tart is a traditional cookie of the Bangkahulu ethnic group in Selangor, who originated from Sumatra, Indonesia.

“At Kampung Serigala where we watched a demonstration on the preparation of nasi buluh (bamboo rice) and ikan buluh (bamboo fish), it intrigued me that these dishes are not unlike what we have in my hometown. We call them pa’piong but we add more spices, ginger, chilli and herbal leaves into the bamboo. I find the local version to taste original but ours are more flavourful.

“Also, I noticed that in Malaysia, indigenous cuisine is promoted as speciality dishes. On the other hand, as these are common food in Indonesia, we do not promote them. This is one of the reasons I find Malaysia steps ahead of Indonesia in promoting the uniqueness of the country to tourists. Generally, we share similar cultures but it is the contrasting ways that we brand ourselves that have made the difference in the eyes of visitors.

“Anyway, I wished we could spend more time with the villagers at Kampung Serigala. I would like to get to know the people, observe their lifestyle and understand their culture. It definitely calls for a return visit,” she added.

The trip to the northern region of Selangor was not all about food and eating. At the Oh Swee Len factory in Batang Kali, Bendon tried her hand stirring glutinous rice that is used to make ‘Mua Lao’, a type of sesame crackers.

Recalling that experience, she exclaimed, “It is back-breaking work! The mixture is so thick, so much thicker than dodol, it takes a lot of bull strength to stir it. I cannot imagine anyone doing this non-stop for two hours that is required to make ‘Mau Lao’. And to think that after all these years, these snacks are still made by hand! This trip has made me appreciate traditional snacks even more.”

Note: An edited version of this article [Grave Hunter on Food Trail] was published on 16th July, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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